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Rotarians provide gift of water

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
November 5, 2007
— The barefoot toddler, dressed only in a shirt and toting a tin cup, bent down, scooped up and drank the dirty dishwater just thrown out by a woman in the village.

“It was the saddest thing we saw,” said Bob Kimball, a Janesville Noon Rotarian who traveled to Haiti earlier this year with fellow Rotarian David Arndt.


So sad that the Janesville men wouldn’t take a picture of it.


Their 10 days in the Central Plateau Region near the city of Pignon, they agreed, gave them a new appreciation for water.


“If you had two water bottles in your backpack, you saved it to drink. Twenty percent of every infant born in Haiti die before they are 5 due to a water-born illness,’’ Arndt said.


“They have to drink the surface water that is run off from the mud hills, septic and outdoor toilets. They don’t have a choice,” Kimball said.


Between 2005 and 2006, the Janesville Noon Rotary Club raised money to provide four hand pump wells in Haiti. They also funded three more wells in March. This summer club members gave more money—enough to provide four more wells—as a way to recognize and honor four area men.


The club Monday will recognize club member Vic Little and the memory of Howard Brakefield, Ernest Bilof and Richard Johnson, who died in a traffic accident in September. Plus Arndt said enough additional money has been given to fund two more wells, for a total of 13 wells.


Rotarians, together with Haiti Outreach, a Minneapolis-based agency, are providing new fresh water wells to improve the quality of life for people in rural Haiti, Arndt said.


The water wells project is a joint effort by Rotary International and World Vision, an international relief organization that has been working in Haiti since 1959.


Each new well costs $5,000. Rotary International matches each donation of $1,250 from the local Rotary club, and that total is matched by World Vision. To date, more than 100 wells have been drilled in the Central Plateau Region, Arndt said.


Kimball and Arndt were among 13 Rotarians who traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a 90-minute flight from Miami.


They spent their first night in a hotel owned by a Rotarian, who took them for a two-hour ride. They saw poverty, crowding, trash and filth.


“It was unbelievable,” Arndt said.


Police rode in a truck with a machinegun, and one stop light controlled traffic in a city of 2 million people. The area had very little electricity, and only the wealthy had generators, they said.


Dedication of a well to serve 250 people was a big deal and included speeches, skits and children singing, Arndt said.


Before the well became operational, Haitians walked up to 4 miles to the river. If the closest river was dry, they walked to another.


“Poverty there is a way of life,” Kimball said.


He’s a worldwide traveler and has visited third world countries before but had never seen any as poor as Haiti.


Arndt said the trip left him more humble.


“It makes us want to support them more,” he said. “They’re so appreciative.”



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