Co-founder and former Board Chair
Water With Blessings
It sounds like the beginning of a corny joke.
“A nun, an architect, and a hospital engineer wander into a marginal community,” said Arnie LeMay.
Arnie, Sr. Larraine Lauter, and Jim Burris were veterans of ecumenical mission trips to Honduras. Despite their efforts, the same problems faced them every year. And the challenge came down to one factor: dirty water.
“We saw the effects of water-borne illnesses and Sr. Larraine was insistent that we had to find a way to change that,” he said. “But there was no infrastructure, no power, no piped water, no security. We began looking for a solution.”
The first system they tried relied on one piece of equipment in one location. While it was somewhat effective, it really didn’t work for the whole community. They looked for an in-home solution. At a seminar they attended, they saw the Sawyer PointONE filter demonstrated.
“At some point, we had to test it in the community,” Arnie said. “We took ten filters on our next trip and asked ten women to try them and give us feedback. When we returned the next year they asked: ‘Did you bring more? It’s a blessing!’
“We hadn’t. So we listened and the women taught us. We needed to find an equitable way to distribute the filters. We came up with the lottery, the names chosen by the innocent hand of a little child.”
Needing more filters fast, they quickly found out how hard it is to raise money if you aren’t incorporated.
“So the same three people wandered into a coffee shop this time,” he said. “But we weren’t happy. None of us were sure we knew how to run a nonprofit. Our first goal was to help that one marginal community. We had no idea of the potential. We weren’t interested in getting big, only in helping women provide water in their communities.
“But incorporation enabled more donors to help others. It gave us the credibility to make it possible.”
Arnie points to Sr. Larraine’s gifts and training as key to the success.
“Sr. Larraine had the linguistic skills, the spiritual training, and the calling to develop the program and the training model,” he said. “And she had the wisdom to keep the it a grassroots organization.
“From the beginning the volunteers and the people we served have all been from different religious denominations. That has kept the organization ecumenical. It’s always been more about Jesus and less about religion.”
The focus remains on the Water Women.
“It’s always been about empowerment,” Arnie said. “Hopeful, yet anxious women come, many bringing children with them. The ones selected – you can see the empowerment, the influence for good and the health of their own families and their neighbors.
“It all comes down to loving your neighbors and providing for them.”