Dallas church pledges $25,000 to build wells in Haiti region hit by cholera

11:36 PM CST on Monday, November 8, 2010
By DIANNE SOLÍS / The Dallas Morning News

Friendship West Baptist Church of Dallas has pledged about $25,000 to build wells in the rural Artibonite Valley of Haiti, where a cholera outbreak has claimed more than 300 lives.

The Dallas church has raised about $225,000 since a deadly quake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, taking more than 230,000 lives, said the Rev. Rickey D. Hill of Friendship West.

Just a week before the cholera outbreak, the pastor took a mission trip to the Artibonite Valley with Dumas Siméus, a Haitian-born Texas entrepreneur who began a foundation in his hometown of Pont Sondé in that valley a decade ago. His foundation, called Sové Lavi, which means saving lives in Creole, provides medical care and clean water to Haitians in its rural center and has been swamped with patients.

“With cholera, we really need clean water”, Siméus said. “In our area, there is no clean water, and the people bathe in the water a lot.”

A well costs an average of $5,000, and Siméus hopes five wells can be drilled. The cholera outbreak has stabilized in the region where it began, but it is spreading north, he said. Contaminated water can spread a variety of diseases, particularly in poor regions.

“People do understand that once they have a well it is a godsend and they don’t have to go to a dirty river anymore to get the water,” Siméus said.

Siméus is one of about a dozen Haitian immigrants in North Texas who have strenuously worked to galvanize communities around the plight of the quake-stricken country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere with a population of about 9.7 million. From the onset, Siméus stood out because of his bolder message of comprehensive solutions for Haiti that moved beyond immediate medical needs.

For his part, Hill said that Friendship West and an Indiana-based church had hoped to raise $1 million together. Friendship West has now spent $70,000 on medical supplies and wells, Hill said. “We were actually standing in Pont Sondé where the cholera problem started when we went on the missionary trip,” he said.

The controversy surrounding the cholera outbreak intensified last week when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the cholera strains in Haiti match strains commonly found in South Asia. The finding doesn’t identify the source. But scrutiny of a U.N. base built on a tributary to the Artibonite River grew quickly after cholera was detected in the waterway, Siméus said.

Troops from Nepal, where cholera is endemic, are suspected of having spread the disease, according to reports from The Associated Press.

The United Nations has defended its sanitation practices. But last week protests began at the gates of the base.
“Like it or not, they must go,” the protesters chanted.