Friday February 15, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A non-profit organization founded by the Brattleboro Rotary Club has received a six-figure grant from the Hoehl Family Foundation of South Burlington.

Pure Water for the World, Inc., a Rutland-based entity dedicated to providing sanitation and basic hygiene education in Central America and the Caribbean, announced this week it will receive $150,000 to advance its work in Haiti.

Since 2008, PWW has been working in Haiti, where only 58 percent of people have access to clean water and less than 20 percent have access to good sanitation. More than half of all hospital beds in Haiti are occupied by individuals suffering from the effects of waterborne bacteria or parasites, the second-leading cause of death in children under 5.

PWW has provided water filtration systems and hygiene education to 4,000 homes and 1,500 schools and care facilities. About 365,000 people have directly benefited from PWW’s programs.

PWW Executive Director Carolyn Meub said the organization is excited to receive the grant money because a key part of its efforts is evaluation and monitoring of the point-of-use filters installed in schools. She said members of PWW will go back to the schools and make sure the filtration systems are being used correctly. She said all filters will be checked and teachers will be given "refresher courses" on how to use them.

"What we want to do is change people’s behavior," Meub said.

She said the core program involves identifying schools that lack safe water but have access to it. Each school principal must commit to the program, and two teachers from every school must volunteer for a two-and-a-half-day training seminar.

Curriculum material will also be provided with the grant money because, she said, it is vital for both children and their parents to learn about sanitation.

"It’s something you or I might find elementary," Meub said. But having a simple hygiene education can cut the amount of diarrhea diseases by 40 percent, she said.

PWW’s mission started in 1994, after Brattleboro dentist Peter Abell volunteered to provide medical services in a small village in El Salvador. He was astonished by the poor living conditions and with the help of the Brattleboro Rotary Club, of which he was a member, he dedicated himself to making a change.

After reading an article in The Rotarian -- Rotary International’s monthly magazine -- Abell and three other local members decided to provide the village with solar water purification units.

When the task outgrew the club’s capabilities, Pure Water for the World, Inc. was established as a 501(c)(3) organization in 1999.

Abell, who is now retired from dentistry and an honorary member of the club, was unaware of PWW receiving the $150,000 grant until told by the Reformer.

"This is great," he said. "I knew they would be getting a big chuck of money but I didn’t know it was that much."

Abell said unlike most other charitable organizations, PWW provides follow-ups as part of the programs it offers. According to Water.org, less than 1 percent of worldwide water projects receive follow-up monitoring.

"It’s critical. Education is the key," he said. "It doesn’t work to just give people the means to purify their water. They must have basic understanding of the germ theory of infection."

Meub said the Hoehl Family Foundation has been very generous and real visionary in Vermont.

"(The grant) is a gift that will have an impact for years to come," she said.

The Hoehl Family Foundation was created in 1996 by Robert Hoehl, co-founder of the IDX software company (now GE Healthcare), along with his wife, Cindy, and their children. According to a statement, it has donated millions of dollars toward the health of needy children and their families in Vermont and around the world since its inception.

The listed contact for the foundation did not return a phone call seeking comment by presstime.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.