With a staff of one full-time and three part-time employees, along with approximately 40 volunteers, a nonprofit organization based in Middletown, Kentucky, brings water to some of the poorest places in the world.
Water With Blessings works in 37 countries, including Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Kenya. Stephanie Kornexl, who serves as the part-time partnership lead with Water With Blessings, said the group’s mission is to “partner with mothers and missioners to bring clean water to God’s thirsty children.”
According to the World Health Organization, at least 1.8 billion people worldwide rely upon a contaminated water source. These sources can transmit diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid, polio, and dengue fever. The contaminated sources can also cause diarrhea or infection by worms. Diarrhea alone accounts for more than 800,000 deaths per year. At least 300,000 of those deaths are children under the age of 5. Schistosomiasis, a chronic disease caused by parasitic worms that breed in contaminated water sources, affects almost 240 million people worldwide. Many of these deaths can be prevented simply by providing access to a consistent source of clean water, according to the WHO.
Based on their experience doing medical mission trips to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Arnie LeMay of Eminence, Kentucky, Jim Burris of Frankfort, Kentucky, and Sister Larraine Lauter of Louisville, Kentucky, discerned the need for an organization to address the causes of these ailments. The hospital engineer, architect, and Ursuline sister found themselves returning each year to treat the same illnesses, caused primarily by ingesting water contaminated with parasites.
The three friends — and eventual co-founders of Water With Blessings — felt helpless that they were merely treating the symptoms rather than the causes. Then they had an insight: If they could clean up the water sources, they would eliminate much of the patient load. In 2006 they began exploring various water solutions, which ultimately led to their organization’s use of the Sawyer PointOne water filtration system.
Carol Lyvers, a Water With Blessings mission partner, attends St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Columbus, Indiana, which has had a sister parish in Haiti for nearly 25 years. She said her parish has used many water systems, but each has always had some issue, whether it’s parts breaking or chemicals being required to maintain the system. However, according to Lyvers, “The WWB approach addressed all of these issues with the added bonus of each filter supplying clean water for several families.”
When Water With Blessings visits a poor country, they train local people on how to set up and operate the filters. The filters function similarly to how kidney dialysis does, filtering out contaminants in water in order to make it safe to drink. The filters hold five gallons of water, require no electricity to operate, and are guaranteed for millions of gallons of safe filtered water.
Water With Blessings aims to bring these filters to regions abroad that have no access to clean water and provide training to mothers so that they can operate the filters.
According to Kornexl, Water With Blessings partners primarily with mothers and empowers them as “water women” because they are ideal candidates for helping share the filters with the local community. She said that the water women “make a faith-based commitment, for we know that adding ‘the God-spark’ will charge and sustain a mother for compassionate, joyful service to her neighbors.” The mothers then sign a covenant, making a commitment that they will use their filter to help not only their own family but also those around them.
Mary Meyers, a Water With Blessings mission partner from the Diocese of Joliet (Illinois), said during one of her missions to Sucre, Bolivia, she saw that the filters they had brought the year before to the Mission Esperanza free medical clinic were being used to provide water not just for the patients but also for a nearby school.
“Two of them take turns filtering water for the school, and one filters water for the clinic using a water clinic that they taped a Water With Blessings sign to,” Meyers said.
In response to an April 2016 earthquake in Ecuador, Water With Blessings partnered with various congregations of Ecuadorian sisters to distribute and train people in the operation of filters. To date, they have trained nearly 5,500 people in order to distribute clean water to survivors.
Father Joseph Mungai, a Kenyan priest who works with the Franciscan Missionaries Sisters of Hope, has worked with Water With Blessings to distribute Sawyer PointOne filters to his parishioners at St. John the Apostle, Awasi, in the Diocese of Kisumu in Kenya. He has been able to distribute 100 filters in the six months since he began partnering with the organization. Father Mungai said that, before receiving the filters, he would often stop to get water during the workday, only to find that the water offered to him “was always brown in color and could be easily mistaken for tea.”
In the past year, Water With Blessings has equipped almost as many water women with filters and training as in all the years since it became a nonprofit in 2011. The organization now totals nearly 25,000 members worldwide.
“Water With Blessings’ plan is to continue to grow its worldwide community of water women in accord with God’s abundant grace,” Kornexl said.
College students involved, too
Sister Larraine Lauter, OSU, is Water With Blessings’ executive director. In 2015 she was named a distinguished alum of Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky. She subsequently began working with the college’s Caritas Leadership Program.
“The Caritas program is designed to provide students with the opportunity to develop their own leadership abilities, explore leadership opportunities on campus, and envision ways in which they can be leaders in their communities by embracing the ideals of Caritas theology and leading because of the love they have for others,” said Josh Clary, the university’s vice president of student affairs and dean of students.
The program culminates with an eight-day service and pilgrimage experience with Water With Blessings in which students travel to Honduras to work and pray alongside the local women.
“We love working with WWB because students are provided with an opportunity to put Caritas into action,” Clary said. “The transformation within the students because of this service is as much our goal as is the tangible work of helping to provide clean water.”
How can you help?
You can get involved as a donor, volunteer, or mission partner — or join at 1 p.m. each day in your time zone when water women across the world stop for a moment of prayer to show solidarity with all of “God’s thirsty children.” You can also be supplied with materials to be a Water With Blessings advocate who helps to spread the news of this mission and find new partners and supporters. For a one-time payment of $60, a water woman can be sponsored and supplied with clean water for a lifetime. For more information, email Info@WaterWithBlessings.org or visit WaterWithBlessings.org.