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North Hall man on clean water mission
Many Haitians fled to the Dominican Republic after the earthquake
On the left is the first floor of the orphanage under construction in the Dominican Republic.


Listen to Jack Wehmiller of North Hall talk about work he is doing to improve conditions in the Dominican Republic.

Jack Wehmiller calls them the "invisible poor," Haitians who fled the country after the January 2010 earthquake and now are barely surviving in neighboring Dominican Republic.

"I could see that there was a lot of emphasis being placed on (Haiti capital) Port-au-Prince and the site of the earthquake itself," the North Hall man said in an interview Monday, "but not enough emphasis placed on (refugees), many of whom will probably never go back to Haiti."

Wehmiller, traveling last year to the Dominican Republic, which shares a Caribbean island with Haiti, helped out where he could, spending much of his time in overwhelmed hospitals.

In the meantime, he had developed some contacts in Barahona, a city of about 105,000 people near the border with the Haiti, and a coalition was formed to provide water purification systems for residents of the surrounding batays, or villages.

"There are 17 batays and only one had a decent freshwater supply system," said Wehmiller, who is serving in the country on behalf of Rivers of the World and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

He approached First Water, a Suwanee company, about helping in the effort. Wehmiller worked to raise money in the churches throughout the South.

Teams headed to the country to install the systems, which cost about $10,000 each.

The systems hook into irrigation networks already in place in sugar cane fields that make up a key industry in the Dominican Republic.

"There is an abundance of water for irrigation but not enough for clean water," said Wehmiller, a member of First Baptist Church in Gainesville.

The purified water flows into the center of the community and is stored in a 1,200-gallon tank.

"We then run spigots and down-line filters off the water that's in the tank, and people can come anytime and have all the fresh water that you could possibly imagine," Wehmiller said.

Four systems were completed in 2010 and others are planned for installation this year.

"By the time 2011 comes and goes, we should have well over half of the communities around Barahona having complete, permanent water purification systems," Wehmiller. "... I've got five trips planned already (this year)."

To get purified water before the water project, residents would have to travel to Barahona to buy 5-gallon jugs of water.

"It was not easy for them to go into town," Wehmiller said. "These (villages) are 30 and 45 minutes from (Barahona)."

He also has turned his attention to helping an orphanage get built in Barahona.

"We have made great progress on that," Wehmiller said. "We've completed all of the cement block walls for the first floor. We have the floor and ceiling for the second floor poured."

The 105-bed orphanage, set for a 2012 completion, is part of a compound that includes a school, a church and a house where mission workers stay.

Overall, the experiences abroad have been rewarding for the retired businessman.

"It's a never-ending process. I'll never run out of work to do," Wehmiller said. "When I'm through in Barahona, there are other towns in the Dominican Republic that have an equal need."


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