By MATT THACKER
Most Americans can drink a glass of water without ever wondering if it’s safe, but that is not true everywhere.
A relatively simple device created and manufactured in Southern Indiana is helping supply safer water to the poorest areas of the world.
New Life International, a nonprofit organization based in Underwood, has sent water purifiers to more than 60 countries. They send out “several hundred per year,” according to President Duvon McGuire.
“In this country, we take safe water for granted. We flush our toilets with drinking water,” McGuire said. “We don't really think about some of the problems in these other countries.”
In fact, he said about 80 to 90 percent of sick people at clinics in Third World countries have an underlying waterborne ailment.
McGuire knows the dangers first hand. In the late 1960s, he became sick and nearly died after drinking contaminated water in Ecuador where his parents, Byron and Yvonne McGuire, were serving as missionaries. The couple moved to Underwood in 1972 and started New Life International Mission. Meanwhile, Duvon studied parasitology at Asbury College in Kentucky.
In 1992, Duvon invented the “New Life International Water Purifier,” which is now a patented product distributed
through the ministry his father established.
They began distributing the purifiers seven years ago. Byron passed away on Oct. 24, but his son has ensured that the mission continues to grow.
In the coming year, they hope to find sponsors to build and distribute 500 more purifiers, but it’s not cheap. A basic kit costs about $1,000 to produce, but with transportation and training included, a single purifier can cost about $3,500. They mostly rely on sponsors for funding.
The units run on a 12-volt power supply, like a car battery, which creates chlorine from table salt and water. The chlorine can treat water in minutes.
To keep costs down, they use volunteers for assembly. Members at Morton Memorial United Methodist Church in Clarksville decided to help after seeing a presentation from one of New Life’s missionaries about four months ago.
Edsel Richards, a retired worker from General Electric, set up a 10-foot by 10-foot tent in his backyard and went to work with his brother Dallas.
Richards found that volunteers were not always gluing the tubes correctly, which caused the bolts not to line up with the flanges. Many parts had to be thrown out.
So Richards found some old tools and began using them to make sure the parts lined up and to help correct the plastic tubes.
“They know when they get parts from us, they’re correct,” he said.
Eventually, the church basement became available, and the brothers set up shop there. The parts are shipped to them from Underwood.
They, along with other church members, work Mondays through Wednesdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. They assemble about 15 to 20 units per week, Richards estimates.
While Richards has never been to a Third World country, he is proud that he can help.
“There are kids over there dying by the thousands, and if we can save one child, it’s gratifying,” Richards said.
McGuire said the group in Clarksville has helped because New Life is in the process of moving into a larger facility.
“The folks down there have been helping us a lot by putting a lot of this stuff together offsite,” he said. They are the only “satellite group” helping with assembly.
This year, New Life is focusing its attention on impoverished areas in Africa and storm-ravished countries. They have a team of missionaries in Mexico, surveying the damage from two hurricanes which hit the state of Tabasco.
Each unit can provide water to thousands of people. The purifiers are generally run by missionaries, churches or humanitarian groups. McGuire said that is what makes their ministry unique.
A lot of people want to donate to an individual in need, he said, but that is not always as cost-effective.
“There’s a lot of effort that’s on a personal level, and at the end of the day you’re picking your favorites, and the cost per person is quite high,” he said. “But people can provide safe water for less than a penny per person per day.”
While McGuire said monetary donations are helpful, the most important thing is coordinating with missionaries to find places that need the most help.
“For every man hour that is spent building the purifier, there are probably 20 man or woman hours getting these to people, training, doing follow ups, educating,” he said.
He said the missionaries spend a lot of time training people about hygiene and protection against diseases such as AIDS. He said many people do not even realize that the water is a problem.