BY LYDIA LIM
On Saturday night, 264 students filled McCosh 10 for the screening of “La Source,” a documentary that follows Whitman College janitor Josue Lajeunesse’s return to his native Haiti after 2010’s devastating earthquake to provide clean water to the 5,000 people in his home village, La Source. The screening served as a fundraiser for Lajeunesse’s next project, the construction of a school in La Source. It raised a total of $7,784.
Three weeks ago, the Class of 1986 pledged to donate $19.86 for every student attendee if 300 or more students attended the screening. As the event did not reach its attendance goal of 300, the class did not donate the pledged amount per student. However, the class made a $5,000 donation, and additional pledges from five individual alumni contributed another $1,584.
Including individual donations from the student attendees of the screening, the Saturday event raised a total of $7,784, almost half of the $15,000 needed to build the school in La Source.
The timing for building the clean water system in La Source was “amazing,” said Florence Hsiao ’13, who was the chief organizer of the screening event.
“Right after the water system was built, the cholera epidemic hit Haiti because of the earthquake, and no one in [Lajeunesse’s] village got cholera because of the clean water system,” Hsiao said. “If that wasn’t there, they would have been drinking water from the same river that was giving everyone else cholera.”
Lajeunesse’s project to deliver clean water to his village was supported by Generosity Water, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the water crisis, and the University community. He actively worked with many students and organizations on campus to raise money and awareness about the clean water delivery project, which was implemented in 2010.
“I can’t believe that Princeton students were able to pull this off,” Hsiao said. “It’s like a testimony to Princeton’s motto of ‘In the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.’ And we really don’t have to wait until after we graduate to start making that kind of impact. We can do it now, as students.”
Jordan Wagner, executive director of Generosity Water, said his visit to a village in northern Uganda in fall 2008 motivated him to start his organization. Half of the 1,000 inhabitants of the Ugandan town had died from a cholera outbreak a month before Wagner’s visit.
“And then they [the villagers] explained to us that for $5,000, we could have drilled a water well that would have provided fresh clean drinking water to everybody in that community, so I’m thinking to myself, ‘Man, if we would’ve gotten here a month earlier with $5,000, we could have saved a thousand people’s lives,’ ” Wagner said. “And those numbers just didn’t equal up.”
Wagner returned to the United States, raised $6,000 and returned to the Ugandan community to build the first water project by Generosity Water. In the last four years, the nonprofit has raised almost $5 million and has built over 400 water projects around the world that have around 300,000 people get access to clean water, he said.
“If more people would have seen what I saw, they would do what I do,” Wagner said, explaining his motivation for creating the documentary on Lajeunesse. “I think that Josue is such a hero in this community and everywhere we go — people are so inspired by his story.”
Lajeunesse explained that the water project, after its implementation in 2010, has been faring well “because we’re not just building the system, and then letting it go.”
His brother Chrismedonne, who lives in La Source, has put together a water committee that collects the American equivalent of 25 to 50 cents a month from every family that uses the water project, which is used to fix any problems or damages with the water system, Wagner said.
Generosity Water, Manna Christian Fellowship and students on campus are continuing to raise awareness for Lajeunesse’s school-building project.
The children in the village have to walk miles to get to the nearest school, and often, the river that they must cross to reach the school is flooded, making it impossible for them to go to school, Hsiao noted.
“Josue just sees so much potential in the people in his village, and he just knows that if they can just get access to education, it could change the way they live,” Hsiao said.
Wagner said that he hopes to see La Source five years down the road “completely transformed.”
“I really want to see kids coming out of there flourishing and coming back, bringing change to the community,” Wagner said.