Changing the World with Safe Water

There’s nothing more essential to human life than water. Without it, the human body can’t survive more than a few days at most. Though safe water is something often taken for granted in the western world, in developing nations water can be the single greatest need for the poor and vulnerable. In villages and communities without a safe water supply, residents often have to spend hours each day simply retrieving and transporting water back to their homes. This leaves substantially less time and energy available for preparing food or earning an income, helping perpetuate an ongoing cycle of poverty and suffering.

To make matters worse, the water sources that serve these impoverished communities are frequently contaminated. Bacteria, parasites, and other pathogens often infest the drinking water, but residents have no choice but to drink this filthy water. The resulting health problems are not only a further economic drag to suffering people groups, but can lead to chronic illness and even death. In fact, contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause over 500,000 deaths each year from diarrhea alone, according to the World Health Organization.

While many areas have endured an ongoing water crisis for generations, disasters can create safe water shortages in areas where water was previously plentiful, for instance in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. For disaster victims working to rebuild, a lack of safe water can be a dangerous and crippling weight to bear.

For years, Operation Blessing has been committed to fighting the epidemic of unsafe water around the world. Along the way we’ve developed a powerful toolbox of safe water solutions that enable us to bring safe water to those in need, no matter their situation.

Safe Water Tools

One of OBI's catchment systems used in rural communities throughout Latin America.

Rural Community Water Systems

In many rural communities throughout Latin America, water sources may be available but they are not safe to drink from and are often difficult to access. OBI constructs concrete catchment systems—or reservoir tanks—to collect source water, apply purification techniques, and then construct a network of underground PVC pipes to plumb the water directly to village homes, giving continual and convenient access to safe water.

Safe Water Testing & Training

OBI staff visit our international operations to conduct water testing clinics and to familiarize indigenous OBI teams and partnering groups in the use of equipment in our ever-expanding Safe Water Toolbox.

Containers full of safe water thanks to OBI safe water solutions.

Chlorine Manufacturing, Disinfection, Desalination, and Filtration Systems

Poor communities face a wide variety of water challenges that require customized solutions. In Africa, the Philippines, Haiti, and throughout Latin America, OBI is utilizing Sanilec-6 devices to manufacture chlorine to make bad water safe and provide an inexpensive way to stop contagious disease from spreading. One San-6 unit is currently servicing the largest hospital in Juba, South Sudan. Larger systems, installed by OBI in Puerto Rico’s Teacher’s Hospital and at Haiti’s newest and largest hospital in Mirebalais, process up to 1 million gallons a week. In over 20 countries, we have also utilized portable filtration/chlorination systems following disasters, each unit capable of purifying 600 gallons of water an hour. We also use reverse osmosis and desalination systems to turn salt water into sweet, safe water. And OBI also uses and distributes handheld, solar-powered chlorine generators called H2gO and MSR SE-200 Community Chlorine Makers.

An Oasis filtration system.

Oasis Filtration System

OBI, working with Aqua Research, is developing a low cost, ultrafilter-based, water treatment system that can be used in low-income households and disaster relief settings. The 20-liter, plastic container incorporates an ultrafilter (removes all classes of microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria and protozoa) and a small hand-operated manual air pump that provides the low pressure needed to push the raw water (river, lake, stream, well, etc.) through the filter. Final testing is ongoing and Oasis will soon be saving lives.

Kohler Clarity Filtration System

A recently added component to the OBI Safe Water Toolbox that fits perfectly into our community development program in impoverished areas and disaster relief programs is the Kohler Clarity Filtration system (pictured below). The system is inexpensive and effective. Untreated water is poured into the upper reservoir where it slowly gravity feeds through a ceramic filter that removes over 99 percent of pathogens. Following recent Hurricane Maria, OBI is participating in a consortium in Puerto Rico that has distributed over 30,000 Clarity filters to public schools and communities all over the island.

Escaping Sex Trafficking In Mexico

In Mexico the non-profit “El Pozo De Vida” functions as a refuge for women who have been trafficked and sexually abused. They provide a safe space for these women to live and recuperate from the trauma of sex trafficking. But the safe-home they were renting for these precious women was just not able to meet their needs. These girls needed a space of their own.

That’s when Operation Blessing stepped in and helped move the girls to a brand new house large enough to expand the population from 10 to 22 girls. Not only that, but Operation Blessing renovated the home and provided the furnishings and many of the tools necessary for these girls to learn new trades and begin the healing process. With this new safe-home, El Pozo De Vida became exactly that – The Well of Life.

Together, Operation Blessing and El Pozo De Vida are giving these girls a place where they can feel safe and begin to acquire the tools they need to be self-sufficient and successful in the world such as bakery training and barista training. And none of this would have been possible without you, our generous donors. Thank you so much for support of Operation Blessing and our efforts to break the cycle of suffering in Mexico, and around the world.

Advocate For Others Longs for Post Hurricane Harvey Help

TEXAS – Annie has always been an advocate for others, especially after surviving a kidnapping when she was a teenager. But when her home was left in ruins after Hurricane Harvey struck, she struggled to find someone willing to help.

Over four feet of water flooded into the home Annie and her husband, Leo, have shared for 22 years.

“Everything that we have was lost,” Annie said.

Annie has suffered from kidney failure and congestive heart failure. Her husband, Leo, was diagnosed with cancer and has undergone several back surgeries. The pair use walkers to get around.

Though their struggles are many, Annie is dedicated to ministering to others and helping people who have been victims of crimes. Annie speaks as a survivor herself. When she was only 13 years old, Annie was kidnapped and spent around three years at the hands of her captor. Now, she helps others.

But when Annie and Leo needed help with their home, they did not know where to turn. With no flood insurance and no family nearby, they reached out to local agencies hoping someone would come help them after the hurricane. Repeatedly, the answer was no.

A team of Operation Blessing volunteers.

“We’d been going from agency to agency and they kept turning us down,” Annie said. “We are disabled and my husband is a vet. And we’ve just been getting turned down.”

They were beginning to feel that their entire street had been forgotten. Then, the couple received a call from Operation Blessing and Annie was overjoyed to hear that, at long last, help was on the way.

“My heart’s just overjoyed right now,” Annie said. “I haven’t been this overjoyed since I’ve been homeless, because we’re homeless right now. We are so overjoyed and grateful.”

Operation Blessing brought a team of disaster volunteers to Annie and Leo’s door. The team pulled out the soiled carpet and damaged belongings, doing the work the disabled couple simply couldn’t handle. More than that, the volunteers made sure Annie and Leo knew they weren’t alone.

“I have not received help from anybody else like this,” Annie said with tears in her eyes. “We don’t know what we would have done today if you hadn’t come out.”

The woman who has helped so many with her advocacy and testimony now knows that she hasn’t been forgotten and that there are still people out there who care.

Annie and her husband, Leo, with the team of volunteers

From the Field

Extreme Blessing for a Veteran Widower

TEXAS, USA – As smiling widower and veteran, Allen, approaches his home amidst cheers, encouraging signs, and bright balloons, the meaning of the words “Extreme Blessing” could not be more obvious. This deserving elderly man had lost nearly everything to Hurricane Harvey, but thanks to supporters like you, and volunteers from Operation Blessing and The Home Depot, his story had a happy ending.

Allen still visits his wife’s grave and mourns her loss.

Allen lost his wife of 55 years a mere year and a half ago. He still visits and tends her grave regularly, and still mourns her loss. Then, when Hurricane Harvey hit his coastal Texas area in late August of 2017, he lost even more. His home flooded so severely that it had to be stripped to the studs. His only salvageable piece of furniture was a flood-soaked wooden chair, and his only privacy a piece of cardboard propped against the studs in the bathroom.

Allen sits in his stripped home on a single piece of furniture before the makeover.

Operation Blessing stepped in to help Mr. Allen by sanitizing his home and adding new walls and electrical wiring. But they had even more up their sleeves for this deserving elderly man. Allen was chosen as one of a handful of hurricane victims to receive an “Extreme Blessing” home makeover from Operation and partner, The Home Depot.

As the sign says, “Shh…it’s a surprise.” OBI and Home Depot tried to keep things hush, hush during the makeover.

However, Allen didn’t know this. Operation Blessing VP of U.S. Disaster Relief and Programs, Jody Gettys, offered to bring in extra volunteers to work on his home if he would stay away for two and a half weeks at a hotel OBI provided. She knew this would be difficult for Allen, who loves to be at his home, but managed to persuade him, despite repeatedly stressing that she didn’t want to get his hopes up too high, and that she wasn’t sure how far they’d get. All of which was part of the big surprise in store for Allen. When Allen returned, in fact, his home would be not only completely rebuilt and remodeled, but even redecorated!

Two and a half weeks later a crowd of Operation Blessing and Home Depot volunteers cheerfully awaited to surprise Allen with the big reveal of his new home. They waved bright colorful signs saying things like “Texas Strong” and “Bless This Home.” Amy Fernandez was one of the many volunteers and workers involved in the project. She said that Allen became like a grandfather to her.

Over Allen’s new bed read the words, “Goodnight, God Bless You, I love you.”

The remade house came complete with new furniture, flooring, and appliances. Much thought, love, and care went into redecorating each room of Allen’s home. The workers incorporated special memories and touches for Allen, like family photos and some of his army memorabilia.

OBI and The Home Depot included some of Allen’s army memorabilia into his home makeover.

Beyond the normal decorations, since the home makeover took place in November, the team even decorated Allen’s house for Christmas! He was excited, and looked forward to hosting his family “at home” for Thanksgiving.

The team also gave special attention to the outdoor portion of Allen’s home, and topped it off with a new grill and patio furniture so that he can cook and host outside.

Allen excitedly toured his new home along with the many volunteers who were so happy to share this amazing surprise with him. Nothing can bring back Allen’s wife, but restoring the home he shared with her has gone a long way in restoring his spirits and giving him hope for the future.

Rebuilding Her Life

TEXAS, USA – After making initial landfall near Corpus Christi on August 25, Hurricane Harvey began a slow journey up the Texas coast toward Houston. Along the way, it’s soaking rains and storm surge inundated many coastal communities. By the time the storm finally dissipated, nearly a week after making landfall, Hurricane Harvey had broken almost every rainfall record for a U.S. storm and caused historic flooding all along the coast.

One of the areas hardest hit by the floods was the community of Port Arthur, about 90 miles east of Houston. It was here that 66-year-old Priscilla attempted to wait out the storm with her two Chihuahuas. However, the rains fell hard and the waters continued to rise. By the time Priscilla’s son arrived in a boat to rescue her and the dogs, the water was already waist-deep in her home.

With nowhere to go, Priscilla slept on an air mattress in a rented Jeep in her driveway.

It was a week and a half before Priscilla was able to return home to see the damage the floodwaters had done. She wasn’t prepared for what she found. “I lost everything I own,” Priscilla said. “And I don’t have anything to start over with.”

Volunteers from Operation Blessing and The Home Depot helped Priscilla rebuild her life following Hurricane Harvey.

Priscilla’s home was in bad shape. The floodwaters had saturated her walls and floors, destroyed her appliances, and soaked her furniture. To make matters worse, mold was growing rapidly. Due to a lung condition, Priscilla couldn’t even enter her own home because of the mold.

With nowhere else to go, Priscilla slept on an inflatable mattress in the back of a rented Jeep parked in her driveway. The garage, though damaged, was in better shape than the rest of her house, so Priscilla did her best to turn it into her living area. With the small amount of money she received from FEMA and other organizations, she was able to purchase a new stove and refrigerator, but she had no idea how she was going to repair her home.

When Operation Blessing staff learned of Priscilla’s situation, they immediately set out to help. In partnership with The Home Depot, OBI teams quickly began working to give Priscilla the surprise of a lifetime.

First they cleared out the flood-damaged flooring, drywall, and other ruined items from Priscilla’s home. Then, while Priscilla stayed at a hotel, work continued at her home. Little did she know, Priscilla had been chosen to receive an “Extreme Blessing Home Makeover” and volunteer crews were hard at work rebuilding her home from the studs out. (Read the story of dedicated volunteer, Amy Fernandez, here.) On the day of the big reveal, dozens of Operation Blessing and Home Depot volunteers greeted Priscilla as she returned to her “new” home. She couldn’t hold back her tears as OBI’s vice president of U.S. disaster relief and programs, Jody Gettys, showed her the new walls, floors, appliances, and furnishings that filled her home.

Priscilla with the Operation Blessing crew.

“Thank you, Operation Blessing and Home Depot for blessing me, doing God’s work,” Priscilla said. “I feel like God has worked through you!”

From the Field

Dedicated Volunteer Goes Above and Beyond

TEXAS, USA – When Amy Fernandez, wife, mother of six mostly grown children, and online student from California, heard about an opportunity to help Hurricane Harvey disaster victims in Texas, God tugged at her heart and she felt that she needed to get involved. But at the time she had no idea how huge her involvement would become.

Amy’s heart always pulls her toward helping others. Back home in California, she serves as a Sunday School teacher, runs a ministry called Servant Heart that delivers meals to people in need, and she and her husband lead P.S.A.L.M. Outreach, a support group for parents of children who have been sexually abused. In fact, when the hurricane first hit, she was on a mission trip in England.

Meanwhile, some friends of Amy’s familiar with Operation Blessing decided to organize a group to help disaster victims in Texas. Although Amy had never done disaster relief work before, she knew she needed to go along. After just a few days at home, she packed to travel to Texas, planning to stay for only a week. But God had other plans!

Several of Amy’s family members traveled from California to Texas to help with the relief efforts.

Amy was so touched by the disaster recovery work going on in Texas, and the people she met, that she decided to stay. “I’ve watched the Lord work every single day,” she said. “Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that?”

For the last several months, dedicated volunteer Amy has been an integral part of Operation Blessing’s disaster relief work in Texas. During that time, she’s made a few brief trips home. Several of her family members, including her husband Gary and her youngest three children Riley (15), Ian (16), and Meghan (19), have also traveled to Texas to visit her and help with the relief efforts. Her whole family has been very supportive of her decision to stay in Texas and help disaster victims.

Although at times Amy has found it challenging to keep up with her online school work as a Christian Studies major at Grand Canyon University, her teachers have been understanding. Amy said, “The Lord is all over this. Just grace all the time.”

Amy talks with a disaster victim named Mike.

Operation Blessing volunteers like Amy are offered free housing and meals, and are merely asked to provide their own transportation to and from the work sites. However, as Amy became more and more a part of OBI’s efforts in Texas, it became clear that some special accommodations were in order. Amy now works leading other volunteers, and has become a part-time employee for Operation Blessing.

In addition to the gutting, mucking, and sanitizing of flooded and molding houses that typically occurs during disaster relief work, Amy ministers to the many people in need—showing them love and compassion, praying with them, and giving them hope. In just a few days, Operation Blessing teams can help residents accomplish what might have taken them weeks or even months on their own. Amy has learned from the people and their experiences even as she serves them.

Amy gives Allen, an Operation Blessing beneficiary, a hug.

Additionally, she’s had the opportunity to be involved in two Extreme Blessing projects in which OBI completely restored, and even decorated, homes for two very special people in need. Amy was particularly involved in working on the home of a veteran and widower named Allen. Of all the many projects she’s worked on, this one especially touched Amy’s heart. She doesn’t have grandparents of her own, and she said that Allen “became a grandpa to me.”

Amy’s love and enthusiasm is evident in every word and action, and her positive outlook on life is contagious. In addition to her work in the field, she has also regularly shared her experiences on Instagram to generate prayer and awareness. After the immediate danger of a disaster passes, it’s easy to forget the huge task of recovery that’s yet to be accomplished, but Amy is determined to help people remember.

Dedicated volunteer Amy Fernandez is certainly an inspiration. While few people can spend months at a time doing disaster recovery work, many have helped by giving a few dollars or a few days of their time. Some Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas are still desperate for help in recovering and rebuilding their lives. Operation Blessing plans to remain in the area assisting those in need through March, 2018.

Volunteer Amy hard at work removing rotted and molding dry wall from the home of a Hurricane Harvey victim.

What does Amy have to say about volunteering with Operation Blessing? “It’s pretty amazing. I can’t really put a feeling into it. You just have to come and experience it…. There’s so much love here. It’s just a blessing…” She also points out that it doesn’t matter “how old, how young, how strong, how fit, how healthy… There’s really a position for everybody.” Amy urges everyone to get involved in volunteer disaster recovery work, so that the victims will know they’re not alone.

Health Care for Remote Village

CORNILLON GRAND-BOIS, Haiti – It takes over two hours on a dirt path just to reach the main road. And for the impoverished villagers of Cornillon Grand-Bois, that is a long way to go if you need health care.

The community struggles without access to medical aid, so Operation Blessing conducted a two-day medical mission in the area. Rather than requiring the villagers to travel long distances while ill to find help, OB Haiti brought the care to the community.

The medical team consisted of four doctors, along with several pharmacists, nurses, auxiliary nurses, a trained Community Health Worker, and a chlorine agent—all led by an Operation Blessing health manager. It took the team five hours of travel each day to reach the villagers.

Over 300 adults and 300 children received medical attention during the campaign.

OB Haiti’s team provided medication and consultation for cases of high blood pressure, respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, scabies, and more. Eighteen pregnant women attended the campaign, and one was diagnosed with preeclampsia, which can be dangerous to both mother and baby. Operation Blessing provided medication to help get her blood pressure under control, as well as prenatal vitamins and iron.

In addition to medicine and medical care, Operation Blessing also brought a solution to the safe water crisis in the community. OBI provided chlorine and taught the villagers how to use it to treat their drinking water, which will go a long way to increasing the health in the community.

Families in this remote village now have a better understanding of hygiene, the ability to treat their water, and the knowledge that they are not forgotten!

From the Field

An Island in Ruin

PUERTO RICO – On September 6, 2017, the eye of Hurricane Irma, a powerful category 5 storm, passed just north of San Juan. Though the hurricane caused massive damage to the island, Puerto Ricans breathed a sigh of relief knowing it could have been much worse. But just two weeks later, their worst fears were realized.

Maria, a massive category 4 hurricane with wind speeds just two miles per hour shy of category 5 status, slammed into Puerto Rico on September 20. The storm’s powerful winds and torrential rains wreaked unprecedented havoc across the entire island. Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was completely destroyed leaving millions without power. Even worse, the storm left many without access to safe water, and, in some areas, 80 to 90 percent of structures were destroyed.

As the scope of the destruction became clear, Operation Blessing set to work. OBI staff arrived on the ground as soon as the airport opened. With no power on the island, Operation Blessing began by distributing hundreds of solar lights to children and families in need. OBI partnered with a local bakery to produce 1,000 loaves of bread per day, providing critical food relief.

As much as they needed food and light, the greatest need for Puerto Ricans was water. At the height of the crisis as many as 50 percent of residents did not have access to safe drinking water. Operation Blessing shipped large-scale water purification and desalination equipment to the island as quickly as possible. It wasn’t long before nine reverse osmosis systems, and the generators to power them, were installed in various locations across Puerto Rico. Each system is capable of desalinating and purifying 1,800 gallons of water per day. Operation Blessing also set up a chlorine production center in San Juan’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum utilizing three Sanilac-6 chlorine generators. The chlorine produced at this location alone was enough to disinfect over 1.2 million gallons of drinking water a day. In addition, Operation Blessing distributed over 100,000 water disinfecting Aquatabs and handed out thousands of Kohler Clarity water filtration units to families without safe water.

To further meet the water needs of hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, Operation Blessing created Operation Agua in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Hispanic Federation. Operation Agua will allow OBI to bring even more Kohler Clarity water filters, Sanilac-6 chlorine generators, Parker reverse osmosis systems, and Water Mission chlorinators to Puerto Rico.

Not only have Operation Blessing teams brought solar lights, food, and safe water to the needy in Puerto Rico, we’re also helping them start the rebuilding process. As Maria tore across the island, many Puerto Ricans lost their roofs. Operation Blessing is targeting some of the most vulnerable families and repairing their homes.

As our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico face the monumental task of recovering from Hurricane Maria, friends like you have been there from the beginning, working to forge a path forward.

Weathering the Storms

TEXAS – Winderful has weathered many storms in her life. Over the last few years she’s lost her husband to cancer, her eldest son in a car accident, and suffered the devastation left behind by Hurricane Harvey.

Winderful was not home when the hurricane struck her neighborhood. She and her fiancé traveled three hours away to visit his father whose health was failing. When they returned, there was too much water for a car to make it through the neighborhood. Though she was terrified and did not know how to swim, she took a boat to her house to survey the damage. Everything had been destroyed.

“We didn’t have anything,” Winderful said. “We got six feet of water in our house. It’s a very empty feeling to feel you have nothing left.”

Worse, Winderful did not have flood insurance. While there had been other storms to hit the area, none prepared her for the totality of destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey.

“I have been through some storms, and this was the worst ever,” Winderful said.

Winderful was already overwhelmed with the recent losses of her husband and son. The added loss of everything she owned was beginning to feel like too much to handle. Then, a friend told her about Operation Blessing who had teams of volunteers in the area helping families begin recovery after the hurricane. She gave them a call, and soon there were volunteers in white Operation Blessing shirts knocking on her door.

A Bible verse written on the beams as a volunteer works on Winderful’s house.

“When Operation Blessing showed up it was a big relief,” she said. “And you knew then everything was okay.”

The volunteers gutted Winderful’s house, removing damaged sheetrock and insulation, and emptied her house of her damaged belongings. It was more work than she and her fiancé could have accomplished on their own.

“If it wasn’t for Operation Blessing coming out to help us gut it out, and clean it up, and getting it mold-free, I don’t know what I would have done.”

Though the road to recovery for victims of Hurricane Harvey is long, people like Winderful are thankful for the reminder that they are not alone and that someone is there to help.

“When [Operation Blessing] arrived, I thought that people really do care about not only me, but everyone here in Port Arthur,” said Winderful. “That gave me hope, hope that things were moving and improving.”

Remembering to Dream Big Dreams

PERU – Like many of us, Nadia had gotten caught in the daily grind of work and family and forgotten to dream bigger dreams. Each morning she would rise at 4am to sell fish, caught by her husband, at the local market. Throughout the day she prepared meals for her family, and she helped her children with their homework each night.

If she’d ever desired more for her life, those wishes had long ago faded away. Nadia hadn’t even finished secondary school, and she accepted her lot, along with the ten to fifteen dollars that she and her husband managed to earn each day to cover household expenses.

 Nadia rises early each morning to sell the fish her husband catches to earn money for their family.

Then she noticed a group of women—OBI Community Health Workers (CHWs)—working at a local preschool. “It drew my attention when my neighbors went to the preschool every week. I didn’t want to stay behind,” Nadia said.

She discovered that an educational program in her area run by Operation Blessing had trained these workers. The program provides weekly lessons on subjects like first aid, pre-natal care, infections, and other health issues.

Nadia enjoys her community health worker classes, where she feels like part of a family.

Although Nadia doubted she could achieve becoming a health worker herself, the opportunity stirred up her long forgotten dreams. Nadia’s mother had been a health worker in her own community. As a child, she had watched her mother give shots, measure blood pressure, and help those in need without expecting anything in return.

Nadia realized she wanted to do more with her life and become a part of a beautiful journey to helping others. So she decided to attend the CHW classes together with her neighbor Frida. Nadia said, “I came to OBI with the desire to learn and a hope that my children would feel proud of their mother.”

 Nadia takes a woman’s blood pressure. You can see her love of helping others on her face.

She felt welcomed and encouraged at the Community Health Worker classes. Nadia had thought she would never have another chance to study or to become part of a team of helpers. But over the next three years, she became empowered to provide medical care and wise counsel to those who need it most in her neighborhood. She said, “That part of helping others is amazing.”

Today Nadia happily lives out the dreams she had almost forgotten to have. “With OBI, I learned to lose fear and face everyday situations. OBI taught me not only workshops, but also to build a family, like my family of CHWs.”

From the Field