Honoring World Malaria Day in Kenya

KENYA – In addition to groundbreaking biological mosquito control projects in places like Honduras, Operation Blessing teams are also responding to recent outbreaks of dangerous and deadly mosquito-borne disease such as malaria in Kenya.

During a recent distribution, Operation Blessing and volunteers from a local church delivered over 1,000 mosquito nets and 2,000 jars of mosquito repellent jelly to help protect families in the community of Baringo.

An OB worker teaching villagers in Kenya about fighting malaria.

These villagers were grateful that friends like you have remembered them during their time of need. “God bless OBI and keep them,” they said.

Vision Restored

GUATEMALA – When their daughter Dulce was born, loving parents Alfredo and Erenia were overjoyed. However, the doctors had some bad news. “Since Dulce was born we knew that things were not right,” Alfredo said. “The doctors told us that she was born with strabismus, but that it was possible that her eye would return to the normal position when she grew up.” Hoping that the issue would correct itself on its own, they waited.

Strabismus is a disorder that prevents both eyes from looking at the same place all the time. As time went on, it became clear that Dulce’s eyes were not getting any better. One day when the family was visiting grandma’s house, Dulce and her sister, Alisson, were running and climbing when Dulce’s poor vision led to a fall that knocked the young girl unconscious. “At that moment I was filled with fear,” Erenia recalled. “I thought Dulce was going to die. We quickly rushed her to the hospital. Thank God she was fine.”

Dulce strains to read a book before her operation.

The incident shook Erenia and Alfredo to the core. They knew something had to be done for their daughter, but they couldn’t afford the operation Dulce needed. As she grew older, her strabismus began to not only affect Dulce’s vision, but her relationships in school and her self-esteem as well.

One day, Dulce said to her mother, “Mom, I’m very ugly, my friends are right, I look weird.” The words devastated her parents. “I never thought that Dulce would think that of herself,” Erenia said. “Her words tore something inside of me and I did not know what to say. I just took her in my arms trying to erase that thought from her mind.”

Alfredo and Erenia were desperate to find help for their daughter. Erenia recalled, “We sought help from many other NGOs. We did not have the money to take Dulce to a private doctor.” Alfredo added, “We visited more than seven different organizations, but none gave us a definitive solution.” Alfredo and Erenia worked tirelessly to find a solution for Dulce, often leaving the house at 4 a.m. to work.

The surgeons perform an operation on Dulce’s eyes.

Finally, they found what appeared to be a solution, a doctor offered to operate on Dulce for $450. Aflredo tried to get help from friends and family to raise the money, but they turned their backs on him. All seemed lost. Dulce would not get the operation she so desperately needed.

Then, at last, came a breakthrough. Operation Blessing staff in Guatemala heard Dulce’s story and began working with the Moore Pediatric Center to provide Dulce’s operation free of charge. Not only did Operation Blessing provide for the surgery, but also for transportation, lodging, meals, and medications as well.

Dulce sits coloring. She can now see much better!

Today, Dulce is well on the road to a full recovery. Her eyesight has dramatically improved and she no longer fears the ridicule of her peers. Truly, young Dulce’s life has been transformed.

Water Wells Transform Liberian Villages

LIBERIA – Imagine the life of a villager in remote Africa: living in a mud hut, working the fields each day, growing crops like rice and cassava. There’s no easy access to education or health care. One must travel long and dangerous distances, or simply manage without such necessities. But perhaps most troubling, these villagers live daily without access to safe, clean water.

For many people in the Kakata region of Liberia, the scenario above is all too real. In some cases, villagers survive on water from a swampy hole or a dirty creek. In other villages, the residents walk as far as 45 minutes during the dry season to fetch water from the next village—water that is still dangerous to drink. Waterborne diseases like cholera are sadly a part of everyday life. Yet in many ways these primarily Christian villagers are just like the rest of us. They work hard to provide for their families and pray for a better life.

A man from Noko’s Town, had this to say. “Since this village came to existence, safe drinking water has been a problem and our utmost important need. Our neighboring villages laugh at us during the dry season for going to their unsafe creek to fetch water…. We were often sick, our young children and elderly ones too, with diarrhea or running stomach.”

Liberia Water Wells Help Hundreds

Learning the needs in this remote area, Operation Blessing went to work digging brand new wells in five small villages in the Kakata region. The new wells will provide safe, easy to access water for over 2,000 people in Noko’s Town, Sao’s Town, Smith’s Town, Tumu’s Town, and Wallah’s Town.

OB Liberia also held dedication ceremonies for each of the five wells. During the ceremonies, ministers shared the love of Christ. In addition, each ceremony included important lessons on good health and hygiene practices, areas in which too many of the villagers were previously uneducated. The attendees showed much enthusiasm and thankfulness for these life-changing wells, and for those, like you, who made them possible.

A mother from Wallah’s Town summed up their feelings, saying, “Our struggle of walking twenty minutes to fetch water that will do harm to us and our children is over…. We are grateful for this new water source which now brings abundant relief… Thank God, thanks to the donors, and thanks to you, Operation Blessing International.’’

Baseball Brings Life Skills to Haitian Youth

HAITI – In 2010, a devastating earthquake affected millions of Haitians. Makeshift “tent cities” formed out of the rubble of Port-au-Prince. The vulnerable children living in these areas succumbed to begging, suffered violence, and quickly became malnourished. Out of this darkness came an idea to help these children regain their health and bring much needed joy back into their lives through the simple game of baseball.

After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, many people lived in tent cities like this one.

With other sports requiring stamina and energy that the children didn’t possess due to lack of nutrition, baseball was the perfect fit. Two American relief workers, Bryn Mooser and Operation Blessing’s David Darg, began working with these children and introducing the game.

As time progressed, the love for the game grew as more and more boys became interested in the new sport. From there, Haiti’s first little league team, the Tabarre Tigers, was formed, soon followed by the Tabarre Ti Crabs. With the formation of the two teams, the players enjoyed friendly games against each other. The teams were given baseballs, gloves, and bats. As word spread, visitors brought more equipment and uniforms. In 2011, the captain of the Tabarre Tigers, Joseph Alvyns, even received the amazing honor of throwing the first pitch at a Toronto Blue Jay’s game.

Since then, Operation Blessing International has stepped in to expand the Tabarre Tigers program and provide greater structure. Since 2015, the teams have been coached by Luis Ventura Vega, who holds a Master’s in Physical Education and Community Sports. With his involvement, they have risen to a new level of professionalism and discipline. In 2017, a junior team for 8 to 12 year olds was created to give younger children a chance to play. The program is currently training 50 boys, ages 8 to 20, three times per week, many of whom have been a part of the program since 2011.

After each practice session, all participants receive a nutritious meal, typically including vegetables, coconut, and a protein such as chicken, as well as plenty of water, electrolytes, and juice.

The baseball program has expanded its reach to not only teach the boys about the sport, but also about pressing issues in Haiti like the importance of recycling and healthy living. Trash disposal in Haiti is an unsolved problem with the majority of waste ending up in the ocean.

Through the baseball program, the boys are learning the importance of proper trash disposal and recycling. They clean up any trash previously left on the field and throw away their own. The boys help to separate the materials gathered, and Operation Blessing Haiti then delivers the plastic and aluminum to a local recycling plant.

Additionally, a health curriculum from Caris Foundation was implemented during the 2017-2018 school year. This curriculum teaches the boys about healthy eating habits, the importance of proper hygiene, mental health, the dangers of mosquitoes and parasites, and other relevant topics.

Educating the players about their home country is an important aspect of the baseball program. Many Haitian young people never have the opportunity to visit different areas of their nation and learn their history. The team visited numerous historical sights, as well as areas of natural beauty, and even tried horseback riding.

Baseball tournament trophies and medals.

In 2017 the Tigers saw their busiest and most fruitful year to date. With Coach Ventura guiding them, the boys were more organized and followed a regimented training program, producing strength and precision in their technique.
With the game of baseball growing in Haiti, the boys now have two additional teams to play against. OB Haiti organized the first tournament for the four teams, with a total of 80 participants. Four referees from Cuba called the game. Visitors who were interested in starting more teams attended the event. And not surprisingly, the Tabarre Tigers took first place!

Many of the boys have a growing hope and goal to one day earn a school scholarship to continue onto higher education through playing baseball. Some even dream of playing professionally. As the momentum keeps building, more and more opportunities are forming for young boys to learn discipline, have regular physical activity, eat nutritious meals, and gain valuable and necessary life skills through the Operation Blessing baseball program.

From the Field

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.