Water filters help quake victims in Ecuador

Volunteer Patricia Zajia, a native of Ecuador, put together water filtration kits at the Water With Blessings office in Middletown May 2. Close to 700 kits have been shipped to earthquake victims in Ecuador. (Photo Special to The Record)

Volunteer Patricia Zajia, a native of Ecuador, put together water filtration kits at the Water With Blessings office in Middletown May 2. Close to 700 kits have been shipped to earthquake victims in Ecuador. (Photo Special to The Record)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
With the help of local donors and volunteers, Water With Blessings provided 3,000 water filters to victims of devastating earthquakes in Nepal last year. The Louisville non-profit organization aims to do the same in Ecuador now.

A magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Ecuador on April 16, killing hundreds on Ecuador’s Pacific coast, including several women religious. Catholic News Service reported April 26 that Catholic agencies were building temporary shelters for and distributing food and water to thousands of victims who were left homeless.

So far, close to 700 filters — each of which can provide clean water to 25 people for a lifetime — have been sent to Ecuador.

Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Larraine Lauter, who leads Water with Blessings, hopes to send a total of about 4,500 filters to Ecuador — shipping about 150 per day.

Access to clean water becomes critical after a natural disaster, said Sister Lauter during a recent interview. Water With Blessings regularly provides water purification systems to families in developing nations and it also responds to natural disasters.

“More people will die from living in unhealthy conditions after than will die during the earthquake,” said Sister Lauter, noting that the need for clean water often goes unreported by the news media. “Water becomes the most critical element following a disaster.”

Sister Lauter said that children die every day from drinking contaminated water in developing countries. It’s a problem, she said, that “is so fixable.”

A Nepalese woman collects clean water from a water purification system provided by Water With Blessings after deadly earthquakes in Nepal.

A Nepalese woman collects clean water from a water purification system provided by Water With Blessings after deadly earthquakes in Nepal. (Photo Special to The Record)

She hopes to find donors and volunteers willing to help fix the situation before it becomes more dire in Ecuador, just as people did for Nepal last year.

A magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, killing thousands and displacing many more. Water with Blessings worked with donors here and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, among others, in Nepal, to provide 3,000 filters to victims, who are still trying to piece their lives back together.

A kit normally costs $60, but during a time of disaster when large numbers are being ordered, they can be purchased for half that price — $30 per filter.

Water With Blessings also needs volunteers in the Louisville area to put the water filtration kits together. Volunteers are needed on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons, but Sister Lauter said she will work to accommodate the volunteers’ schedules.

“There’s a huge need,” she said, noting that there’s “much that children volunteers and retired people can do.”

Her point of contact in Ecuador are members of the Daughters of Charity, who are working with congregations of Ecuadorian sisters to distribute the filtration systems. The kits include an instruction manual, but recipients will also be trained to use them properly.

Sr. Lauter said that the Daughters of Charity are coordinating these training sessions within the temporary shelters and out in remote areas that were damaged by the earthquake as well.

Water With Blessings normally tries to give the filters to mothers, who are expected to share their clean water with other families, though exceptions are made during times of disaster, said Sister Lauter.

“We want to know that every mother who gets a water filtration system will be responsible for it and use it for as much good as possible,” she said.

The bulk of the systems are being shipped through DHL Express, which gets them to Ecuador in three to four days. More than 300 filters, however, have been sent to Ecuador through “couriers,” people who volunteer to transport the systems in their suitcases (with the proper documentation).

Sister Lauter said she’s hoping to find more people traveling to Ecuador who are willing to transport the filters. One suitcase can hold 45 to 50 systems and weighs just under 50 pounds. Sister Lauter noted that Water With Blessings will mail the filters to couriers within the United States.

Water With Blessings is also still working with victims in Nepal, aiming to send 100 more systems, Sister Lauter said.

“Nepal is still in very bad shape,” she said, adding that sending purification systems to Nepal via couriers was successful last year.

For more information or to volunteer, email helpecuador@waterwithblessings.org or call Sister Lauter at 356-9281.

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