Volunteers deliver ‘best-tasting water’ to town in Ecuador

Johan Vandersande, right, and Segundo, an employee of the San Juan de Pastocalle water department, finished sanitizing the two storage tanks where the purified water will be stored. From these tanks, the water will be put into five-gallon jugs and distributed to the citizens of the town. According to Vandersande, Segundo also built the platforms on which the tanks sit. Courtesy of Teresa Howell

“It is the best tasting water I ever drank,” Johan Vandersande emphatically stated. “And we set up the filtration system that made this water safe to drink.”  

The three man-installation team left from Santa Clarita July 16 and returned July 25; It took eight working days for Scott Bullock, John Favalessa, and Vandersande, all members of First Presbyterian Church of Newhall in Santa Clarita, to build, install and test the water purification system for San Juan de Pastocalle, a village of 3,000 people in Ecuador.  

According to Vandersande, before the purification system the villagers had to drink the water right out of the stream or buy high-priced water in 5-gallon bottles. 

“Water direct from the stream or a 5-gallon bottle were both gambles, Vandersande said. “Water direct from the stream had a high bacteria count that made people sick and water in containers was not necessarily filtered and was expensive.” 

A third alternative

Vandersande and Favalessa advised that after they installed the water purification system, the villagers had a third and inexpensive alternative. Both advised that the villagers could buy purified water free of bacteria for 25 cents for a 5-gallon jug. Vandersande insisted that 25 cents was way under the cost for a 5-gallon bottle of water in a store. 

“Villagers many times have to pay $3 or $4 or $5 for a 5-gallon bottle, which is a steep price to pay,” Vandersand said. ”Most of the villagers earn very little money in a year, and they cannot pay even the $3 cost. So they drink the river water and get sick. Now they will not have to.”

Favalessa said Living Waters for the World, a water purification ministry based in Spring Hill, Tennessee, trained all three of them to set up the water purification system designed by the group. Vandersande said the group’s ministry is to educate and send out volunteers to make potable water where there is none. 

“That is exactly what we were doing in San Juan de Pastocalle,” Vandersande said. “We went one step further than what Living Waters taught us. We built most of the water purification system from parts purchased at local hardware retailers, which puts money into the local system. About the only parts we had shipped in were the two water filters, which could only be purchased in the United States, and the ozonator. The ozonator is the heart of the system and was purchased from Living Waters for the World.”

All three of the men worried about how and who would maintain the water purification system once they installed it in the village. Vandersande thought he solved the problem when he teamed up with Jorge Garcia, head of the water junta in San Juan de Pastocalle, during his earlier scouting trip to the area in April with his wife, Evelyn Vandersande. 

Scott Bullock completed one of the last inspections on the water purification system before it was turned on. John Favalessa stated that the system can make 300 gallons of purified water per hour, and because it is housed in a building right in the middle of San Juan de Pastocalle, the pure water is available to everyone. According to Favalessa, everyone should have access to this water, which will relieve all the villagers worries of getting sick from drinking tainted water. Courtesy of Teresa Howell

According to Vandersande, between that initial trip in April and July, Garcia kept to their agreement by readying the building where the water system would be installed, finding workers to help with the installation of water tanks and other items, and finding and educating the people who would be involved with maintaining the water system and dispersing the water.  

“I could not believe it. Garcia was a man of his word. Everything was ready,” Vandersande said. “All we had to do was install the system, clean and purify the water system and holding tanks, and educate people on how to maintain the system. Garcia had already found the man to keep the system going; we just trained him and some others.”   

Part of the town’s water system

Both Vandersande and Favalessa said the water purification system they put in at San Juan de Pastocalle was successful because it was a part of the water system in the town.  

“Right now when people in San Juan de Pastocalle go to pay their water bill, they can see into the room where the water purification system is installed and the water bottles stored,” Vandersande said. “Plus, Garcia has sponsored educational meetings within the community so everyone knows about the health benefit of purified water. There will be no more worry about getting sick from drinking river water.”
Explaining the benefits of First Presbyterian’s sponsorship of the water purification system in Ecuador, Favalessa said his church family would cover costs of maintaining the system.  According to Favalessa, a number of systems already installed around the world have quit functioning because no one maintains them.  

“We do not want this to happen here,” Vandersande said. “We are working so it never happens in San Juan de Pastocalle. … Our ministry is tied closely with the church, especially the Mission Committee. They have agreed in principle to support this mission by replacing parts as needed in the purification system. Plus, they want to find another place like San Juan de Pastocalle that needs a water purification system. They want to help people, too.” 

Characterizing the ties with the First Presbyterian Church of Newhall as a partnership of the heart, Vandersande said, “We cannot fail. We have our church supporting us and the support of the local water board where we are putting the water purification system.” 

According to Vandersande, the water purification system in San Juan de Pastocalle is just the first. “I know the three of us (referring to his partners Favalessa and Bullock and himself) are ecstatic about water purification system we put in the town, and feel we now have the formula to build successful water systems in other locations,” Vandersande said. “You need to create a partnership between you the installer, the local leadership and the monetary support. We know how to do it now. And on my end, I want to find more people interested in building water purification systems.”

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