On the evening of August 28th, three days after Harvey’s landfall on Texas, I was sitting at my computer watching the devastation unfold. My mind was spinning about what the Well Aware team could possibly do to help, and my heart hurt knowing friends and team members were in danger. Then, an email from Toyota showed up in my inbox.
Our friends at Toyota were reaching out to all of their Mothers of Invention to find out what we could do for the victims of the Hurricane in Texas. I immediately called Lindsey, and we spent an hour or more on the phone brainstorming possibilities. We launched a fundraiser for canned water delivery that night, and began taking donations the next morning. (From that campaign, we supplied more that 10,000 cans of water to the Houston area.)
The next day, we jumped on a call with the founder of DayOne Response, another Toyota Mother of Invention, and we devised another plan to get the Well Aware technical team down into the affected areas to evaluate the water quality and train people in need of clean water on the DayOne water filtration bags. Within a couple days, Toyota was sponsoring this project, and the idea became imminent reality.
I’ll admit that the task ahead was intimidating. This would be our first domestic disaster relief project, and we weren’t sure we were equipped. But, as with any new territory for Well Aware, we just made sure we had the right people on board - and we sure did. The DayOne Response team has been doing effective disaster relief work for many years. They guided our preparation every step of the way, and their technology for water filtration and purification is the best I have ever seen for disaster response (and I’ve seen a lot). And, my team - my gosh. I know I say it a lot, and I won’t stop. These people are brilliant and compassionate and will jump off a cliff for people who need us. With the right team and partner, we felt strong and ready to help our neighbors just a few hours down the road.
The eight Well Aware team members, along with 500 water filtration devices, piled into our convoy and hit the road on Wednesday morning last week. Our drive down was spent calling every county office we could to learn more about how we could be most effective. We ended up having the help and guidance from Senator’s offices, FEMA, many churches, schools, fire departments and sheriffs.
It was nostalgic and heartbreaking to be driving into east Texas, where I grew up, anticipating the loss and destruction. Most of the voices on the phone felt like home, and my thick east Texas accent returned, as did many memories of this beautiful part of the world.
Some neighborhoods we drove through looked like war zones. We visited a relief camp where people were camped out in tents because they lost their home and have nowhere else to go. There were so many volunteers bringing in boxes of diapers and food from nearby restaurants. Locals had donated their trucks, generators, camping gear, furniture, and more to provide a little bit of comfort for these displaced and despondent people.
But, in every face we met, there was strength and kindness, hospitality and determination. I remembered how tough the south can be, and it made me proud to be back “home”.
We were very careful going into communities for the first time… we only knew our entry approach for other continents, an approach we have developed over time that best respects, honors and gives deference to the people whose homes we are walking into. We weren’t sure if this would translate in our home state.
It did translate, and, as I guess we already knew, tragedy and loss in east Africa is the same as it is in Texas and everywhere. No one knows how to deal with abrupt homelessness and not knowing what will happen to their families next.
We found a great need for water quality awareness and availability of clean water to drink. Loretha of the Greater Mount Zion Church in Brazoria told us that they still had standing water throughout their small town for two weeks after the storm hit. This stagnant, contaminated water makes its way into the ground water, and many of the wells were producing water full of chemicals and bacteria.
The Well Aware team realized we can be of great help educating our neighbors on water quality awareness, testing and treatment. We gave several trainings on water filtration and the DayOne response water bag.
Our biggest take-away from this journey is that we can do more. We have the team and the expertise to help with water concerns when and where we are needed next. We are currently putting together a mobile water testing lab so that we can assist with water testing and awareness where people are at a loss to know if what they are drinking will make them sick. And, because of DayOne, we can also provide filtration if their water is not potable.
Our new focus on domestic disaster relief will not distract from our work overseas. As a matter of fact, we see a stronger connection than ever before between the work we do there and the work we will now do here. Clean water is, and always will be, in every pocket of the world, the foundation for... everything.
We are deeply and immensely grateful to everyone who supported this trip and all of the work we do. We send special appreciation to Toyota, DayOne Response, Thirsty Planet Brewery, JB Hager, and the Well Aware technical team.
(Written by Sarah Evans)