Launched after Hurricane Maria made landfall six months ago, Operation Agua continues to serve as a lifeline for communities still without access to safe drinking water, and it is now more than 75 percent to its goal of bringing 100,000 water filters to Puerto Rico. Operation Agua has raised $1.75 million through crowdfunded donations and has delivered 54,000 Kohler Clarity water filters across the island, including to more than 1,100 public schools and tens of thousands of homes, churches and community centers. Based on funds on hand, 23,040 more filters will be heading to the island shortly.
“We are six months out from this storm, and Operation Agua filters are still the only source of safe drinking water for countless families in Puerto Rico because the federal government continues to fail our fellow citizens,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “We showed up through Operation Agua after I saw children gathering water from contaminated streams, heard from families choosing between going thirsty or drinking bad water, and saw that teachers and children were trying to teach and learn in sweltering classrooms without safe water. By stitching together a coalition with the know-how and will to get safe drinking water to the island, and fueled by thousands of individual and group contributions to Operation Agua, we’ve made a profound difference in the lives of children and families in Puerto Rico. But the island needs a long-term solution to solve this water crisis.”
Operation Agua launched in October, raising funds via www.aft.org/operationagua and assembled a unique partnership to handle all aspects of the effort. The AFT spearheaded the effort and continues to lead fundraising and outreach; Kohler manufactured the easy-to-use and effective Clarity filters; Operation Blessing International has arranged for transportation and delivery of the filters from the Kohler factory in Arkansas to the Port of Jacksonville in Florida, as well as ground transportation, warehousing, training and distribution functions in San Juan; the Seafarers International Union and TOTE Maritime have handled ocean shipping from Jacksonville to San Juan; the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico has brought expertise with the regional and school-based infrastructure; and the Hispanic Federation and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have helped identify and distribute filters to community organizations and centers in need.
“The wonderful thing about this partnership is the synergy that it has created—none of us could have done this alone,” says Bill Horan, president of Operation Blessing International, a leader in providing safe water to countries across the world. “But together, we have helped make Operation Agua one of the most effective efforts in providing real relief to the people of Puerto Rico.”
When schools were beginning to reopen in November, Operation Agua, through the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, delivered water filters to help ensure that students and staff had access to safe drinking water. Most schools had, and continue to have, sporadic electricity and running water, making learning and teaching conditions difficult. Since then, all open schools have received filters.
“As we delivered the filters, the looks on the teachers’ and students’ faces were priceless,” says Aida Diaz, AMPR president and an AFT vice president. “The AMPR is proud to be able to provide these filters as just another way that we are helping provide the best education possible for all the students of Puerto Rico.”
Since the hurricane, Operation Agua has worked continuously on its mission to respond to the water crisis by making sure people in Puerto Rico have access to safe and reliable water in places like schools, homes and hospitals.
Operation Agua’s work so far includes:
- We have raised $1.75 million thanks to crowdsourced donations from generous and concerned individuals, and from a variety of unions, organizations and even students, classrooms and schools.
- We have delivered more than 54,000 Kohler Clarity water filters to Puerto Rico, with TOTE Maritime providing all sea shipping services free of charge.
- Based on funds on hand, Operation Agua has committed to distributing another 23,040 filters—meeting more than 75 percent of our initial goal of delivering 100,000 filters.
- The Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico has distributed 6,000 filters to more than 1,100 open public schools across the island.
- Operation Blessing’s staff has held daily water filter distribution events, from remote mountain towns and fishing villages to urban neighborhoods, providing 300-600 water filters at each event directly to families in need.
- We installed a reverse osmosis system in the Hospital Del Maestro in San Juan capable of processing 40,000 gallons a day.
- The Seafarers International Union, along with handling sea shipping responsibilities, has distributed 11,000 filters to more than a dozen communities.
- The Hispanic Federation provided initial seed funding of $250,000 to Operation Agua and works with local partners in Puerto Rico to distribute filters.
- Members of the Servidores Publico Unidos, an AFSCME affiliate, have delivered thousands of filters to special education students and their families at worksites across the island.
Donations can we made at www.operationagua.com.
[AFT press release]