Charleston nonprofit set to send water aid to Japan (copy)

A volunteer walks by a completed water purification system in the warehouse of Water Missions International.

The most memorable Thanksgiving dinner I ever had was in Honduras in 1998.

Despite prepping for the traditional turkey dinner with my husband, George, family and friends, our plans were dramatically al-

tered after hearing that Hurricane Mitch was hovering over Hon-

duras and that many communities there were cut off from aid.

Having experienced Hurricane Hugo nine years prior, we understood the urgent need for relief. We also felt a personal connection. Our daughter had taught at a bilingual school in Honduras, and our family had spent time there. We were also hosting a young Honduran College of Charleston student.

George felt called to reach out, and sent an email to Leo Frade, the Bishop of Honduras, asking what we could do to help. To our surprise, he received a response the very next day with a specific request, “We need six water treatment systems.”

At the time, we were running GEL, an environmental engineering and analytical testing company in Charleston, but had no background in designing and building water treatment systems. After researching possible options, we quickly discovered that existing systems were either too expensive or inefficient for a disaster of this scale.

Determined not to give up, George pulled out the textbooks and within two hours had sketched out a design for a water treatment system. Within two days, the team at GEL had built and successfully tested a prototype with the help of Charleston Water System. After refining the design and consulting with the EPA, the six water treatment systems that Bishop Frade initially requested were built and ready to be shipped.

While this was happening, the community of Charleston rallied around the cause, gathering an astounding 50 tons of supplies to send to the people of Honduras. Rick Hendrick (Sears Saul) donated a Suburban and GEL donated a pickup truck. Jay Cook of Azalea Moving Co. helped to pack, palletize, and transport the water systems to Charleston Air Force Base. Sen. Strom Thurmond’s office arranged for a C-5 and two C-17s to transport our team of 16 from GEL and all the supplies to Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras.

When we arrived, Suzy McCall, a missionary now with LAMB, and Bishop Frade were waiting with moving trucks. Half of us went south, and the other half headed north, with the goal of bringing safe water to six communities throughout the country. Over that Thanksgiving week, we slept in sleeping bags and ate MREs as we set up water treatment systems and delivered supplies.

We didn’t expect to have tractors pull our truck through river beds where the bridges had washed out. We also didn’t expect to see the significance of the global water crisis in such a powerful way. Communities had never had access to safe water, and they were forced to drink and bathe in water that was dirty, contaminated and dangerous.

On Nov. 25, 1998, the day before Thanksgiving, we were scheduled to fly back to Charleston. Like many Thanksgiving travelers, however, we ended up stuck just outside of the air base and missed our flight. Sensing our plight, a missionary family invited us to share a Thanksgiving meal with them and several of the Air Force men who were stationed at the base. Our team gave thanks for the many blessings that we have here in Charleston.

For me, this trip was the most impactful Thanksgiving I’ve ever experienced because it opened my eyes to the magnitude of the global water crisis and led us in 2001 to establish Water Mission, a Christian nonprofit based in North Charleston.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the Lowcountry and for all you have done to help bring safe water to more than 4 million people around the globe. As you gather around your table this year, join me in giving thanks for the hope that safe water brings and pray we can work together as a community to transform even more lives in the world.

Molly F. Greene is co-founder, board chair and chief stewardship officer for Water Mission. The nonprofit Christian engineering organization designs, builds and implements safe water, sanitation and hygiene solutions for those in developing countries and disaster areas.