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News

Preparing for Hurricane Season During COVID-19: Volunteers Continue Life-Saving Work

News--Water Mission Gene Lesesne

By Julie Johnson, Water Mission (originally posted on watermission.org)

The first day of June marked the official start of hurricane season and according to experts, the season is off to a historically fast start. Natural disasters are occurring more often and with more severity than ever before. According to the United States Geological Survey, more droughts and intense storms are expected.

Water Mission’s disaster response team is prepared to respond to needs for assistance from around the world even amid the COVID-19 health crisis. Having strategically placed resources and equipment around the world has allowed us to respond to the evolving global health crisis, particularly in vulnerable communities. But even in the midst of Water Mission’s COVID-19 response, life-saving equipment must be assembled and ready to ship at a moment’s notice, in the event of another emergency.

Since Water Mission’s inception in 2001, volunteers have played a critical role in assisting the production, logistics, and supply (PL&S) team by preparing water treatment equipment for swift deployment during an emergency situation. With new COVID-19 safety and security measures in place that enforce social distancing, volunteers and the PL&S team have found creative ways to ensure equipment inventory remains assembled and available for deployment.

A Volunteer’s Pre-COVID-19 Day at Water Mission Headquarters

Water Mission has approximately 100 active volunteers, many of whom come into our headquarters at least once a week. On a typical pre-COVID day, more than 10 volunteers work alongside the Water Mission headquarters staff, engaging in various activities critical to the organization’s success.

One such team member is Gene Lesesne, a former Navy pilot who, following his career in aviation, returned to his alma mater, the Citadel, to teach. Gene was one of Water Mission’s first volunteers. He has given his time and talents to the ministry for 20 years, donating more than 3,000 hours and traveling to eight countries, teaching community members how to operate, test, and troubleshoot safe water systems.

Gene Lesesne Water Mission

Gene Lesesne working in the Water Mission warehouse prior to COVID-19

Gene says that every day at the Water Mission headquarters looks different, but there is always important work to be done.

“As a production volunteer, I simply show up and do whatever is needed,” said Gene. “Sometimes it is building and loading water systems, or it could be assembling enough parts to have on standby for an emergency. Other times my days consist of electrical work and moving supplies.”

How COVID-19 Changed Volunteer and Production Work

Due to safety and security protocols currently in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gene and other volunteers can no longer “show up” at the Water Mission headquarters and perform their usual tasks. There are now daily operational procedures in place, designed to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

As a result, the majority of Water Mission’s Charleston-based staff have been advised to perform their duties remotely, and no outside vendors or volunteers are allowed to enter the headquarters building. Only staff performing essential business functions are permitted to serve on-site.

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Jeremy Rees, Director of Operations interviews with the local news on the impact of COVID-19 and safe water

Jeremy Rees and David Whaley, PL&S team members, have continued their work duties from headquarters, managing Water Mission’s inventory of essential life-saving equipment. During the month of April, Jeremy and David found their workload at an all-time high as they endeavored to select, purchase, assemble, test, pack, and ship equipment without the aid of volunteers.

By the end of the month, volunteers and the PL&S team found a way to continue working together, by enabling some specially trained volunteers to assemble critically needed equipment remotely.

Highly-Skilled Volunteers Continue Their Work Remotely

As a chemical engineer who spent 35 years as a senior research engineer with Dupont, Hal Perry brings a wealth of experience to his role as a volunteer for Water Mission. Being a highly skilled volunteer, Hal was able to team up with staff in production by retrieving supplies from headquarters and assembling equipment from his garage at home. “I was able to get the work done quickly, but I miss the family atmosphere of working alongside the other Water Mission volunteers,” said Perry.

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Hal Perry assembles essential equipment from home to help bring safe water around the world

Gene also came to headquarters weekly to pick up materials and assemble equipment from home. Gene and Hal both acknowledged that working remotely has some drawbacks, such as the fact that some parts and water systems are harder to put together without the help of team members – team members who have also become friends. “The mission and purpose are the same, but I miss the camaraderie of being with other volunteers: Christian men that love to serve the Lord,” said Gene.

Volunteers Help Ship More Than 150,000 Pounds of Equipment During Pandemic

Thanks to the flexibility and reliability of our volunteers, equipment necessary in providing clean, safe water around the world has been readily available. This includes 45 potable water chlorinators, a patented water treatment device commonly used to disinfect water from clear water sources.

More than two-thirds of the chlorinators assembled by volunteers during COVID-19 are currently being shipped to Water Mission’s offices in Honduras, Uganda, and Tanzania. The remaining chlorinators are staged and ready for rapid deployment.

The result of our volunteers’ willingness to work in an innovative way is the ability to ship more than 157,000 pounds of equipment during the peak of the pandemic and still have systems available to ship in the event of an emergency.

“At a time when the organization could have been at a serious disadvantage, volunteers enabled us to serve in areas identified as vulnerable to COVID-19 and be prepared to respond in the event of disaster or emergency,” said Jeremy Rees. “While this has not been an ideal environment for any organization to perform business as usual, the flexibility and reliability of our volunteers has allowed Water Mission to expand our boundaries and pursue excellence in enterprising new ways.”

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In the midst of Water Mission’s COVID-19 response, life-saving equipment is assembled and ready to ship at a moment’s notice.

The volunteers feel a sense of pride in being able to continue their life-saving work. Gene said, “Water Mission truly is a wonderful organization that does great work around the world and I am proud to support their efforts – whether that means traveling to another country, going to their global headquarters, or supporting social distancing by building equipment in my living room.”

You can help ensure that Water Mission can respond to emergencies around the world amid the COVID-19 health crisis. Over the past 20 years, Water Mission has provided relief following some of the world’s most devastating natural and humanitarian disasters. With your help, Water Mission can continue to implement emergency and long-term safe water solutions where most needed, affording men, women and children the opportunity to stay healthy and safe, even during this evolving pandemic.

Join Water Mission's COVID-19 Response