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Oct. 19, 2021 | Tuesday
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Wells of Hope readies backpacks for Guatemala
Sandy Maxwell and Ashlie Prsa sort supplies to send over to Guatemala as part of Wells of Hope’s Packs of Hope campaign. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

Spending a couple hours on a Saturday sorting backpacks and supplies for the Packs of Hope: Faith in Action campaign is the least Ted Van der Kaay and his family could do for Wells of Hope, he says.

Wells of Hope, a not-for-profit organization providing education, health care and clean water to Guatemala, has been collecting supplies in gently-used backpacks to bring to the poorer regions of the country for more than 14 years.

The organization reaches out to local schools to collect backpacks filled with school supplies, clothes, toiletries, sports equipment and toys. On average, about 1,000 filled backpacks are collected each year.

Van der Kaay said his family has known the Van der Zalms for many years, and they were inspired to tag along on one of their yearly excursions to Guatemala.

It was something he and his wife Sandra wanted to do for a long time, he said. “We had no excuse not to. We’ve been helping ever since,” he added. “The whole experience was “eye-opening.”

Wells of Hope was founded by Ted Van der Zalm and his wife Miriam 17 years ago and in that time he says they have brought clean water to 80,000 homes.

On Saturday, about 10 to 15 volunteers came together to help sort and repack the donated backpacks, which will be sent to Guatemala in a 40-foot shipping container along with other supplies, donated school desks and drilling equipment.

“Because I dig very deep water wells, our well drilling equipment is very unique. The supplies and spare parts I need cannot be found down there so I have to make sure that I have enough supplies for the year,” Van der Zalm said.

The container will be timed to arrive when he makes his way back in January so that he can ensure all the donated goods get where they need to go, he said.

The backpack idea came about after the organization tried a shoebox campaign, which Van der Zalm said wasn’t as practical as they initially hoped.

He said as well as being difficult to pack uniformly, the shoeboxes were limited in how many supplies could fit inside. They also broke open, causing a mess after being tossed around in the shipping container during the trip.

“And then after we repacked it and gifted the shoebox to the family or to a child, we were looking at the amount of garbage, the wrapping, the boxes that were left behind. We were shipping a lot of garbage to these impoverished communities,” Van der Zalm said.

The backpacks were the answer to that problem.

As well as allowing for more room for supplies in each backpack, the pack in itself was a “wonderful gift,” that was needed and appreciated, he said.

Though Wells of Hope supports communities in Guatemala with the building of schools and donating supplies, the initial priority for the organization is providing clean water.

“Our priorities have always been water – because without water there is no life,” he said.

“When we began Wells of Hope our vision was always twofold – to meet the needs of the poor, of course, but also to be the bridge to invite people to come and meet the needs of the poor,” he said.

Van der Zalm said he understands that each person has their own talents and skills to offer and that’s why he credits the vast number of volunteers with making Wells of Hope what it has come to be over the years.

“What I can’t do someone else can do, and all of us together, we can make mountains move.”