Irrigation system could save drought-stricken countries

 Retired florist refuses to accept government handouts–relying instead on private donations and the energy of his volunteers

Surrounded by greenhouses and a quaint looking —if not fully functioning windmill —the pastoral tableau gives little hint of the caring, commitment and energy contained within.

A look inside the 60 by 100-square foot warehouse reveals what appears to be organized chaos —hospital beds, mattresses and night tables stacked along the centre aisle. Bags of seed give off dusty fumes near the entrance. Broken typewriters, hospital equipment, books and clothing and assorted bric-a-brac fight for space in a jumble of awaiting enterprise.

This institutional residue is in essence the lifeblood of the Warehouse of Hope, a project that lives up to the metaphor or its name. For the past six years, volunteers with the Warehouse of Hope have busied themselves preparing their various wares for shipment to schools, orphanages, farmers and ordinary families in developing world countries. Ted van der Zalm, chairman of the Warehouse of Hope, give voice o the organization’s aim of helping people help themselves.

“We live by the old adage —‘give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach that man to fish and he feeds himself and his family for a lifetime’” says van der Zalm.

It’s the same philosophy as that of the Canadian Foundation for World Development (CFWD) with which the Warehouse of Hope is affiliated. The 17-year-old foundation first hit on the idea that Canadian schools, hospitals and other institutions might donate surplus furniture and equipment. Instead of letting this material go to waste, an inexpensive method of shipping could be found to get it into needy hands.

“Simple giving, generous though it is, tends to perpetuate poverty.” said CFWD president Ken Davis. “It’s much more important to teach self-sufficiency to the developing world countries. Canadians can do their part by providing skills and experience.”

The success of the Canadian Foundation for World Development is exciting to supporters of the Warehouse of Hope, particularily Ted van der Zalm.

Since retiring as president of Colonial Florists in St. Catharines, the 65-year-old father of eight and grandfather of 14, has devoted his considerable energies to the warehouse. Van der Zalm might spend up to six days a week at the warehouse. And he’s not alone. A small army of volunteers, now totalling about 100 people, has bought into the warehouse appeal.

Van der Zalm pointed to the ecumenical dimension of the Warehouse of Hope. People from all faith backgrounds lend a hand. As well, the central warehouse was constructed in short order by a team of St. Catharines building contractors.

“It really was an inter-denominational effort.” van der Zalm said. “These were rival contractors coming together to get the job done. And it was amazing how quickly the construction was completed.”

The self reliance that the Warehouse of Hope encourage in its benefactors is not lost on volunteers themselves. Van der Zalm revealed that the entire operation is boosted by the goodwill and support of St. Catharines and area residents. It doesn’t receive one cent of govrnment support.

“We wanted to avoid the trap of government regulation,” van der Zalm said. “We have enough things to deal with as it is.”

While the Warehouse of Hope carries on without government handouts, it still relies on the energy and commitment of a caring community. Shipping costs in particular, exact a heavy toll.

“We’ve never had a problem with volunteers, but we’re always concerned with the fund-raising and shipping costs.” said van der Zalm.

Material gathered from hospitals, schools and other institutions throughout southern Ontario is stored at the Warehouse of Hope. Come loading day, the material is moved on to transport trucks and delivered to such destinations as Saint John, N.B., Montreal, New York or Halifax. From there, 20-, 30-, 40- and 45 foot containers are shipped to various Third World countries.

As of November, 1995, the Warehouse of Hope had sent 12, 40-foot containers, and 10 truck loads of material to such places as Tanzania, Haiti, Guyana, Kenya, and the Philippines and Romania.

In addition to scouring southern Ontario for donations, van der Zalm keeps busy arranging the best possible transport deals from trucking and rail operators.

Van der Zalm and other Warehouse of Hope supporters encourage volunteers to bring more than their labour to the project. If a volunteer has a mechanical aptitude, for example, he or she may be asked to consider repairing typewriters, radios or small appliances.

“The volunteers are encouraged to take on assignments that they find most rewarding.” said van der Zalm. “We encourage them to bring their skills to bear wherever they can.” One of the more involved projects at the Warehouse of Hope is mischievously referred to as “Grow Your Own.” Setting aside the double entendres, Grow Your Own is in reality a unique “sweating irrigation system” that enables thousands of families in the developing world to feed themselves with a view to self-sufficiency.

“The sweating irrigation system is our number one project right now,” van der Zalm said. And it’s no worder. The irrigatioin systems can make a vital difference in the lives of many families in the developing world.

Each sweating irrigatiion kit contains a 45-gallon drum, 500 feet of irrigation hoses, fertilizer, seed and related apparatus. The irrigation system allows user families to grow between four and six fruit or vegetable crops each year. The system enables families in drought-stricken countries to overcome periodic water shortages. As well, excess water from rainy seasons can be collected and used in times of drought.

The system is guaranteed to work, provided operators can fill the 45 gallon drum each day. From there, the system’s simple technology takes over by squeezing every last ounce of irrigation efficiency from available water.

Each kit sent families in the developing world includes detailed instructions, thereby allowing local people to install, operate and maintain the irrigation system. The irrigation system is designed to last for 10 to 15 ears.

Before kits are shipped to the developing world, Warehouse of Hope volunteers in St. Catharines assemble the hosing, seed and fertilizer packets and assorted paraphernalia. Volunteer have even rigged up a special contraption that coils the ruber hosing in preparation for shipment.

To date, the Warehouse of Hope has shipped 200 irrigation kits to Tanzania and another 200 to Haiti. Each kit costs $250. And the warehouse is always in search of additional funding and/or cost-cutting measures to get the kits to more needy families in the developing world.

While the Warehouse of Hope seems to have hit the jackpot with conations of used or outmoded equipment, there is an onging struggle to come up with the cash necessary for shipment to the Third World.

Warehouse supporters have appealed for donations to several groups and organizatiions in the St. Catharines area, including missionary groups, the separate school board, the Lion’s Club and the Knights of Columbus.

“It would be nice if some of these groups could tak on a commitment to assist the warehouse on a regular bisis, perhaps once a year,” said van der Zalm.

Van der Zalm revealed that the Warehouse of Hope has received the permissiion of Bishop John O’Mara of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharine to encourage fund-raising efforts in Catholic schools and parishes. And students and parishioners have shown their generosity. A recent Monte Carlo night at one school netted more than $1,000 and a “starvation” project at Denis Morris high school in St. Catharines raised $12,000.

A second, more recent enterprise for the Warehouse of Hope involves the collection and shipment of eeglasses to Third World recipients. Lenses donated to the warehouse are tested for their prescription and entered on a computerized inventory. In that way, lenses of all types can be made available to correct an array of vision disorders.

“It’s simple work, but it’s very gratifying when we hear back from some of the recipients,: said Arnold Hendriks, a volunteer with the eyeglass program. Since June, the Warehouse of Hope has shipped 10,000 pairs of glasses to developing countries.

And if that weren’t enough to keep busy, the Warehouse of Hope includes a sewing room where volunteers assemble packages for expectant or new mothers. Coordinator Afra Appelman ensures that each package contains the required diapers, hospital receiving blankets, soap, and safety pins. In some cases, volunteer knit blankets and baby outfits for shipment.

It it’s not newborn needs, the Warehouse of Hope, seeks out geriatric equipment for shipment. Old text books or winter coats might be in demand. On occasion, officials purchase food for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, orphanages in Tanzania and other countries.

Van der Zalm’s commitment to Third World development comes honestly. His third son, Ted Jr., spent 10 years as a lay missionary in Tanzania, where he specialized in building wind and water mills. His son’s experience inspired a “mission mindedness” that van der Zalm and the Warehouse of Hope have propagated throughout the Niagara Peninsula..

The success of the Warehouse of Hope —and its gowing list of benefactors —is continually gratifying to van der Zalm. Prior to the construction of today’s warehouse, donated material was stored in the van der Zalm family garage.

“We never really anticipated such growth,” he said. “By the grace of God not only are we surviving, its’s amazing the way we have progressed,” said van der Zalm. “I see the entire effort as spreading the Gospel through the use of material goods. These are things that the people in the developing countries use in their daily lives. They can feel the impact it makes in their lives.”

But while the first six years have been encouraging, Warehouse of Hope supporteers can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Van der Zalm said the next challenge will be to find the next generation of supporters who will take over the reigns. Neew volunteers are encouraged to take on leadership roles so the success of the operation will not only continue, but will expand into new areas of need.

“We are on the lookout for more help with these and other projects,” said van der Zalm. “And while we’re happy with the success of the system, we’re always looking to change the format of operations at Warehouse of Hope. If we’re not ready to change and be flexible, we’ll be doing the very same things for the next 100 years.”