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Nuns provide clean water for hundreds after the Chilean earthquake

March 30 2010:

Several years ago the Sisters of La Retraite community in Concepcion, Chile, made an ecologically sound decision to source the water for their vegetable garden from a spring that lay deep in the earth below their land.

And in recent weeks that eco-thinking has paid off many times over, as the tiny community has proved to be the only place in the neighbourhood that could provide clean water to the local people after the Chile earthquake of February 27, 2010. Concepcion is only 115 kilometers (70 miles) from the epicenter.

ARC’s newest colleague Sister Mary Bellekom used to work and live at Concepcion for 12 years as part of that community, and reports that the four nuns who are living there were involved in helping people come to terms with the calamity. But that it was also wonderful that not only could they offer the vital words of comfort that they needed, but that thanks to their ecological approach to their house they could also provide the real material assistance of water.

When the electricity went back on, the people found there was no water coming through the taps. But the water taps in the La Retraite garden were working. As soon as the sisters realized this they diverted it to a hose, and shared their water with the local community. Hundreds of people queued patiently to fill their bottles, standing in the shade of the fir trees.

"NEWS FROM CONCEPCION. March 9. Drinking water is still not available. In front of our house there was a queue of 240 people with bottles and buckets with an average of 40 litres of water per person. We gave out 8,800 litres of water, which was provided with a simple hosepipe. I was helped by children who filled the bottles while I was busy at the gate, welcoming and listening….

“It is miraculous that this cheap pump worked non-stop for nine hours a day until the water came back,” wrote Sister Teresita from Concepcion.

La Retraite is a congregation of Catholic religious women who are committed to witnessing to the love of God in the world, and to protecting God’s creation through their work and prayer. It began in 1674 in Brittany in France, providing retreats for women where they could spend time on the kind of spiritual exercises that at that time were only available to men.

ARC is working with La Retraite sisters in Emmaus House, Clifton, Bristol, through their very active engagement with environmental issues, both in how they run their retreat centres and in their teaching and workshops. Emmaus House is an urban retreat centre with five gardens, including a kitchen garden, which through most of the year provides the majority of vegetables for the kitchen.





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