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  • Writer's pictureMennonite Mission Network

Cloth diapers for refugees make economic and environmental impact

Originally published at: This story first appeared in Anabaptist Climate Collaborative’s Lenten newsletter for March 24.

Quito Mennonite Church in Quito, Ecuador, has been a Mennonite Mission Network partner since 2001, when César Moya and Patricia Uueña received God's call to begin an Anabaptist congregation. They worked through the Ecuador Partnership — Central Plains Mennonite Conference, Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (Colombian Mennonite Church) and Mission Network. Mennonite Central Committee also joined the partnership to help manage the congregation’s refugee project to supply food and other resources for refugees arriving in Quito from Colombia, Venezuela and elsewhere. Some of the refugees are mothers with babies.

Delicia Bravo Aguilar and husband Peter Wigginton are the Ecuador partnership coordinators for Mission Network in Quito, where they have lived for the past nine years.

Bravo Aguilar learned to sew reusable diapers when her eldest daughter, Aliya, was born in 2015. After their second daughter, Ariana, was born two years later, someone at Quito Mennonite Church saw those cloth diapers and suggested that Bravo Aguilar make them for the refugees served by the church’s refugee project.

“The refugee project had been distributing 15 disposable diapers to mothers,” Wigginton said. “Those lasted three days.”

As the diaper ministry took shape, the spare bedroom at Peter and Delicia’s home in Quito transformed into a workshop for making cloth diapers.

Since 2017, Delicia and Peter, with the help of volunteers, have made around 600 diapers kits.

Now, mothers receive a kit with 12 reusable diapers, four waterproof covers, four cloth inserts, a bib and burp cloths, all packaged in a bag made from a recycled T-shirt. They also receive a basin for washing the diapers.

For mothers with limited resources, reusable diapers are an important money -saver. The cost for disposable diapers in the U.S. for one baby averages $77-$100 per month, which equals at least $3,000 before the baby outgrows diapering.

One baby can use 7,000+ diapers by 30 months of age, which creates about 2,000 pounds of trash that takes over 500 years to decompose in landfills, streets and rivers.1

In Ecuador, diapers, like many items, are often sold individually, each in its own plastic wrapper. Then, there is the diaper itself. “You don’t even know what is inside — how many chemicals are used to make them,” Bravo Aguilar said.

Disposable diapers have a negative impact on the environment. They contain pollutants and compounds that are considered hazardous, including solvents, sludge, and heavy metals, which are released in wastewater and air starting at production and continuing past disposal.2

The diapers are adjustable, using 36 snap positions, so “they grow with the baby,” Bravo Aguilar said. And they are sturdy enough to be used for the duration of three or four babies’ diapering needs.

When mothers visit the church to receive their diaper kits, they are taught how to use them and about the environmental benefits of reusable diapers.

Bravo Aguilar said, “We tell them, ‘You are taking part in preserving the environment for our kids’.”

​Sierra Ross Richer

Freelance writer for Mission Network

Why Disposable Diapers Are Dirty And Dangerous - Small Footprint Family™

Environmental problems and health risks with disposable baby diapers: Monitoring of toxic compounds by application of analytical techniques and need of education - ScienceDirect

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