By: Waterkeeper Alliance
Rafael Chambers, Guayllabamba Waterkeeper and a beacon of boundless optimism, passed away on September 17, 2017 at age 88, in Quito, Ecuador. He will be painfully missed by his fellow Latin American Waterkeepers and by the entire Waterkeeper movement.
Chile’s Maule Itata Coastkeeper, Rodrigo de la O, remembers vividly the first time he met Rafael.
“It was in La Paz, Baja California Sur, México, during my first Waterkeeper Alliance conference in 2010,” he says. “I was a newbie and was matched up to share a room during the conference with Rafael, who just one year before had been in my shoes – a newbie himself.”
Rodrigo was amazed by this dynamo of a clean-water advocate.
“It was impossible not to notice his wisdom, sincere gaze, sense of mischief and deep, stalwart voice that conveyed a natural authority. We will all miss him dearly.”
Rafael devoted a large portion of his life to public service and the protection of waterways in his native Ecuador. Before taking on the mantle of Waterkeeper, he served for two decades as the head of the watersheds unit at Quito’s Metropolitan Authority for Water and Sewers. His was no easy task – to safeguard a group of small basins that supply that city of 1.6 million with bountiful water. During his tenure, he contributed significantly to efforts that led to the designation of 78,000 hectares of those basins as protected areas, and to the recruitment of 11,200 student volunteers from 250 schools, who planted thousands of trees as part of a watershed-restoration project.
At Guayllabamba Waterkeeper, despite the challenges of running a small and mostly volunteer organization, Rafael used its limited resources and his contagious zest to build a body of work that focused on three activities: river cleanups, tree planting along the rivers, and educational programs to train children to plant home gardens and connect with nature. Rafael also made Guayllabamba Waterkeeper a family endeavor. His grown children and grandson chipped in enthusiastically.
“My brothers and I often said that dad was like a stream, nourishing family, friends and colleagues along his life just as a river nourishes the life it touches along its course,” says Judy Chambers, one of Rafael’s surviving children. “During intimate moments with his family, he was a soothing ebb and flow, and at other times, particularly when advocating for clean water, he was a forceful, gushing river full of vitality, optimism, and an unconquerable sense of justice.”
The worldwide Waterkeeper family, spread out in 37 countries across six continents, cherished and will miss Rafael’s warm spirit, great smile and generous heart. He taught others to fight for waterways in the face of mining activities, dam proposals, road-building and other great challenges.
Despite these and other obstacles posed by Quito’s growing population and its demand for natural resources, Guayllabamba Waterkeeper will continue to fight for Ecuador’s magnificent waterways, sustained by the spirit of optimism and promise that Rafael so tirelessly propagated during his lifetime.