Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I’ve got about three week’s worth of things to write on my trip to Guatemala. Bear with me. I have pictures. Will pictures help? If you can make it through the factual stuff I’ll reward you at the end with my lesson in Tree Hugging. I am now a real live Tree Hugger. But first, I have to tell you what I learned about water.
When we got to Guatemala our first stop was to visit the church where the guys from the Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church were installing a water treatment system. Lake Highlands is part of the East Dallas Cluster (that’s us) but had never sent anyone on our trips. They decided totally independently of the Cluster that they wanted to get into the Living Waters for the World projects and then we found each other when the LWW people referred them to Linda. Go figure. We went all the way to Central America to meet folks who live within 20 miles. But I’m glad we did because we really enjoyed each other.
Living Waters for the World (LWW) is a mission resource of the Synod of Living Waters of the Presbyterian Church (USA). They go to communities who have municipal water available but it’s contaminated with dysentery and parasites. They install water treatment systems that take the municipal water and clean it up. Most of the towns I’ve visited in Guatemala fit that description. The town may have plenty of water but it is contaminated.
The coolest idea in a long time was to pair up the Living Waters Presbytery with the Synod of the Sun. This partnership installs solar-powered water systems. I love the combination of the “solar” synod with the “waters” presbytery. They had installed one of these gems just before the big earthquake in Haiti. After a few quick repairs they provided the first clean water available after the earthquake. Living Waters for the World is a great organization and I hope you will visit their website: www.livingwatersfortheworld.org
Anytime I hear of contaminated water in Guatemala I vividly recall our visit a few years ago to a church I won’t name. This church, while having a very nice name, has forever been re-named in my mind as “The Church of the Nasty Drink.” Karolina Wright and Sandy Schatvet were the Young Adult Volunteers that year who accompanied our group to visit the church.
Basically what happened was that on our traditional “March of the Presbyterian Churches” to visit as many in one day as we can, our group of innocent gringos stopped by to visit a church and were surprised to find 30 church members had been waiting for us for about three hours. After introductions they offered us a refresco which is a fruit drink. I’m not sure what this one was made from. They make refrescos out of almost anything there in Guatemala--from heavenly fresh limes to plain rice and even sometimes mysterious vegetables. But this time it wasn’t the fruit that gave us pause. We took one look at the drink and knew the ladies had made it from the municipal water straight from the tap. Usually anytime we visited a church they got a ‘heads up’ advance warning to make our drinks out of bottled purified “Agua Pura” for the gringos. But not this time.
And it would have been unthinkable to refuse their hospitality. You should have seen these adorable little ladies who had been waiting so long to welcome us. I could only manage three polite sips and started looking for a potted plant to ditch the drink . When I couldn’t find a way to make the drink disappear I decided this was one situation that the Confession of Sin would cover. I just sat there with the glass on my lap feeling guilty but knowing what would happen to me if I drank that refresco. At the end of the visit Sandy and Karolina took our glasses from us and I heard later that they drank the remainder of our drinks before returning the empty glasses to the ladies in the kitchen. The people who drank their entire glass got violently ill that year. One of the YAVs ended up in the hospital. I learned first-hand that year that the water is not to be messed with.
And it was with great delight I found out that this church has been vetted to receive the next water treatment system LWW installs in Guatemala. I can’t wait to see it and drink the water.
The more I learn about the shortage of clean drinking water the more astonished I am and realize how much I take it for granted. The municipal water that comes out of my tap automatically has already been treated and cleaned and made suitable for drinking. I bathe with drinking water. I wash my dog in drinking water. I water my grass with drinking water. But this is not the norm in some countries. Guatemala is not the only country on earth that doesn’t treat the water they pipe into households. But their water table is shallow and the water doesn’t get filtered enough before it makes it to the city’s system.
The LWW system takes the municipal water that comes from the tap then runs it through a treatment that disinfects it through a process using ozone. You only need a few people to install one of these systems. They put in a pump, some PVC pipe, a couple of filters and a deal to infuse the water with ozone to purify it. The whole thing is astonishingly simple. Here's a short video of the system at another church. The one I made of the new system didn't work for some reason. But they're all pretty much the same:
Then they bottle the water and either sell it or give it away to folks who can’t afford it. They put most of these systems in churches. The churches help install the system, they educate the mothers in the town about germs and then they clean the water and distribute it on a regular basis. They charge a small amount if you can afford it but if you can’t afford to pay they give it to you free.
Last year we saw our first LWW operation and now there’s about four of them in the nine churches in the Norte Presbytery. We heard a story that in one town the free LWW water was affecting the sales of the big commercial drinking water company. The company complained to the city about losing sales and they’re still trying to figure it out. The city doesn’t want to lose the commercial water revenue. The citizens don’t want to give up the cheaper water the church provides.
In the meantime the folks at this church were just plain old grateful as they blessed the new system and had their first drink from it.
Gracias Senor por el dia tan lindo de hoy
Gracias Senor for la vida y la salud
Vengo, vengo a ti Senor
Vengo, vengo a ti Senor
Vengo yo a ti Senor expresar mi gratitude.
Thank you, God for a day as beautiful as today
Thank you, God, for life and health
We come to you, God
To show our gratitude.
Next Wednesday I will have another thousand words about having Too Much Water. Hurricane Agatha next week.