When I decided to be a part of the organization Global Water Brigades at IU, I had no idea what I was in for. I joined at the beginning of the school year, and by spring break, I was on a plane to Honduras with ten other IU students to work hands-on on a project that would bring safe, drinkable water to rural communities.
Before traveling to Honduras with GWB, my main expectation for the trip was to gain perspective. I didn’t know what kind of perspective I would find, but I wanted to leave the trip taking away some valuable piece of knowledge or way of looking at the world that I otherwise would not have even considered. During my week building a sustainable water collection and filtration system, this expectation was not only met, but exceeded.
On our first day heading into El Junquillo, just outside of San Lorenzo in southern Honduras, we were able to tour the current water system of the community. The people of the communities live in small houses, some with lined sticks instead of real walls, and with no running water in their homes. To get water, they must walk to a nearby well that sometimes can be dried up. They can also go to a river to get water, but this water runs so slowly that by my personal definition, I would have considered it to be more like a pond. Fish and trash were visible in the water, and pigs, cows, and dogs were drinking from it and wallowing in it. This is the same water that they use to wash their clothes, wash their dishes, bathe, brush their teeth, and even drink. The water is not only contaminated with trash and animal waste, but also soap from washing and fertilizers from their agriculture. Even if one were to boil this water, it would not rid the water of all of these germs and contaminants. This is the only water available to the community members.
We were able to talk with some of them on that first day with the help of some translators. A boy named Samuel told us that when he wakes up each day, the first thing he has to do is walk to the well to try and find water so he can take a shower before school. If he has trouble finding water that isn’t dried up, sometimes he is late and he gets in trouble with his teacher. Another man told us, jokingly, that he fights with his wife because of the water situation. Whenever he has retrieved water, there is nothing that needs to be washed or cleaned, but whenever they run out of water, everything needs to be washed and cleaned. "Una broma," he said, "A joke."
With the new water system that was planned, groundwater will be pumped uphill to a large tank where it will be chlorinated and cleaned. From there, a gravity system will distribute the water to each of the houses. When the project is completed this year, expected to be sometime in May 2014, about 90 families will be able to turn a faucet in their homes to attain safe, drinkable water.
For the remainder of the week, we worked using pickaxes and shovels to dig 600 meters of trench and install the pipelines.
I had thought that the volunteers would be the only ones working, giving clean water to the community as a complete gift of charity, but this could not have been further from the truth. We worked on the project side by side with so many of the community members, and it was inspiring and empowering to see how invested they were in the project. My favorite part of the trip was being able to converse with the members of the community (I’m earning a minor in Spanish), learn their stories, and build relationships with them.
One day, after we had finished working, we stayed in the community for a while longer so we could play soccer with the children. Even though we lost the game by one point, I so enjoyed talking to them and getting to know them. It makes me feel really happy to know that in a short matter of time, these children and their families will have clean water available to them in their homes at the turn of a faucet, so that they will no longer have search for dirty water that leads to school tardiness, family arguments, and let’s not forget, a rampage of water-related illnesses.
After the game
AND! IU did not go alone on this brigade. We had the chance to work alongside students from other universities as well, from The University of Arizona, The University of Nevada: Las Vegas, and also the University of Connecticut. Meeting so many great people was awesome!
There are not words to describe how humbled I feel to have been a participant in a project that is drastically changing lives, and I can honestly say that having this experience in Honduras has changed my life as well. Even though these people have so much less than what we have in America, they have so much happiness in their lives for their families, they welcomed strangers into their community and treated us like old friends, and they have so much hope for a better future. During my stay, their words, stories, and smiles inspired me to work harder. Since returning to the USA, I have thought about the people of El Junquillo each and every day, and every time I turn a faucet, I will remember how fortunate I am.