Pre-Marathon 1: Living Water International: Building a Clean Water Well in El Salvador
There are so many stories to unpack from my week-long trip to El Salvador where we built a clean water well for the village of Llanos de Achichilco, in the San Vicente area of El Salvador: the lack of basic amenities like toilets and electricity; the children who only attend school until 6th grade; the record number of men in their 30’s and 40’s dying of kidney failure from exposure to pesticides as they chop through sugar cane fields with their machetes; the amazing in-country staff of Living Water International who donate their lives to helping their country.
But I’m starting with a shout-out to the mommas of the village…
These are the women who walk a half a mile through the woods to fetch water from a dirty stream. They carry it back for cooking and drinking in huge jugs on their heads – up to 50 pounds. These are the women who walk that half mile with 40 pound buckets of dirty clothing on their heads so they can beat it clean with soap on rocks in the dirty stream. They spend long hours each day farming and cooking and then walk that half mile to clean their dishes and take baths. These are the women who lose children to extensive drug and gang violence. Some of them have husbands who illegally migrated to the United States years ago to find work and send money back, or, after living in the US for a while, have started new families and forgotten about their wives and families in El Salvador.
These same women, living a life too difficult for us to comprehend, are also full of love and joy and happiness. They are funny. They are strong. They are determined, full of life. They are beautiful. They opened their hearts and homes to us with warm smiles and hugs. They made fabulous lunches for us each day and bonded with us instantly.
The sense of community and care in Achilchilco is palpable. Daily life for the villagers means lack of good roads, electricity and stable food sources. There was no clean water in the village when we arrived, no bathrooms except outhouses and a lack of access to medical care and medicine (it takes over 2 hours for an ambulance to arrive on site if needed). Yet there was such a strong sense of community and love. The children are happy and all play together, with the older children watching over the younger ones. There is no “helicopter parenting” – there’s no time with all the chores of daily life. Everyone helps each other out, watches out for each other and their families, works together on community projects. And they all, especially the women, welcomed our group with open arms. It was humbling and amazing!
At the end of our week, after two failed attempts to dig a clean water well for the village, we finally struck success on the third try. A viable clean water source. We left the village with a single, new, hand-pump well. The only clean water source for over 100 people. Just think of how many sources of clean water you have in your home – bathrooms, kitchen, outdoor hoses. All for you. At a touch of your finger you have fresh, clean, cold water always available. While back in Achichilco the people must walk to a single centralized hand pump as the only source of clean water for over 100 people. It’s better than the dirty stream they used before. They don’t have to worry about contamination from the run off from the animals, from sewage, and from the pesticides that contaminated the land around the water source. But it’s only one hand pump to share among everyone.
The truth is there are 2.5 billion people globally who lack access to even the very basic necessities of sanitation, cleanliness and safe water — that’s twice the population of the U.S. Around 700,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation – that’s almost 2,000 children a day. (WaterAid 2012/WHO 2008/The Lancet 2012) That reality is shocking.
I will share additional stories about my trip to El Salvador, as it was truly a life-changing experience and there were so many special moments. But for now I am thinking about the women of Achichilco. The challenges they face in everyday life. And I am thankful for the things we take for granted, like clean water.
To learn more about clean water and Living Water International, check out their homepage at: