Week 49: Living Water International – Building a Clean Water Well in El Salvador with My Co-Workers
The first question is usually, “How hot was it?” And I’m never quite sure how to explain it in a way that makes sense. Think about sitting in a sauna fully clothed and in work boots. Then think about playing soccer and football, digging trenches and sifting gravel in that sauna. For 8 hours. That’s pretty much the physical experience. But that does not convey how happy you are. That the heat only really registers occasionally, when you’ve hit the wall of exhaustion. Otherwise, you are feeling fulfilled in a way you just don’t feel in your everyday life.
I had taken a team of co-workers down to El Salvador to build a clean water well for a village with no good access to clean water.
We were there through the organization Living Water International (LWI).
We were in a village called “La Bomba” – the village itself a mix of windowless, one-room, dirt-floor stick huts, tin-roofed homes, and modest cinderblock houses with tiled porches (the larger homes with tile were paid for by relatives working in the United States and sending back money to their families). The surrounding countryside was beautiful. Approximately 125 people would be using our well once complete. For La Bomba, it had been a 3 year wait for our arrival and we were eager to work alongside them to build their well.
The villagers had some access to water. There was another LWI well located a rocky, hilly 20 minutes bicycle ride away. Families would send members twice a day to fill containers and bring them back.
Some villagers had hand-dug wells in their yards. Not deep enough to access clean water, but the water could be used for washing clothes and showering.
A handful of families had enough electric to run a rudimentary pump that pushed the water through a filter and made it drinkable. The pumps and filters were part of a joint program with LWI and another organization – a temporary fix until their village’s communal well was in place.
Because of these hand-dug wells, we knew there was water in the area. We were told, however, that the dig would be difficult as the clean water was down at least 75 feet and we would need to dig through pumice stone, a very hard volcanic rock that blanketed the area. There was a chance we may not hit water due to the difficulty of the topography, so we approached the weeks leading up to our trip feeling hopeful, nervous and praying for a successful well for the village.
The week was emotional from the start! Arrival at the village Monday morning brought a celebration as we were warmly welcomed by the families.
The way the trip week is organized is that the team pretty much starts working right away – by the time we arrived the site for the well had been carefully chosen and the drill set up.
Half of our group jumped in to help with the digging and drilling while the other half worked with the children and mommas – doing crafts, teaching hygiene lessons, holding bible skits and lessons, and playing sports and games.
Upon arrival in El Salvador, we learned we were with another group. A group of employees from BGE, Inc., a large engineering firm out of Texas, would be staying at the same place we were but working in a different area.
As we would come to learn during the week, there was a lot of synergy between the groups and we had a tremendous amount of fun together, including a karaoke throw-down (BGE took us down on that one).
The BGE team was drilling at a school so it was interesting to share stories about our different locations. Their team hit water 24 hours earlier than we did and it was fun to share that experience with them over dinner that evening.
I have to stop here to bring up the AMAZING in-country Living Water staff (of which Kathy – in photo at left – is one).
These heart-centered, spirit-focused individuals dedicate their lives to helping the people of their country. It is both extremely physically and emotionally demanding work. Each week they work in a new village with a new group of volunteers.
They face challenges of all sorts – broken drill bits, terrible weather, difficult teams, a wide array of villagers and needs, etc. – and they are consistently nurturing, upbeat, loving and open-hearted. It was truly a blessing to be around them for the week and have them guide us through the experience.
And I have to stop to talk about the village children who flocked and fluttered around us every moment of every day. You quickly realize there is a universality among children across the globe in their curious and excited natures. They were endlessly peppering us with question about our lives back home and what we were doing in their village.
They filled our days with laughter and open love. They gave us hugs, made necklaces and bracelets and rings for us. They relentlessly wanted us to try new things – new foods, new activities.
They wanted to engage with us every minute – in sports like football and soccer and jump rope, arts and crafts, chatting with us, etc. It made a huge difference that we had a few people on our team who spoke Spanish and were able to help us translate their requests and thoughts. The children have definitely left moments of joy etched on our hearts.
I am also drawn to the mommas. I’ve been on three LWI trips so far, and I think I love being with the mommas best. They were endlessly helpful and generous in a transparent way you just don’t experience in the United States. Upon meeting our group, we immediately became part of their families.
They showed us their homes and shared every aspect of their lives with us so we could understand what their day to days were like. They fed us lunches and snacks and delicious desserts, and shared their generations-old recipes to take home with us.
They actively brought their children each day to participate in our lessons and activities, encouraging us with laughter and cheers through our terrible acting of hygiene skits and bible lessons.
They brought open merriment, laughter and a free connection to their hearts.
Our team was fortunate to hit a viable water source late Tuesday, at 33 meters (approx. 108 feet).
The water had to run from the drill for quite a number of hours before it ran clean so Wednesday we were able to spend the morning celebrating as a group and with the workers and families (especially the children).
We danced and played in the water and the mud, FILTHY but full of joy.
Wednesday was spent building out the concrete platform and setting the pump handle.
Going into the week, I tried not to set any expectations for myself or our team. I wanted to let the experience unfold in whatever manner it would, and be grateful for whatever happened.
I was humbled and excited by the enthusiasm of my team and was touched sharing the experience with them.
Each one let go of insecurities and fears and opened themselves up to every experience with a generosity and energy that was amazing.
I was also thankful for my firm, Wiss & Company, who’d supported our trip in a myriad of ways, not the least of which was to sponsor the well – making a donation that went towards the supplies and mechanics that would become the well and pump itself.
Both my team and my firm were such a blessing!
Thursday was our last day at the village. We participated in a dedication ceremony with a puppet show and games presented by the LWI team, and speeches from both our group and from the villagers.
It was a special day, ending with the villagers singing us a special song, and then each of them lining up to give us each paper crowns and hugs. We were left in tears saying goodbye, but we all felt amazing knowing we were leaving them with a new source of fresh water.
I realize as I write this that I’ve fallen in love with the people of El Salvador! Each time I visit, a bigger piece of the country is etched on my heart forever. And, while I want to explore the other countries in the LWI program (they operate in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti, Rwanda, and Kenya), I know I’ll be back to El Salvador again….
Thank you for joining me on this week’s journey!
— XO XO Penelope
To learn more about Living Water International, please check out their website at: