Building a Clean Water Well in Guatemala
Organization: Living Water International: https://water.cc/
Location: Aldea Almolonga, Tiquisate district, Guatemala….
Those of us at the drill site that morning were working hard to keep the mud out of the way of the drill pipe as it bored deeper and deeper into the earth. The extreme humidity challenged our energy levels as the drill slowly ticked its way down through the rock.
The steel tip of the drill was made up of 3 circular sets of teeth that worked together to powerfully grind its way through the rock and shale, looking for a water table deep enough for it to run clean.
A diesel pump about the size of a large suitcase drew water up a rubber hose from the water pit we’d dug and filled from a huge tank the first day.
The pump powerfully pushed the water down and out the tip of the drill pipe, flushing the sludge and debris from drilling back up to the surface, where we needed to perpetually shovel it out of the way before our water pit, and the trough around the drill pipe, became peanut-butter-thick with sludge.
That would stop the drill and set us back while we cleaned up the area.
This was day 3 and we’d bore about 60 feet, stopping off and on for a myriad of reasons – to check the type of rock/mud (categorize the strata), dig the pipe free of sludge, and change the tip of the drill to a heavier one when the rock was too hard.
Muddy and exhausted, fending off the heat and 90% humidity with fresh juice from coconuts machete-chopped from a village tree by one of the elders, we kept each other going by sharing the heavy work and joking around.
Even though we all did not speak each others’ languages, it did not matter.
Hard work and community made us all feel close and we learned to communicate in our own way.
The equipment itself was both sturdy and old, so there always seemed to be a need to fix something – a jam in the chain gear that methodically and slowly moved the drill downward, a leak in the rubber hose that caused loss of pressure, a jam in the hose when some sort of debris got tangled up inside.
The rest of our crew were down the street, in the courtyard of one of the homes in the village, teaching hygiene lessons and working with the mommas and the children.
Although groups of homes throughout the village had hand-dug narrow, shallow wells they shared for water, and some homes used vats and plastic barrels to collect rainwater, the water was toxic, full of pesticide run-off from commercial sugar and plantain fields, livestock waste from the chickens, turkeys and pigs that ran free, and human waste run-off from outhouses.
Generations had been raised without running water and with no access to clean water, so members of the village were often sick with stomach and digestive issues from the toxic water and many had skin irritations because they hand-washed their clothing in the dirty water.
Children and the elderly were most affected, often getting sick and having life-threatening diarrhea. Children missed school often and both the youngest and oldest were at risk of death from illnesses brought on by the toxic water. The villagers knew the water was making them sick, but they had no options. There was no way to access clean water so they had to use what was available.
Education was necessary to ensure they knew how to stop the spread of germs. Proper handwashing techniques, teeth brushing, keeping the well pump clean, learning how to mix a quick solution to combat dehydration from diarrhea… These are some of the lessons the group taught over the week. After lessons the team often played soccer and other games with the children. For many of the families, we were the first Americans they’d ever seen.
We were there as part of a small team of volunteers from the USA to work alongside the villagers and the in-country Guatemalan team from Living Water International, a non-profit dedicated to creating clean-water wells in villages across the globe with no access to clean water.
Long before our trip, the village had spent almost two years going through a process with Living Water to determine if their village was not only a viable site for a clean-water well (geological studies), but if the village met all the other criteria required as well – such as having a dedicated local team to help drill, build, and maintain the well, solid geo-political and religious agreements and alliances so that everyone in the village had equal access to the clean water, and the villagers had to raise some of the funds for the well drilling, the parts, and future maintenance.
The well is a partnership between every member of the village and Living Water. As in every other country Living Water operates, there is a waiting list of villages in Guatemala hoping to get a clean water well.
Each day on site, the mommas of the village worked together to cook us all (the village drillers, the US volunteers, and the team from Living Water) a spectacular luncheon of traditional foods made with local foods.
These lunches were typically traditional chicken or pork stew with vegetables, or some sort of meat cooked on the open grill and served with rice and vegetables. And there were always fresh-made tortillas – so delicious! Everything was made in their traditional kitchens.
Each home had a kitchen as a separate structure, often with low or partial walls and a tin roof. Open to the elements and air without doors and full walls, they cooked with wood on open fire pits built on cinderblock platforms slightly lower than counter height. Sometimes they had a gas stove as well, although our lunches were always made on the open fire.
The food was always delicious!
This particular day was Tuesday and through the afternoon and long into dusk we would be working, looking for water.
That evening, as the past two evenings, we would leave exhausted, sore from the hard work, and covered in mud, not yet having hit water, but getting ever closer!
We would get back to where we we staying, quickly shower, crash for some sleep, and eagerly be ready to get back to the village early the next day.
By the end of the next day (Wednesday) we would be blessed – hitting clean water – and with it would come a joyous celebration to be remembered for generations!
Hitting water meant life would change in the village!
Before we would leave the village the final day, we would help line the new well with PVC piping and build a hand-pump for the entire village to use.
The Living Water in-country team made sure the village representatives were taught how to maintain and fix the pump so the village would be self-sufficient.
The villagers could, if desired, save up to put in an electric pump in the future. But the manual hand pump is a great start because it will always work!
The in-country Living Water Team will follow up with the village to see how the well is doing. There are villages who still use their hand pump up to 15 years after it’s installed!
Thank you for journeying along with me.
To learn more about Living Water International, please visit: https://water.cc/