I arrived in Bolivia on the 6th of July, with Sherry remaining at home in Huntington Beach. I’ll be here until the end of August and then she and I will be back together, hopefully never traveling solo again, at least not for these long periods. I’m working with an organization called Water For All (WFA), which is completely focused on getting safe water to the poorest of the poor. They operate on the basis of “well clubs,” where a group of 10 (or so) families each raise about $100, which is the complete cost for a well. This is an astonishingly low cost for a well, which can dramatically change the entire future of a family!
The wells are hand-dug and you can find quite a bit of information on the technology from the WFA website.
Here’s a snippet of how crazy the last couple of days has been as I joined a team starting a well club, where we’ll be digging 12 wells:
We got to the site early Wednesday morning and waited for the water tank to arrive so we could start digging. It finally arrived and as we started to use the water, I noticed this horrific odor! Turns out the tank had previously been used to spray a wicked insecticide to kill a worm that attacks corn or sorghum! But it was the only water available, so we started digging; all afternoon I did most of the actual drilling and got sprayed over and over with water and mud and insecticide! I was covered in it. There was no other way to get the mud off us, so we had to use the water to rinse. Nice, eh?
Since I wasn’t sure how clean the food would be, we had stopped at a market on the way so I could have some protein and at least a couple cans of clean food. However, the lady of the house (Katarina) had made me a bowl of lunch and set it out for me. Wondering what I should do, I remembered those verses where Jesus sent out the 70 two by two, telling them to take nothing for their journey, and to eat whatever was set before them. So I did. It was some kind of concoction with potatoes and macaroni, peas, carrots and a few morsels of meat, served over white rice. After lunch, we worked till almost dark and got the well dug to about 13.5 m (about 40 feet) deep. Dinner was exactly the same as lunch.
We (Sergio, one of the WFA guys and me) set up tents behind the hut, where we slept, each of us in our own tent. The wind blew all day and night – and then it started to rain in the evening. The temperature dropped pretty dramatically and my tent leaked – at first only a little, then dramatically. I had only a thin flannel “sleeping sac” and two thin blankets, all of which got wet. I can’t remember being so cold in my whole life! Almost everything I had got wet, including most of my clothes. All day Thursday, we huddled around a fire we made behind the hut, in a hole in the ground, trying to stay as much out of the wind as we could. It rained all day, far too cold and wet to work, so none of the club members arrived to work! We were stuck there, with no means of communication (no cell coverage) and the road too slimy and completely impassable without 4-wheel drive (the 4 wheel drive in WFA’s vehicle is broken). Breakfast was two pieces of stale bread and 2 small cups of coffee with too much sugar! Lunch was again the same thing as we ate the day before. Dinner, however, was different. Hugo, the husband of the couple we were staying with, killed an armadillo during the night and we had it for dinner! It was great, deep fried, a bit grisly, but tasted good :–)
One of the guys in the well club sort of took me under his wing. Finding that all my stuff was wet, he decided to help me move to a local adobe hut that was abandoned. It was about a 5-minute walk away from the place we are doing the wells. We carried my tent and all my wet clothes, set up the tent inside the abandoned adobe, then arranged poles attached to wires hanging from the ceiling, over which I was going to hang my wet clothes and blankets. When I got back to the hut where we were digging the well, Katarina and Sergio said I shouldn’t stay at the adobe. First, there is a house next door to the adobe, full of people who are gypsy-like, begging and stealing instead of working (they’re from a people-group called Cambas). They told me that within just an hour or two of having my stuff unguarded, they’d steal anything of value. Second, it is in the adobe walls where beetles live that cause Chaga’s Disease and bites from these bugs are common. I went back and got all my stuff. . .
Hugo and Katarina offered for us to sleep in their hut, which we did. The hut is about 10 feet wide by maybe 20 feet long, built out of scrap wood. The hut has a dirt floor, 2 “windows” and a wooden door that closed with a piece of twine. Inside were three twin beds, a few bags of grain and beans, all their clothing and a collection of what looked like junk from trash piles. It’s tragic; the two windows have partial screens, with about 1/3 of each of the windows wide open; the walls have boards missing and big gaps and holes everywhere else. The wind blew through it almost as though the walls weren’t even there! Hugo, Katarina and their baby (Edison) slept in one of the beds, Sergio slept in one and I slept in the other. Even with all my clothes on and several blankets over me, I was still cold – probably because everything was still a bit wet! Its interesting, they climb into bed with all the same clothes they wear all day, every day. As a side note, I ended up going from Tuesday until Friday with no bath and working hard, sweating, etc . . . Phewwww!
Its amazing the difference that water makes. You can just look at the way people live and know that their lives are unbelievably difficult. Katarina has to walk about a mile each way to a local school for water for their animas and for cooking; they never bathe! They have some pigs, sheep, chickens and cattle, but the cattle are out to pasture on a neighbor’s land (a local Mennonite community) because they can’t supply enough water for them. Once they get their well, they’ll be able to bring all their animals back and keep them healthy because they’ll be able to give them water. Water will also allow them to grow the food they need – both for themselves and for their animals. I’m astonished at how much of a life-changer a small well like this can be. Hugo told me, “without water, there is no life!”
I feel incredibly privileged to be able to participate in a process that dramatically changes the lives of folks like Hugo and Katarina. I’ll start another well club early next week – possibly tomorrow if the weather changes and warms up a bit!