Today is Wednesday and everyone’s work is starting to pay off. Curt Mader, Brendan McKissick, and our entourage of folks (18 in total) have produced our first bottle of pure clean ozonated water at “21 de Abril”. They love it. Senor Gustavo, Superintendent of the school, could hardly believe it. “I never dreamed we would have something like this in our school and we will provide water for all 28 communities all feeding children into our school”, he said.
This certainly was music to our ears. More importantly, the community leader from Gompuene was there with us, also. He expressed regret that the system had to be removed from its original location (Gompuene) and promised we would not have this problem again. Now, the water system at the school will serve 28 communities instead of only 1, and it will reside where the children are. This is more in-line with Agua Viva’s goals and objectives, and everyone was very excited and motivated to see what kind of distribution network could be put in place.
Our leaders were reminded again of the importance of Water Diplomacy. Our systems cannot be utilized to their full extent without far reaching agreements, relationships, community leadership, and friends. Well, today we were all friends.
Maritza Yanez is putting together a list of other schools in Chimborazo, Ecuador and we will be systematically contacting them to see what other similar opportunities may exist similar to “21 de Abril Vocational School”. Plus, Agua Viva agreed to provide Senora Yanez a scholarship to attend another Water Diplomacy Workshop in Brazil.
One of the great highlights of our water installations is the health and hygiene education. Agua Viva utilizes much of the curriculum from Living Waters for the World (with certain enhancements) and it is just perfect for these projects and these communities. At this project, two young intelligent indigenous Quichue girls have been trained by Agua Viva and they present the program in their native tongue. It is extremely well received and we are overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and commitment to “affect change” in their communities.
The tenants of our Education Program will not change overnight. Changing their culture and habits regarding hygiene will take years to implement, but “let’s get started”, they said!
All of the new “teachers” participated in the activities during the morning and then most of them returned to their work in the fields of this agricultural community. We are reminded of the sacrifice these people take to participate in our programs. But, it is so important to them. They wil all be working late tonight cultivating and harvesting their vegetables by hand.
We had the best time meeting our new friends on Monday night at Rotary Club of Riobamba. We immediately received the most gracious welcome from President René Mesias and his wife Edith and Secretary Orlando Echeverría and his wife Natalia. Both were consummate professionals and it was obvious there was strong leadership “at the top”. Rotary banners from hundreds of other clubs were displayed on the wall indicative of the wide spread influence this club has had in other communities and countries.
Agua Viva was given plenty of time (over an hour) to present our humanitarian proposal with almost constant interruption with intelligent questions and genuine concern for the needy. Question after question was discussed and our leadership felt certain we had found a good match with these compassionate businessmen and women. After our program, we enjoyed Quiche with jamón y pollo and more wonderful conversation about our families and their country. To top off the evening, the leadership invited us to dinner on Wednesday night.
Much to our surprise, some our new Rotarian friends showed up at our installation the next day. They have already picked our first installation site; a parroquia (county) called Columbe. So, we have started yet a new adventure into the wonderful country of Ecuador to serve these needy communities with NO access to clean drinking water.
We arrived in Colta Monjas Alto at 9:00 am for Palm Sunday church services at Promesa Divina. Colta Monjas is located about 50 feet from the Pan-Am Transcontinental highway in a very small indigenous community at 12,000 feet elevation overlooking Lake Colta.
It was cold that morning and there is no heating in the church. No one has ever even dreamed of air conditioning. But, they did have restrooms. That was surprising. They did have an education center. Pastor Fernandez explained that Compassion International had assisted them with the construction of these facilities. It is quite humbling to see that “others have come before us”. They have provided important services to this community already. Our team had heard of Compassion International before. They are an organization dedicated to the long term development of children living in poverty around the world, much like Rotary and Agua Viva. Compassion International is headquartered in Colorado Springs and functions in more than 26 countries including Ecuador providing services to 1,350,000 children. No, we did not invent humanitarianism. We are just doing our part.
The church-goers slowly started trickling in. Speaking Quechua and all anxious to shake our hands. Their hands were tortured, cold, and calloused indicative of the hard existence in the mountains. Their smiles revealed what remained of their teeth ground to the “nubbins” from years of stone ground wheat and corn.
It was a wonderful church service (albeit two hours in total) full of smiles, hope, and spirit. Following the church service, it is time to break bread with our guests: Cuy, Las Papas, and Chiquile. (Guinea Pig, Potatoes, and Ecuadorian version of tamales). And, what is this? Apple Pie.
As we drive up the highway cut through the Ecuadorian cloud forest, we are reminded of the last project installed a few months ago along this road near Pallatanga. While proposing a water installation to this indigenous community of one thousand Quichue Indians, we asked, “Where are the bathrooms?”
We have NO bathrooms!”, they responded. We knew in an instant that any effort to improve health and hygiene in this community would need to include “sanitation”. Not just the bricks and mortar, but some serious education about “why” they need restrooms in this community. Once again, in our efforts to spread clean drinking water to the world, we find ourselves going down a slightly different path: i.e. sanitation. It is quite inexpensive to build adequate sanitation facilities and this contributes equally to the prevention of parasites. How many of these people and children in this community have parasites? “All of them”, the doctors say. As we began our installation of the water room for their new purification system, we began construction of their first pair of men’s and women’s restroom. First lesson in our education class: wash your hands after using the bathroom. Once again, what we take for granted in the United States is life changing revelation in the poor indigenous communities of Ecuador.
Saturday was our first day on the job. After getting to the hotel the night before at 1:00 am, we were all glad to get up at 6:00 am for breakfast and a 45 minute bumpy car ride to our prospective site. No doubt about the needs here. Dirt roads, bamboo houses, and the faces of the poor pretty much tell the whole story.
For this needy community, a natural leader, Pastor Nino Medina, drives one and a half hours one way every day to care for them. After a short conversation, we knew this young man had a heart for these people. With vision, wisdom, and energy, Pastor Medina promised to begin with our Agua Viva water purification installation and build a thriving distribution system. The elementary school, one half kilometer away, would be one of the first to benefit. The family across the street wants to help too, they said.
And, after a journey which started in Kansas City and lead us half way across the globe to the equator of Ecuador, Rotary and Agua Viva discovered a new opportunity to lift up and embrace the needy children of our planet. During the coming days, plans will be finalized for a September 2015 trip to install microfiltration and ozonation for our brothers and sisters in El Fortin.