I want to tell you about the day I realized a well is not enough.
It was the spring of 2013, and we had just spent the day digging trenches and installing water pipe for a water system in the small, rural community of Miguel Cristiano. Because the trip from the Amigos Complex to Miguel Cristiano is fairly long, we decided to spend the night in the community to save travel time and to have a little extra bonding time with the families there.
It was my first time “camping out” in a community, and I loved every minute of it. I loved kicking around a soccer ball and chatting up new friends as we watched the sun set over the hills. I loved the thick, smokey smell of the grill as we waited for our dinner of chanhco asado to finish cooking. I loved stringing up my hammock and watching the stars as they popped out one by one until there were millions, because in such a remote place there is no light to interfere with all the beauty of the heavens.
And then it came time to wash off the dust and sweat at the end of that long and happy day. Miguel Cristiano was lucky in the sense that, when we met them, they already had a clean water well. Like many water projects, whoever drilled it had installed an old-fashioned hand pump on top and considered the job done. And, certainly clean water you have to pump and carry is better than none at all.
The problem that night, of course, was that without a water system there were no showers, so in order to bathe we had set up makeshift showers (think little stalls made of tree branches stuck into the ground with black plastic trashbags stuck on the sides) and each person was responsible for pumping and carrying a 5 gallon bucket of water to the stalls where they could then take a “bucket bath.”
So, ready to be done and showered and sleeping peacefully in my hammock, I got to work filling my bucket. And let me tell you, it is a lot of work. As I stood there, huffing and puffing and heaving and pumping, I thought my back would give out before I could possibly fill just one bucket. When it was finally full, it came time to carry the bucket just 20 feet to where the showers were, and I thought I’d never make it. I lugged and jerked, foot by foot, swinging and dragging and making slow, exhausted progress as my already sore muscles cramped in protest.
And that’s when I realized; a well is not enough. Even a small family would need a dozen buckets like the one I filled every single day to take care of their most basic needs – drinking, cleaning, cooking – and a large family or one with livestock would need even more.
It suddenly made perfect sense why severe dehydration and the chronic kidney disease it causes are so common in rural communities (in fact, Nicaragua is the only country in the world where chronic kidney disease kills more people than any other disease). If I had to pump and carry my water myself, I thought, I wouldn’t drink as much either.
And that’s why Amigos doesn’t just drill wells; we builds systems. Because no one should have to decide between lower back problems and hydration. No one should weigh the pros and cons of spending half their day collecting water and chronic kidney disease. Because water can – and should – be piped right to their doorstep so they can put the buckets down and give their weary arms a rest.
And ever since Miguel Cristiano finished their water system a few months after our trip, it is (not to mention the fact that their spiffy new Modern Bathrooms have made a refreshing shower just a turn-of-the-knob away).
But there are still countless communities just like Miguel Cristiano all over Nicaragua who spend long mornings walking, gathering, carrying. Many don’t have a clean water source, but even if they do, their lives are still controlled by the ever-present task of obtaining the water their families need to survive.
We want to change that. And a well is the start, but it will never be enough.
By: Kali Venable
In July of 2013, on my second week-long trip with Amigos, I worked in the community of La Chuscada digging ditches for their water system.
We were one of the first mission groups to work on the system so we spent the week in a part of Chuscada that was directly off the main road. I remember the spot vividly, I remember the people – mainly the children – and I have photos that serve as reminders when I start to forget.
During these past two weeks I got to go back to Chuscada – where the water system has been on for over a year now and each home has a Modern Bathroom – to help build a wall that will surround a large, model public school for northern Nicaragua.
The work site was in a part of Chuscada I remember walking through two years ago and photographing a few desks covered by a tin roof that served as the community school. Today, there is a six-room school in place of it and 10 years from now there will be an even bigger one.
Last Tuesday I brought two photos of a few boys I’d spent time with on my previous visit with me to the community. I didn’t think I would be able to find them because I had yet to see them, but I thought I might be able to ask some of the community members near our work site if they knew any of them and could take me to them or at least give the boys the photos to keep.
In the morning I showed my photographs to a family I whose house I was visiting and felt discouraged when none of them recognized the kids. Having pretty much given up on reuniting with the boys, I volunteered to go get bags of concrete mix from the Amigos Complex that afternoon.
When we pulled back up to the school in the truck, I was in awe. Two of the boys in my photographs were standing right in front of me talking to some of the Amigos staff members.
I hoped off the truck, ran to my backpack to retrieve the photos, and returned to the front of the school where the boys stood. I told them that I played with them two years ago when I was here helping install the piping for their water system and handed them the photos I had. They both smiled and said “recuerdo” – I remember.
Most of the time the work God is doing in my life is hard for me to understand and requires more trust in Him than anything else. But when I pulled back up to the school and saw them standing there that day in La Chuscada it was so apparent He’d placed the boys in front of me, or I in front of them, so that we would meet again.
Our reunion was a reminder that the relationships I build here are not momentary, that when I tell someone “I’ll see you again,” it isn’t just out of comfort, it is out of trust in God and His ability to bring people back to each other despite the odds.
By: Kali Venable
Alberto Parrales, a 76-year-old man from San Pablo/La Grecia, was the first community member I met this summer. During the weeks we’ve spent in San Pablo/La Grecia he has become a close friend, daily digging partner, and big part of God’s plans for me here.
Alberto has lived in the community for 51 years; before Hurricane Mitch in ’98, before the Sandinista Revolution of the 70s, he planted his family’s roots there and never left.
As a farmer, he gets up every morning at 4 a.m. to attend to his chickens, cows, horse, and seven manzanas (12 acres) of rice and corn before beginning work on the water line at 7 a.m. with a number of other community members.
Alberto took me too his house one day to give me a tour of the farm he’d told me so much about. With pride, he walked me through the yard behind his home where plantain, mango, avocado, and a plethora of other trees were heavy with fruit; each tree was introduced by name,each fruit was plucked for me to sample.
>We crept under a wire fence when we reached the back of his yard where rows of rice began andcontinued into the distance. He posed for photos with each crop; never had I seen a man hold himself with so much dignity in his work, his life.
A week prior I’d spent a whole day asking him questions about farming, his family, his values, and what it was like to see the piping for water completed in front of his home. In the middle of giving me detailed answers he told me that he appreciated my interest greatly, but didn’t understand why I was so curious about the way he lived. He expressed the same confusion at his house after he’d given me a grand tour.
It hadn’t occurred to me until then how forgotten people in this community must feel at times. I can’t make the assumption that all Nicaraguans feel like their nation, and maybe even God, has left them in the dust of a few families’ prosperity because the people I’ve met and spent time with here are such a small portion of the whole. But at the same time, I don’t think it would be too unreasonable to make that assumption in a country where the wealth distribution is so bafflingly uneven.
Having Alberto share his life with me and give me the chance to tell him that he not only matters in my eyes, but in the eyes of the Lord, made it clear what I was called here to do which is not to give people dignity, but to affirm it.
Alberto has shown me that we shouldn’t seek to be anyone’s saver – Jesus already was that person for all of us. Instead, we should seek to show people the love that He has for us by standing beside them, affirming their value and helping them create better lives for themselves, their children, and the many generations of their families to come.