For the past couple of years I have been able to be a part of the Michigan Section American Water Works Association (AWWA) committee, Safe Water in Ecuador. Essentially this is the same committee that has been operating for many years under the name Water for People and is affiliated with the national AWWA Water for People program. Safe Water in Ecuador raises funds for water projects in Ecuador, as well as takes a travel group to Ecuador every year to visit the sites of past, present and future water projects in rural communities there.
In Jan. 2008, I had the opportunity to join a travel group for my first visit to Ecuador. We visited a community called Sul-Sul, whose water system was fully placed in operation in Dec. 2007. The community thanked us (as representatives of those that have raised funds for materials) with ponchos, satchels and various gifts. Their water system is very simple, with a 220 volt well cistern pumping station transferring untreated groundwater to a 5,000 gallon concrete reservoir. The distribution system was even simpler, comprising of a simple outside spigot. However, the years they had waited for the convenience of water at their home was evidenced by their many speeches, hugs and tears.
Most exciting was visiting communities with water projects that have been in continued service for seven or eight years. It was obvious to me that the success of the Safe Water in Ecuador program depends largely on the involvement of the individual communities that are served. Prior to the first pipe being purchased, each community is required to have 100% involvement. Each citizen must agree to provide necessary labor, have a latrine at their home, purchase an individual water meter and the communities must establish a Water Board, which charges each household for the water they use.
In return, organizations such as Safe Water in Ecuador raise funds for the materials required in the project. Engineering, planning and oversight are provided by a Christian mission organization called HCJB, which already has an established presence in Ecuador. HCJB has now been advancing their community development program to include personal hygiene, a natural compliment to now having readily available clean water.
Later, as we traveled back from another village, we flew over the jungle and mountains in a small plane. From the air, I saw so many communities, peppering the rivers, mountains and valleys of rural Ecuador. The quest of providing a safe and reliable drinking water system to all of these communities seems daunting enough, and almost seems impossible when you add all of the similarly desperate communities around in the world. However, making a difference for these communities just comes down to everyone doing their part: the men and women in the communities, hand-digging trenches; the non-profit organizations, providing technical and engineering oversight; and the people willing to donate funds to purchase pipe and pumps.
What makes the donation of everyone’s energy, time and financial resources worthwhile are the hopeful smiles of the people who can have a greater future because they know have access to this vital resource: safe, clean water.