For more information about the project, see www.sachayaku.org
For more photos from this trip, check out my picasa album
I went back to Santa Ana Ecuador for four days this December. There is something incredibly special about this community, and it was so wonderful to see everyone again. I have been involved in this place for almost four years now, and children I met as one-year olds just beginning to talk are now about to start first grade.
This girl, Shirla, is one example. The photo on the right is me with my beloved comadre Elsa.
The community water system is still working. It is not textbook perfect, but they know about the problems and how to solve them, and that means my role is to step back and let Santa Ana handle these challenges for themselves.
One of my days was spent on a follow-up to trip to La Encañada, one year after the Santa Ana water board helped them install family-level rainwater systems in each of 9 family homes.
We found all 9 tanks still working, in good condition, and getting very positive reviews from the community. We tested all of the families' water: some had extremely clean water and some quite contaminated. They all emptied and cleaned their tanks in anticipation of our arrival (little bit of mis-communication there), so we had to test water that they had stored in other containers, so it is hard to know whether the rain water tanks themselves were the source of contamination or the storage containers.
Either way, we know that it is possible to have very clean water with this system, but it likely depends on the maintenance each family provides and if and how they store it in another container.
We also repeated a house to house health survey and found that the reported number of times a child had diarrhea in a year dropped from an average of 6.9 to 1.9 times per year from before our intervention, which is quite promising.
The most exciting part of all is that the new mayor has made water her top priority for the next 5 years. Two communities have asked for Santa Ana's help to apply to her for funding for the tanks, and they have both gotten tanks and are working with Santa Ana's water technical team to do the installations. How amazing is that?
The fact that this work is starting to take a life of its own is the ultimate success. However, on this trip I was also touched by a number of anecdotal stories that help me feel in a smaller more personal way that somehow, with all of this effort, we really are making an impact.
Melida, who is one of the people most active in the Santa Ana water system and outreach to other communities told me that she first got interested her first summer when her son came home from school and told her that their water was contaminated and they needed to boil it. I think that the water quality testing kit, which I just restocked thanks to a generous donation, is one of the most important parts of the work that Santa Ana is doing, because it enables people to have these kinds of "ah-hah" moments when they see for the first time what sources are cleanest and why they need to treat their water.
Another anecdote came from the first operator we trained, Oldemar, told me that in his new job in another part of the country, there was a broken pipe and he fixed it with a patch he made by heating up each end of the PVC pipe and molding them with another pipe. The community was so thankful and called him a water engineer.