SARAH BOREEN REFLECTS ON GUATEMALA TRIP
As a result of working with sustainable irrigation services provider, Weathermatic, to upgrade the irrigation system on many of the TAMU System campuses, SSC Services for Education decided to partner with Weathermatic on their program called Save Water Give Life. The idea behind this campaign is that the water saved on campus is given to a community in desperate need of access to clean drinking water as 844 million people across the world lack access to this basic need. Weathermatic already had a partnership with a wonderful non-profit organization headquartered in the Houston area, Living Water International, and invited SSC to join the partnership. In 2016, SSC decided to implement a scholarship program for students at TAMU System campuses to partake in a Living Water trip, which entails building a water well for a community in need as well as teaching hygiene lessons. In 2016, SSC sent 2 student scholarship recipients to Nicaragua. Because of how successful the trip was and how much we believe in this worthwhile cause, in 2017, SSC decided to provide scholarship opportunities to 6 students to build a well in El Salvador. Just this past August 4-11, we sent 6 student scholarship recipients on a Living Water trip to Guatemala: Maureen McClellan and Razan Ghabin of Texas A&M University-College Station, Desiree Espericueta and Sasha Guzman of Texas A&M University-San Antonio, and Marilyn Dunn and Seif Hediya of Prairie View A&M University.
SSC at TAMU Customer Relations Manager, Sarah Boreen, served as the trip's leader. The team included the 6 aforementioned students, Ida Noack with Weathermatic and Lisa Gross with Associa. Below is Sarah's reflection on the experience:
What a week it has been! You can never fully prepare yourself for the kind of experience a trip like one with Living Water provides. The students, Ida, Lisa and I arrived to Antigua, Guatemala on Saturday afternoon. Then on Sunday, we headed to the area near the community (in the state of Nueva Concepcion). Nueva Concepcion is quite a poor area but conditions are worse in Escuintla, the state where the community we served was located.
The village we served is called El Amatillo, a community of approximately 800 people living in about 125 houses. El Amatillo is in the area called Jabali, which consists of four communities with El Amatillo being one of them.
El Amatillo has a K-6th grade school with an enrollment of about 135 students who go to school each day from 7am – 12pm. The community is situated along a large river where many community members bathe, wash clothes, swim and spend holidays/days off. It’s a very popular spot for children to play! The spot where Living Water chose to build the well is on a big grassy field-like area surrounded by houses and the school. This area serves as a center for the community, so it was the ideal location to build the well.
I could use countless adjectives to describe the people of El Amatillo and how they treated our team. These precious people welcomed us with such generosity, hospitality, openness, friendship and true love. Though extremely poor, they shared what little they have with us. They graciously opened their homes and bathrooms to us. One community member who stood out in particular was an elderly woman named Santos, or Dona Santos (Mrs. Santos), as most of the community called her. Her house was the closest one to the well site and she hosted the hygiene lessons and generously let us use her bathroom. When I asked how long she had lived in her house, she told me her son had built the home for her eight years ago.
The week was full of extremely touching moments that will forever be imprinted in my memory. My team and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know and working alongside El Amatillo’s mayor, Epifanio “Epi” Garcia. Epi told us he was in his second term as mayor (terms last 2 years and are unpaid). Epi worked with Nueva Concepcion’s municipality to bring the Living Water project to his community. Weathermatic's representative, Ida Noack, and I had a chance to interview him, asking questions about how he feels about the well coming to his community and what this means for El Amatillo as a whole. Epi expressed his immense gratitude for the project and explained that because of having access to clean water, it will make such a difference for his community. He was proud to show us his house, as simple as it was. To make a living, Epi has three businesses: he raises cattle (he has 33 at any given time) and sells the meat as one cow is butchered and sold every Friday, he has a little store near his house that sells drinks and snacks and Epi also has a business that sells liquor. When asked if he and his family drink water from the well at their home, Epi explained that they go through 3 five gallon purified water containers every week (a total of 12 in 1 month). Epi explained that it’s atypical for families in El Amatillo to drink purified water as most families drink from their homes’ wells (which we learned are quite shallow, thus producing dirty water). Having access to clean water from the new well will save Epi the cost of buying drinking water. On the way back to the drill site, Epi stopped at his store and came back with a Gatorade for both Ida and me. This is just one example that although the people of El Amatillo do not have much, they were so willing, and oftentimes insistent, on sharing what they did have with our group.
One morning when the team and I arrived to the community, we got out of the van and immediately noticed a little boy, Daniel, wearing a Texas A&M University t-shirt. I pointed him out right away to the two College Station students, Maureen and Razan, and we taught him how to do a “Gig ‘Em” thumb and promptly took photos. In that moment more than ever, we knew that this trip and experience was truly meant to be. Later that day, I visited Daniel’s home to find out more about how his family was currently getting their water and how that would change once the well was finished. I told his mother, Marta, that I work on the Texas A&M University campus and that 2 of the students in our group attend school there. I told her we had been ecstatic to see her son wearing the A&M shirt and I asked where it had come from. Marta told me that her sister had gotten it in donated bag of clothing that came from Guatemala City. The Aggie spirit is indeed global!
On Thursday of that week, our last day in the community, the well was finished and dedicated. Our team stood in a circle with a group of community members surrounding us. There were prayers, songs sung a cappella by a local woman, and sentiments by the community members to us and our team to the community. My parting words to the community best sum up how I feel about this whole experience (originally written and said in Spanish; translated to English below):
Many thanks for your generosity and love that you have shown us this week. You all have given much more to us than I could’ve ever imagined. It’s been a pleasure to be here in your community, sharing this week with each other. I am most thankful for everything that happened this week! Thank you to the women of the community who cooked for us, the men of the community for all of your hard work on the well and to all of the children for their laughs, smiles and hugs. Each member of El Amatillo is so precious. May God bless you all with this well and with many more blessings. I love you!
Written by Sarah Boreen, SSC at TAMU Customer Relations Manager. Sarah served as the team's trip leader.