I am frequently asked the question, “How do you decide where to go?”
Because I go to so many different countries over the course of a year, it might seem like I just hop around and show up in communities unannounced like a drill-rig-carrying-salesman. Although it would certainly make for a comedic documentary, I do not cold-call villages 😉
Deciding “where to go” can actually take up to a year in research, communication with the community and prayer for guidance. My process follows a “who, what, warnings, when, how” check-list.
Who wants help? I am always invited into a community. The invitation is coordinated either by national NGOs, local missionaries or partnering US aid agencies. These communities are requesting help/training with regard to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education.
What are they requesting? What can I do to help? Once I get a request to help in a community, I have to research the surface and geological conditions to see if our drilling equipment will be suitable or if we will need to find alternative solutions for accessing water (such as rain or spring catchment and storage). The geological research also helps me determine what type of latrines would be appropriate. After that, I research the culture to see if they have accepted (or would be accepting) of the type of latrine. You might be surprised to know that the types of latrines I can work with depend on the traditions/habits/patterns/beliefs of the culture.
I diligently follow the conditions of the proposed project country with regard to safety. In addition to our State Department Travel Warnings, I follow the world news as best as I can for each of the countries. In the case of Burundi, we canceled the project before the State warnings were even posted because I had been following the political tensions and rising violence since the beginning of this year and knew that the country would be too violent to work in during the period scheduled by our partner agency.
When should I go? The time of the year that the project is scheduled is based on their “dry season” because it is the best time to drill while the ground water is at the lowest point (so water will remain in the well year-round). I also have to work around the schedules of my host communities. They have seasons where they are planting or harvesting, so in order to have community involvement, I have to be aware of their schedules.
How can I meet their requests? Donations support everything I do. Most of the time, I don’t need to raise funds for a specific project because I use monthly donations for the materials, but sometimes a project is just too big (El Salvador Spring Catchment) and I have to find additional funding. I have used social media crowd-funding (“A Place to Poo” for a large latrine project in Panama and “Gift a Goat” for the livestock program in Haiti), sold original photos at small galleries, bookstores, coffee shops and online and I have even had bake-sales to help support projects.
You can start to see now, how it can take about a year from when I get the request, to when I actually get to the community.
In addition to the above project research, I am also praying for guidance and discernment. Ultimately, no matter how sandy or rocky subsurface research shows or how safe or violent the news may report or how dry or rainy the conditions are supposed to be, God knows where He wants me to serve and help and that is exactly where I want to be working.