February 7th 2009, I boarded a plane for Guatemala and a two-month project that changed the direction of my career from that point forward. I had found my place as an engineer. My first blog – yippeekiyay – documented those months and my first water/sanitation project abroad in San Antonio.
I had returned, briefly, to San Antonio back in 2013, but since it was for about an hour, I did not get to see many of the men I had worked with, the women I had met with or the kids I had played with back in 2009.
During this stay in Guatemala, I got to return on multiple occasions and really explore all the changes to San Antonio since I had first visited there in 2008 (about 6 months before I started my project there). The community is so lush and beautiful now. Trees that were planted and cared for many years ago have filled the community with shade and fruit. It was rather barren when I was there and to see all the “fruit” from the labors of Carol Gleeson, the late fonder of Operation Jabez, and the rest of the staff and the churches and the schools that she involved in helping San Antonio was just incredible. Families made a point to tell us stories of Carol’s ministry and how she would pray over trees she planted and those trees are full of fruit and healthy years after Carol has passed. There is even a new little school building and new little church building.
And the kids! So grown up! Here are two (“then and now”) photos.
I spent a couple different days in San Antonio. The first day, I met up with the former president of the community, Modesto. It was really great catching up with him and seeing the improvements made to the community. I also wandered around with Jen and found some of the other guys that were on my team. All in all, about 20 men worked on the water/sanitation project in 2009. I had been close to a core of about 6 of them.
I had wanted to meet with the current community president to discuss future projects, but part of me was a bit nervous. I was very comfortable with the guys I had worked with, but who was the new president? Would he want to work with me on new ways to improve San Antonio? Would he be willing to put together teams of community workers like Modesto did? I didn’t find the new president the first couple of times I was in San Antonio, but on the third visit, Jen and I were wandering around and ran into Guadalupe. I was psyched! He was one of the masons for my project and while talking with him, Cruz went by on his motorcycle (Cruz was another mason and another former teammate that I wanted to see). I ran down and shouted to get Cruz’s attention and he came over and we all caught up briefly. I explained to them that I wanted to return to San Antonio to meet with the new president to discuss future projects and hoped that they could take part in the meeting with me. It was at that point that I met the new president – Guadalupe! I was so relieved. Here was an old teammate, a friend, and he was the current president. What a sweet blessing 🙂
A week later, we had our meeting and I was pleased to see that I knew most of the people currently leading San Antonio. I was interested to know what they thought the community needed. We talked about water and sanitation for the most part. During my project in 2009, we built the first composting toilets (2 of them) in the community. I had worked with the local government and other aid agencies to build an appropriate toilet for that area. Since then, 17 families have built a composting toilet at their own houses! It is really exciting to come into an area 6 years later and see that certain designs have been accepted and replicated. My desire is to help each family (60 total) to each have a toilet of their own. It will cost about $150 per toilet for materials and each family will help with the construction and labor. We also discussed a new water tower that they would like to construct. This water tower will provide water to each house. It still won’t exactly be indoor plumbing like we are used to here in the States, but the water will be piped to a little basin in the cooking area (typically outside of the house) for use. Many of the houses have hand-dug wells. They understand that the water in those wells in not very healthy for drinking (according to the local government health dept) but it is easier to get water from their well then to walk to the center of town where there is a basin with safe drinking water that is pumped from a deep well. The water aspect of my project in 2009 was a small elevated water tank for drinking water and it was used for many years, but the community is stretching and growing and the central source isn’t as easy for people to access. Not as easy as water piped to the houses would be 🙂 I did give them recommendations for improvements to make right now and explained that I do not know if I can, in fact, raise the funds for two major projects (toilets and a water tower). The community leaders are very understanding and glad that I am going to advocate on their behalf to try to return and help them improve their infrastructure. San Antonio is looking wonderful from the efforts of Operation Jabez and many others who have helped, however there is some major infrastructure work to be done to increase their health, by improving their sanitation and water facilities.