Inauguracion Canton Las Maravillas
As I mentioned before, during this past week I returned to the aldeas of Nuevo Santiago and Canton Las Maravillas so that Pete could see first-hand some of the work accomplished this year. Every year, HFPF has 6-7 groups that come down from January-June and the staff works not stop to prepare for the groups and ready the projects (this takes a lot of coordination. Imagine trying to pull off a public works project in a extremely poor community with no major power tools, organize hundreds of villagers, and then orient (and prepare for) the gringos that come down to live in the villages for just over a week at a time, for 6 straight months.)
But, all this work is worth it. During my few short visits to the aldeas I have seen (and tried to communicate) how important and impactful HFPF’s work is. On Monday, I got a very special opportunity to share in the community celebration for everything they have received. Canton Las Maravillas is a very poor village. There is no water in the village, so for years the people have had to walk over an hour to the river to wash their clothes and find water suitable to drink. Many households have built contraptions to collect rainwater. But these bins (they look like dog pens built of sticks, lined with black, plastic garbage bags) are only a site of algae growth, mosquito birthing grounds and home to millions of bacteria. This is the water that would be used to bathe in, water livestock, this is the water that would be used to drink and cook. The tinacas HFPF installed provide relatively clean water (supplemented by additional 5-gallon bucket filter apparatuses) and a safe way to store it. Let me put the importance of this project further in perspective. 8 or 9 (this is no exaggeration) out of 10 of the people who come to visit the Clinic Besthesda, where I have been working, have a gastrointestinal infection. They may come for a pregnancy check-up, a sinus infection, or some other health malady, but they may also complain of a stomach pain that has annoyed them for 2 months or 5 months or 2 years. Sure enough, a urine test or a one-time use H. pylori test confirms their stomach infection or stomach amoeba or parasite. The water tinacas allow villagers to drink clean water and wash their hands. The pig and garden projects in Nuevo Santiago diversify their diets and add important nutrients, protein, vitamins, and minerals. HFPF has moved away from treating the medical needs that HFPF originally served through Dr. Aller’s hands and guidance. Supporting a clinic is just too expensive and too difficult. But, HFPF’s work has been a perfect example to me of Public Health in action and preventative medicine. The water, nutrition, and educational projects will lower the number of people who come to the clinic. On Tuesday, when we visited Nuevo Santiago we interviewed the widows of the village and distributed quilts made by a Everett, Wa church (more on this in a later blog.) 3 of the 4 widows’ (or widowers) spouses died from vomiting and diarrhea. What bacteria caused that, they will never know. But, I know that the bacteria came from the unhealthy water or unsanitary conditions in which these people live.
Well, now onto the party. You may seen some interesting pictures on the side bar of what looks like a film set for a commercial for Nanoshine Onestep Wash and Polish, a revolutionary new, nanotechnology washing product that retains the same qualities of a car wax. Well, that because you did. Pete has recently started a new company selling this product, and he wanted to get some before and after material to help his advertising. So, we washed the cars with his product before taking off on our adventures. The roads we visited were the perfect place to test his product. A fun story. Who knows, you may see some of my filming on TV one day soon…
Well, the road up was even worse than before. This time there were 3 cars going up, one with the Barillas mayor (his district contains some 250 aldeas) and some government officials, the second with Marco, Pete, some Barillas Rotary members, and the third with Wily and I. Well, the road just got worse and worse with each car. All the villagers came out with their ropes and ponchos but after 2 and a half hours of driving Wily and I stopped the car, turned around and walked the rest of the way up.
This trip was also a mini-lesson for me of Guatemalan politics. Part of the reason the community invited the mayor was so that he could see first-hand how bad the road was, so that he could experience it for himself. Well, sure enough during the ceremony that followed he “publicly” promised to start working on the road. Next year. When they had more money. It’ll be interesting to see how this project proceeds. Just before you start ascending the last part of the mountain road to Canton, you come across a large river, with a cable bridge. Next to the bridge stands 3 hugs concrete foundational supports for a new bridge. Well, this project was started years ago, and then the money ran out, so the foundations now stick out of the water, supporting air. In Nuevo Santiago, the government brought in large concrete pipe sections to work on a drainage project, but the pieces sit in a field, unused. The government also started a smaller version of the garden project that HFPF initiated in Nuevo Santiago, but never returned to teach the villagers how to take care of the plants. Wily returns every week or two, to show them how to fertilize properly (directly on the plants, not in the middle of the rows) and safely, cover the radishes fruits that become uncovered because the seeds weren’t planted deep enough. The plants in the government garden have either died or the vegetables have grown too long and the few radishes left are only fit for pig feed.
Back to the party…
We were welcomed into the school by a lively Marimba band that filled the air with their sweety airy rhythms. We made our way over to a make-shift platform and a few plastic chairs, and the rest of the open space in the school was quickly filled by school children packed in like sardines. The rest of the village stood at the back or peeked in through the open windows. The ceremony was filled with the welcomes to every party there (the villagers, HFPF, the Barilas Rotary, the family of a Barillas pastor that joined us, the “Corporate Municipality” or local government, Pete and his grandson, myself) by almost every party there (I was the exception) so there was a lot of thank yous and welcomes and a lot of clapping. This was followed by certificates given out to all the various parties by the Corporate Municipality and the Canton Council President, and awards for the best decorated tinacas, best drawings, and the top finishers of the 5k race. (They started at the bottom of the mountain road just as we got there and beat us to the top, the gowing was so slow.) The best part was probably when the winner of the 5k race performed a song he had written himself about the tinaca water project and Marco, Wily, and the group that came to Canton. This funniest part was probably when Marco was explaining to the village how Pete had been the mayor of Everett when Bill Clinton had been president and Boeing had come to Everett. The mayor of Barillas immediately jumped up to have his picture taken with Pete.
Following the long ceremony, there was a great lunch, a soccer game (played in more of a bowl than what you would consider a soccer pitch), and dancing to the Marimba music. I wish I had made it over to the dancing, but I was trying to raise the spirit of the Barillas crowd who was unusually quiet for a futbol match in Central America (for that matter, anywhere outside the US.)
It was a fun-filled day. The people of Canton were so grateful and so happy for everything they had. And while they are so poor they really wanted to celebrate the help they had received. Marco and Wily each received a turkey for their work. Meat is a treat in the diet of the people of Canton. Turkey is a treat even for the more well off in Barillas. Wily’s family turned it into a great lunch which they shared with me, his pastor and his wife, his mother and father, and brother’s family. Marco eloquently explained ‘it’s a gift that’s hard to receive, but even harder to say ‘no’ to.”
The story behind the water project at Canton is particularly striking. Last year a Rotary group came down to build a school in Canton. Every day, they took showers from the water supplied to them by the villagers. At the end of the week, after the school was completed, the villagers told the group what they really needed was water. It took 2 hours to get water and the Rotary group had used up the entire village water supply. This heartbreaking story led to the tinaca project the village has now. The Rotary group went down with the villagers to collect more water before they left, and a year later every home has a tinaca to collect clean water. This project was very expensive and required a matching grant by Rotary International to come to fruition. With the current state of the economy, the number of matching grants has greatly decreased and HFPF was lucky to receive the money when they had. They won’t be able to complete such large projects in the future.
Now, I’m off to bed… Wily and I are going to a new aldea tomorrow, Corosco, and we are going to spend the night in the truckbed. I hope it doesn’t rain! (I’d say there’s a 80% chance…)