It is so exciting to see how God is working through Agua Yaku, bringing clean water to so many people in need in Bolivia, but also using this project to reach people with the Gospel. We continue to drill wells in the dry Chaco of Bolivia, about eight hours south of Santa Cruz near the borders with Argentina and Paraguay. Over the past couple of months we have hosted several volunteer teams from North America and from Peru. We are also training two new well drillers. Both Paulo and Gregorio have been trained as missionaries with the “Youth with a Mission” organization and are now doing a great job drilling wells and working with local Guarani pastors in an effort to make sure even the poorest families have access to clean water.
In the course of our work we have found that a surprisingly large number of households are composed solely of women and small children. Husbands, fathers, and teenage boys often abandon the villages for months on end each year in search of wage paying jobs on the ranches, farms, and in the cities throughout Bolivia. Far too often it seems men completely abandon their wives and children, leaving them to fend for themselves in utter poverty. Without men in the household, the women are saddled with household chores, child-raising, and tending to a small flock of goats or sheep. They do not have the time or energy to plant gardens and fields to ensure there is enough to eat. Most women in the Isosog region work their fingers to the bone weaving bags, hammocks and other items to sell to the occasional tourist (or well drilling team). About once a week a truck will come through the village selling the basics—salt, sugar, rice, potatoes, beans, etc. The women will trade their goats and handicrafts for a few kilos of food.
As part of our working ethos, we require families to participate in the well drilling process. We ask them to help with the labor—preparing the site, carrying water, and with the actual drilling—and by contributing about $US 150 to the cost of the materials, i.e. the filter, casing, and hand pump. (Our actual cost to drill a well, including logistics, labor, and other project expenses, is about $US 1000). Often, the first wells we drill in a community are for families with husbands and strong leadership who can come up with the co-payment for the well and can help with labor. After we have been in a community for a while we begin to see that the poorest of the poor, usually female-headed households, are still not drinking clean water. They have to walk too far to the nearest well and have to carry heavy loads of water back home for drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing clothes. More often than not they end up carrying water from shallow hand-dug wells, rain water collected in ditches alongside the road, or from stagnant livestock tanks. This past year we have decided to begin taking livestock and handicrafts as payment for wells. So if a poor family, who has no cash as all, can give the equivalent of $US 75 in crafts or livestock, say four shoulder bags or three goats, we will drill them a well. We then sell the crafts in the city and give the animals to the local churches for use their own social needs ministries. It is so satisfying to be able to now provide water for practically everyone. All the hard work and sweat is worthwhile when we get to see the joy on the faces of the women and children as they are filling up all their barrels, buckets, and tubs with cool clean water from a well right in their own yard.
This week Paulo and Derek, a short-term volunteer from Canada, are beginning a new work in Paraboca, a small community where there is not yet an evangelical presence. During the day they will be drilling wells, and at night they will show the Campus Crusade “Jesus” film in their own Guarani language. The Agua Yaku boys are carrying an electric generator, a laptop, a projector, and a large speaker so they can show the movie on the side of the school. When it gets dark at 6:00 PM and no one in the community has electricity, almost everyone in the community will show up for a lighted public event. Once the generator is fired up and the speaker begins to broadcast the sounds of a pre-movie video, everyone in the village will gather at the school to sit on the ground and watch with rapt attention. Evangelical films are such a great way to introduce people to the gospel and pave the way for more focused evangelism by local pastors and missionaries.
As we mentioned several months ago, we are expanding our work beyond simply drilling water wells. We are also promoting and distributing a Sawyer micro-filament water filter that removes 100% of the disease causing bacteria and pathogens that make gastrointestinal diseases such a problem in the developing world. The Sawyer filter is easily back-washed so there is no need for replacement cartridges, and when properly cared for the filter will last for about ten years. This is exciting, brand new technology. I’m positive this type of filter will play a significant role reducing child mortality and improving the health of billions of people around the world. A new Agua Yaku employee, David, a single seminary-trained young man, is working full time in the filter project. We have already placed about 200 filters with families in 2013 and have plans to really expand the project in the coming months.
For $US 80.00 you can provide a family with a bucket and filter system. Each family that receives a filter is trained in the importance of consuming clean water, and maintaining hygiene and sanitation for the long-term health of the family. They are also trained how to care for the filter to ensure its long-term functionality. I wish we could quickly go out and give a Sawyer filter to every single family in Bolivia, but that really would be inefficient and irresponsible. In order to insure that a family values and understands the importance of using the filter on a daily basis, we ask recipient families to contribute a counterpart payment of $15.00 (about two day’s wages for rural farm workers). We visit each home where the filters are distributed to make sure that they are set up properly and at least one family member is trained in how to care for the system.