I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jacksonville Again: Water Projects in Guatemala and Planning the Return by Kayak

Telling Etivina's story at the Zoo (North Jacksonville Rotary)
Fourth trip to Jacksonville post surgery!  The Rotarians just keep arranging speaking engagements for me.  While my presentations are about Safe Passage, we ended up also talking about Rotary water and sanitation projects in the highlands of Guatemala, comparing the ones I've lead with the projects they have done.  At the same time we are planning the speaking engagements for when I return to Jacksonville by kayak.

Telling the story of Etelvina who, at the age of 73, is learning to read and write thanks to the Safe Passage adult literacy program always brings expressions of admiration from the audience.  I certainly find her grit and perseverance inspiring!
International service expert in the club, Doug Register and Deb
One thing I like about Rotary is how we can have very different religious or political views, and yet work together tirelessly on projects to make life better for others at home and internationally.  At The Arlington Rotary Club we shared our similar experiences with water projects in Guatemala.  I told about the village in Chipastor that I visited with a friend, Sue Paterson, who works with ALDEA.  Sue suggested I visit since I knew a lot about urban poverty in Guatemala, but not much about rural poverty.  But when we arrived in the village, the entire community was gathered under a tree waiting for us.  I looked at Sue with suspicion.  Had I been set up?  "I only told them a Rotarian was coming," said Sue.  In developing countries most everyone knows that Rotary is an organization that helps.  

Women of Chipastor, Guatemala carrying water
The women explained how they and the children were spending hours everyday fetching water from the river and carrying it up to the village in jugs on their heads.  The water was so polluted that most fish had died in the river.  Infant and elderly deaths from water born disease were common.  The village had been working for seven years to solve their water problem.  They found that their geology didn't work for drilling wells.  They purchased a spring 7 kilometers above the village, after testing to make sure it would provide good water and enough flow.  They had the municipality draw up a set of plans for a spring fed gravity water system.  A landowner had donated land for a water distribution tank.  The villagers would do all the physical work themselves.  All they needed was the money to purchase the pipe, cement blocks, mortar and a few tools.  I was so impressed by what they had done already that I said I would share their story with others in the US.  They responded, "So you will be back next month with the money!"  Since the villagers speak Kaqchikel, we were using a translator.  When I said, "First, we would have to raise a lot of money," I could tell from the hand motions of the translator that he was translating this as, "First she would need to make a lot of tortillas and sell them on the streets, and then make a lot of weavings to sell to the tourists."  The women replied, "Oh that's going to take a lot of time."

It did take a while to find partners (Farmington-Centerville Club in Utah) to write a Rotary Global Grant application and contribute some funds, with Rotary District 7790 (Maine and Quebec) providing a large part of the funding of this water and sanitation project.  The non-profit ALDEA, helped the village to finalize their plans and do the physical work.  We took down teams of Rotarians from Maine, Quebec and Utah to work side by side with the villagers to build latrines and grey water filters.  At the end it was wonderful to hear from a grandmother when the new water system was complete:  "Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Now my body can rest as I don't have to carry water for hours every day.  Now my daughters have the time to start small businesses.  Now my granddaughters have more time for school.  Now our babies are not dying."  Powerful thanks!

At the meeting with the North Jacksonville Rotary Club, we were joined by Joey Schott and several local kayakers.  They are working with the Rotarians in the area to help plan speaking engagements, media coverage and kayakers to join me when I recover enough to kayak the last 1,000 miles of the expedition.  Recovery may be slower than I expected, as a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville confirmed that I need to pull back on the physical therapy to better let my neck heal.  I had overdone the exercising and caused the muscles of my neck to tighten up so much that the nerve to my arm was being impinged upon again.  It was scary feeling the nerve related tingling, numbness and pain again for the first time post surgery.  I worried that it meant there was still some nerve disease.  But I am so reassured to know it's likely just related to the tight muscles.  They have cleared me to sail to Guatemala, as long as I use my neck brace when my neck gets tired and in rough weather.  Glad to have that fashion accessory along.

The Rotarians also arranged a meeting with the Director of the Jacksonville Public Library to talk about library events when I return.  I will fit so well into their 2016 speaker series "The Year of the River".
Mike Selah in the library room his niece designed.
Finally got to meet the Governor for District 6970, Percy Rosenbloom.  Percy had received an email from a governor up in Virginia who told him about my expedition, and he got his Florida clubs involved in helping out.  It was a wonderful treat to stay with he and Betty at their riverfront home!
Having fun with Betty and Percy!

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