A Thirst for Clean Water - The Missourian: Features People

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A Thirst for Clean Water

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Posted: Saturday, October 15, 2011 12:15 am | Updated: 5:04 pm, Tue Aug 27, 2013.

Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.

That well-known proverb can be tweaked a little to reflect the work of Primero Agua, which means “Water First,” the Washington-based nonprofit foundation focused on bringing clean, potable water to the people of Honduras:

Give a man water, and he drinks for a day. Teach local leaders to drill their own wells, and the whole community has clean drinking water for a lifetime.

That is exactly what Primero Agua, a sister organization to the Washington Overseas Mission, is doing. Next week Primero Agua is sending two young men from Honduras to Texas for training in well drilling and pump repair.

It’s part of the campaign of “Helping Hondurans Help Hondurans,”

And that’s only part of what Primero Agua has accomplished since it was organized in fall 2009.

“All of our projects are moving forward exceedingly well,” said Jay Quattlebaum, executive director, noting since its creation, Primero Agua has:

• Obtained a CME 75 well-drilling rig and air compressor which were refurbished and shipped to Honduras;

• Helped establish a nonprofit subsidiary organization in Honduras, “El Agua Tu Prioridad” (Your Priority Water) which offers water well drilling, well services and maintenance and engineering and project management;

• Sent two teams of well-drillers, engineers and other skilled workers to work on projects with El Agua Tu Prioridad;

• Used its air compressor along with a rented crane to jet out 10 wells, improving the production and quality of water to approximately 8,000 people;

• Installed one 7 1/2 HP submersible pump at a well in Pimienta that had been abandoned for seven years. This project doubled the water supply to the local neighborhood of over 200 families;

• Installed one hand pump in Santiago at a well that had been abandoned for 13 years. The community (47 families) served by this well were getting their water from the river and shallow hand dug wells; and

• Signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Habitat for Humanity — Franklin County whereby its annual international tithe, an estimated $6,000-$10,000 per year, is earmarked for Primero Agua water projects in Habitat developments in Honduras.

The local Habitat for Humanity chapter presented a check for $6,000 to Primero Agua last month at Primero Agua’s annual fundraiser dance. Dr. Raul Ugarte, the mayor of Pimienta in Cortes, Honduras, was in Washington then and was able to attend the event.

Later he sat down with The Missourian to share details on the work Primero Agua and El Agua Tu Prioridad are doing in Honduras. Janice Meyer, a board member of Primero Agua and Spanish professor at East Central College, served as a translator.

Dr. Ugarte said he has watched members of Primero Agua’s team, which came down twice last year with engineers, experienced drillers and others, teach their Honduran counterparts how to do the drilling work, and it’s very satisfying. He described it as “one of the most important things” Primero Agua is doing.

There have been struggles, he admits. When the first group came, the used drilling rig — which had been donated by Terracon, a large engineering firm based in Olathe, Kan., and refurbished at Riechers Tire & Auto in Washington before being driven to Texas and sent by boat to Honduras — was stuck in Customs.

It was out by the time the next Primero Agua group came through, but the drilling crew encountered unexpected problems with rock, said Dr. Ugarte.

Primero Agua will send another group to Honduras this February. Plans are to drill one or two wells, the first at the bodega in Pimienta owned by Washington Overseas Mission because it will supply water to roughly 100 homes for 500 to 800 people, said Meyer.

The second well will be drilled at a church in Pimienta that supports the entire community by helping with unemployment issues and keeping teenagers out of trouble.

‘It Will Change the Life Situation of the People’

Currently people in Pimienta have access to water about every three days for only two hours, said Dr. Ugarte. In that time, they turn the faucet on and leave it on to collect as much water as possible, which they store in open containers.

“Each home or school has a pila water basin behind it,” he explained. “A pila is a concrete container that may have a washboard built into it because it is where people wash everything. It sits outside the kitchen.

“The problem is that the pila sits full of water for three days and becomes a good source for dengue fever, a tropical disease in the area, caused by mosquitoes, ” said Dr. Ugarte. “People who get dengue often die immediately by bleeding out . . . these are constant dangers.”

If the people had access to clean water more often, they wouldn’t have open containers of water sitting around waiting to become diseased.

“Primero Agua’s goal is to have water be available 24 hours a day,” said Meyer.

Dr. Ugarte said that will change the health of everyone in the community.

“It will change the life situation of the people because they will be able to get water every day and good quality water,” he said. “It will have a really big impact on the health of our people.”

Already Primero Agua is making a difference by using its compressor to clean out well pipes every six months. That used to cost $700 per well, said Dr. Ugarte, but now the community can do it for free and actually sell the service to make money.

Part of the work of Primero Agua and El Agua Tu Prioridad also is educating the Honduran people about what it means to have clean water available all of the time. For example, that they shouldn’t leave open contatiners of water sitting around and don’t leave the faucets running all of the time to collect water, which is what many people do now.

“We have to change the way our people think about water,” said Dr. Ugarte.

“We don’t want them to leave the faucet open all of the time, and they can’t waste water.”

Unlike the United States, homes in Honduras do not have water meters to gauge how much water each home is using. Every home pays $4.50 a month, said Dr. Ugarte.

That also is something he would like to see changed.

‘Humbled by Response’

Much of what Primero Agua has accomplished is a direct result of donations and support from Franklin County residents, industry contacts around the country and the people of Honduras.

Quattlebaum said he’s “humbled by the response.

“We’ve come a long way in a short time and our projects have already improved the production and quality of water to thousands of people,” he remarked.

Looking ahead, Quattlebaun said Primero Agua has plans for its teams to drill an additional six wells next year, providing clean water to thousands of people.

For more information on Primero Agua, people can visit www.primeroagua.org.

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