Posted on behalf of Hannah Anousheh, Carleton College student who volunteered during her winter break and plans to return to Waslala this summer to continue her work.
I met Don Armando at Dipina Central, a dusty and quiet town center with a little store and a few houses. It was where the bus dropped us when the road petered out. He came out of the distance on horseback, it was like a scene in a Western, the sheriff emerging from the dust, pistol in hand.
He accompanied Junior Gasparini, Taleno, Josh, and I on his horse as we began the treacherous walk to the schoolhouse. It had just rained and the ground was laden with slick mud. It was incredibly slippery. I could hardly keep my balance and every few feet my rain boots got stuck in the mud, requiring Junior or Taleno to help me pull my leg out. Watching me slip so many times, Don Armando asked me if I wanted to ride on his horse and I gladly accepted. He laughed when I told him I had never ridden a horse before; children in the communities of Waslala learn to ride a horse before they even enter the first grade. Unlike me, they can also walk nimbly through the mud, terrain they know well. Atop his horse, his mula, and once I was finally able to catch my breath, we chatted.
Don Armando is a ganador, meaning that he raises cows for milk, which he then sends to the quesera, the cheese factory. It is the most lucrative business in the communities of Waslala because cheese is a staple in the local diet – a complement to beans and corn – and supplements the income earned from growing these crops, which almost every family in the community raises.
He explained that his community, Dipina, solicited a clean water system from Water for Waslala almost six months ago. Now, potable water flows into tap stands outside each house in Dipina. Every man in the community who wanted a tapstand for his house was expected to provide the manpower for the project. Once the team was established, subgroups were formed based on location and one man from each group kept track of the hours they worked and served as a representative on the project board. Don Armando, a tall and sinewy man of twenty-eight, smiled abashedly as he told me that he was chosen as leader of his subgroup because he was the youngest and strongest in his group.
To build this water system, these farmers took two days away from their farms per week for seven months. When I asked Don Armando to explain why he did it, he said firmly, “Teníamos la necesidad!” We needed it!
While the staff of Water for Waslala brought pipes and other important equipment to Dipina for the construction of the water system, the team of workers was responsible for bringing it to the construction site, as they were the only ones equipped with mules to complete the journey. It is their project, and while Water for Waslala supplied equipment, technical and organizational expertise and some financing, they provided all of the manpower and money for additional equipment. Their motivation determines the speed with which the project is completed.
I experienced this type of collaboration first hand at the asamblea, a meeting at the schoolhouse, to plan for the culmination of Dipina’s water project. When we arrived almost everyone from the community of Dipina was there. The men were tying up their horses and the women were setting up a make-shift store with bright pink sugary rice drinks, baskets of sweet corn bread, crackers and pastel colored taffy. A little while later, the schoolhouse was packed to the brim, and the asamblea was underway. Big men with spurred boots, splattered with mud from the day’s work, squeezed into little desks, crunched numbers and scribbled furiously. They had to calculate how many hours they had worked and plan future work hours. There were some disagreements, which resulted in raised voices, but they were in jovial spirits for most of the meeting, proud that their water system was almost finished.
I traveled to Waslala over my winter break from college because I recognized that water is a basic human need. I understood that the government, especially in developing countries, does not always provide water infrastructure and I wanted to volunteer with an organization like Water for Waslala, with the mission of bringing clean water to these communities. This clean water project is committed to ending the water crisis in Waslala, Nicaragua by the year 2030.
Even with this understanding, the need for water is an abstract concept, especially when a hot shower is two steps away and water is considered a boring option compared to other trendy hydration drinks, as it is for me at home in the U.S.
I encountered Don Armando’s conviction that the energy, time, and money they put into this clean water project was worth it across the whole community of Dipina. They banded together and mobilized themselves due to the urgency of their need for a clean, consistent water supply. Their mobilization is an exciting phenomenon because not only are the communities of Waslala far from one another, but the houses in each community are also very far apart–it can take up to an hour on foot to get from one house to another.
In the past people collaborated rarely – only when they needed to for business or church; there were no other civic institutions that brought people together. The clean water projects and filtration systems being implemented by Water for Waslala in Dipina and many other communities bring bright signs for the future. Many of these communities have now had experience organizing themselves and other development projects no longer seem so unrealistic.Read More