For water will flow in the desert and streams in the wastelands…Isaiah 35:6
In the space of twelve hours I had two opportunities to reflect on the gift of clean water. Both involved communities that I have been blessed to serve at the U.S. – Mexico border for many years. Saturday morning we were at the Santo Niño Project in Anapra for our usual program of activities and therapy for children with special needs and their families. The colonia (rural neighborhood) has running water in most homes now, though when we first began services the water was delivered by truck once or twice a week and deposited in a cement “pila” outside the door. Still, the water that flows through the pipes is not clean enough to drink. In fact, what we see when we fill the Jacuzzi for water therapy sometimes makes us wonder if the kids are cleaner before the bath or after!
On that Saturday morning I explained the Water with Blessings (WWB) program that we were going to begin the following week. It promotes “clean water for all God’s thirsty children” in countries where there is illness due to impure water. The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati became partners with WWB last winter and our project at Santo Niño is the first site to train mothers to become “Water Women”. Each of them participates in training about the importance of clean water and the use of a simple but high-tech filter to provide it for their families and their neighbors. Like the woman at the well in the scriptures, they share in the mission of Jesus as they become a source of life-giving water for others.
Currently our Santo Niño mothers purchase water for drinking (when they have money) in five gallon bottles at a store. Most don’t have cars so they have to carry the water to their homes over dirt roads. And if there is no money they boil water on the stove…if there is propane. Especially with the fragile health of their special needs children they know the danger of a “simple” case of parasites or diarrhea. Needless to say, the excitement ran high over the possibility of becoming a Water Woman! “How much does the filter cost?” they asked. The filters are free, I explained, but the cost is your commitment to filter water not only for your own family but for at least three other families for at least six months- and to attend a monthly meeting of your Water Women group. Everyone wanted to participate!
After leaving the center in Mexico, Sister Peggy and I went home just long enough to freshen up and then we drove an hour to College Park, a colonia on the far-east side of El Paso where we served for years at La Clinica Guadalupana. We were invited to another kind of celebration of water. On Wednesday September 26th, the residents of College Park finally got water service after more than 25 years of struggle. People used to come to the clinic to fill their plastic drums with water. Ten years earlier we had helped get a grant that provided 2500 gallon tanks with pumps for each of the forty homes in College Park. The community gathered on the porch of our former board member, Raquel Estrada, for an evening of fiesta.
Driving into the colonia with the sun low in the sky, Peggy and I commented on the one mile stretch of paved road. We remembered the difficulty they had getting the county to surface it and how school buses refused to drive over it. Residents took turns pulling old tires behind their trucks to try to smooth it out. As we passed the familiar homes we saw that not much had changed. Many were battered trailers attached to cinderblock additions. “It still doesn’t look all that different than Anapra, does it?” I asked. Just less densely populated…far out into the desert past where the waterline used to end.
We had a happy reunion with former patients and friends, exclaiming at how children have grown and telling stories that were all part of La Guadalupana. We missed some of the elders who have passed on- and rejoiced with proud parents whose youngsters are now away at college or graduate school! College Park indeed! There was wonderful food, dancing matachines, a disc jockey, a piñata, and a huge cake provided by the water district. We chuckled as we watched the plates and glasses full of a diabetic’s nightmare, knowing that at least half of those in attendance suffered from the disease. So much for our efforts at health promotion!
“They really know how to throw a party, don’t they?” Peggy said. I agreed. Despite the usual dramas and conflicts that are inherent in any “community”, the people of College Park pulled together in a way that many other colonias did not. That was what finally brought the blessing of clean water. And they came together to celebrate. We were privileged to be invited to accompany them, not just that night but through the many years of better and worse, sickness and health. A visitor from another colonia stood next to Peggy while the children took turns at the piñata. “Look at this,” she said. “You touched all these lives!”
Driving away from the party in the deep darkness of the desert colonias we saw a shooting star. “Make a wish!” Peggy said. I’ve been thinking about that wish for awhile now. I believe that my wish has already been granted. Clean water for all God’s thirsty children in College Park and the colonias served by La Clinica Guadalupana. And now for the families of Proyecto Santo Niño.