Effort brings clean water to Guatemala

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By Amber Coulter

The average American uses 176 gallons of water each day.

The filtered, purified liquid goes into toilets, showers, washing machines and dishwashers, as well as being used for food and drink.

Many children in Guatemala are able to consume about one half gallon of water each day, much less than is recommended, according to a study by the Center for Studies of Sensory Impairment, Aging and Metabolism in Guatemala City.

To receive even that much water, women and children in rural areas might spend the majority of their days walking miles to the nearest polluted stream to bring back water. It is not uncommon for that water to cause illness or death, Elizabethtown Rotary Club member and project leader Bob Swope said.

Swope is a volunteer for the Living Waters Guatemala Project who has seen the $3,200 water purification systems installed save lives and change communities.

Volunteers from the partnership between the club and First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethtown visit Guatemala about twice each year to set up simple water purification systems, check on communities where they already have set up those systems and discuss plans with communities that might serve as future locations for the systems.

“The work we do is to install water purification systems, but even more importantly, the work we do is to develop relationships,” he said.

A Kentucky Vocal Union concert and Taste of Guatemala event Saturday at the Historic State Theater in Elizabethtown is raising money for the effort. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students.

Tickets include admittance to the Taste of Guatemala event at 5:30 p.m., which features food inspired by that country prepared by local restaurants, and the concert at 7:30 p.m.

The effort is part of Living Waters for the World, a mission through the national body of the Presbyterian Church.

The project began 2005 when incoming Elizabethtown Rotary Club president Debbie Borden announced she wanted the club to be part of an international water project.

Swope, who loves to travel, stayed after that meeting to talk to Borden about the project. He has been involved ever since.

It didn’t take long for him to learn about what he calls a global water crisis.

During volunteers’ first trip to Guatemala, in 2008, Swope saw the struggle to get water that families face and the illness caused by pollution that can be filtered out by a system that costs a few thousand dollars.

“It became evident that this kind of work is very much needed, and that drew me as well,” he said.

At the same time the club was getting involved, leaders at First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethtown became interested in helping Living Waters. The church and club partnered in the effort.

Volunteer teams typically visit Guatemala in the fall and spring. They install about two systems each year at sites prepared by community members for instillation.

Recently, 17 communities have reached a point at which they are ready to receive purification systems.

Volunteers hope to greatly increase fundraising so they can meet that increased need and help those areas as soon as possible, Swope said.

A purification system is designed to be able to clean and bottle about 300 gallons of water every couple of hours.

The largest-producing of the nine systems volunteers have installed so far serves a community of about 5,000 people. The smallest serves about 26 families.

First Presbyterian choir director Jim Barnard is part of the project team and plans to go to Guatemala for the first time in the next several months.

There are many places in the world that don’t have clean water, and that contributes to many of the health problems residents there suffer. Living Waters helps people throughout the world with that problem, he said.

“I just feel like it needs to be done,” Barnard said. “It’s amazing. Being able to provide them clean water for drinking and for cooking can make a difference in their health and their lives.”

The work also coincides with the tenets of Barnard’s faith.

“Jesus said we need to serve, and I think this is a good way to provide service to people,” he said.

To donate, contact First Presbyterian Church at 270-765-7663 or the Elizabethtown Rotary Club at www.elizabethtownrotaryclub.org. Donations are tax deductable.

Amber Coulter can be reached at 270-505-1746 or acoulter@thenewsenterprise.com.