Loudon Utilities Board engineer Ed Adame traveled this month to the remote Guatemalan village of La Reforma to help provide access to clean water.
Adame, who went Aug. 1-10, worked with Knox Pro Corps, Lipscomb University and ADICAY in hopes of bringing water directly to people’s homes.
Knox Pro sends working professionals to help with construction and implementation. Lipscomb sends students to help with ongoing projects. ADICAY, a Mayan-run firm, helps in the development, funding and supervision of projects.
La Reforma, once used as a German plantation to grow coffee, lacks access to safe, potable water. Many residents have been affected by water-borne illnesses, and some must walk nearly an hour to find a water source.
Adame and a group of volunteers met with the La Reforma community.
“During my trip last Saturday, we held some meetings with local leaders,” he said. “We basically asked them to do a town hall meeting. I’ve got pictures here, and it’s basically just like small community rooms. Some communities, they don’t have access to water. We asked them how their situations were currently. They were telling us it was difficult to navigate long distances to get potable water and take it home.”
After tackling the logistics, volunteers and members of the village got to work laying pipe, digging trenches and pouring concrete.
“The beautiful thing about this is not only do (ADICAY) find the financial resources, but they execute the projects and they ask the community to basically contribute with labor,” Adame said. “We broke ground and started digging trenches for two days. You should see it — the whole community, like the whole city of Loudon got together for two days, and they were just digging trenches everywhere across the city.”
A major part of the project included dragging materials to a water tank site at the top of a nearby mountain.
“All the little kids, all the little girls and boys, they were so excited to work with us,” he said. “They were carrying pipe up the side of the mountain. It’s very beautiful just seeing the union with everyone there.”
Adame said unfortunately some Guatemalan communities, such as nearby Setzimaaj, first met the projects with skepticism.
“They have a right to be skeptical because over there, the government promises all the time that they’re going to fix their water system or that they’re going to go and give them access to potable water or just for political reasons,” Adame said. “They just don’t trust people going over there and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to help you gain access to water.’ At first, from the stories that I’ve heard, it was very difficult to gain the trust of the communities because of all the lies that they’ve been told and all the false promises that have been going on.
“I think after executing that first project and the community just seeing that they were there just to help in a loving way just helped them get access to water,” he added. “It became an example for the surrounding area. Now, whenever we go to a community that’s 30, 40 minutes away, they’ve heard of the benefits in Setzimaaj, and some of them have to drive that far to wash their clothes in Setzimaaj. ... Now, it’s easier. There’s still a little skepticism at the beginning, but through the help of people from the first community, they’re able to go with us and tell them, ‘Hey, you can trust these people. Look what they’ve done for me and my family and my community, and they’re seeking to do the same with this community as well’.”
ADICAY has helped communities set up water commissions, much like utility boards, that are knowledgeable about how to maintain the water system.
“They’re responsible for the serviceability and maintenance of the system,” Adame said. “It’s their system — no one else is involved, but we give them advice in terms of how are y’all doing the rate structure and have there been any significant issues with it. We told them their work is important, that the integrity of the system depends on you all. That was beautiful, too. Just seeing all the great benefits.”
The creation of the water distribution system is projected to take nine months.
“Growing up in Mexico, there was a lot of similarities between these two communities,” Adame said. “My community was similar in terms of poverty, but this community, it was definitely in much more need for help. Just growing up over there, it was interesting. I didn’t really question it until I got to the U.S. You would have a water truck just driving around the city three or four times a week. Everyone has barrels around their houses or small clear wells, and whenever the truck would drive around, they would just fill up your water for the next couple days. My background and going through school, I just saw myself doing something in terms of helping communities like that. Everything has really lined up perfectly to give me the knowledge that I need and the opportunities that Knox Pro Corps has offered me to use my day-to-day knowledge and give me an avenue to apply it directly to make a positive impact that shows results, not just immediately, but for decades.”
The new water distribution system will improve quality of life, Adame said.
“There were some ladies in these communities that were traveling up to 40 minutes just to wash their clothes,” he said. “This just creates so much more. It might give kids more time to play or to develop in school and mothers less risk of injuries or prone to their kids being ill. There isn’t any medical clinics around. The benefits just keep on going years after you’ve been there, really. That’s why I’m really just touched by this. I just want to learn more from here to see what I can apply here to places like Guatemala and maybe one day potentially Mexico.”
Adame’s efforts left an impact on Guatemalans and on fellow employees at his workplace.
“I think it benefits the whole community,” Ty Ross, LUB manager, said. “Not only is Ed a reflection of our community, but he’s someone who’s committed to improving our community over the long term — still a very young man with a bright future.”
Working to help others led Adame to view privileges many people take for granted in a new light.
“I hope to be a part of this voluntary group with Knox Pro Corps,” he said. “Just moving forward, this is going to help me be a better citizen and employee and it really helps put things in a new perspective.”