About two years ago, I was packing to leave on my first mission trip. Once the plane touched down, I realized this would be the start of a lifetime of global work. The 10 days spent in Honduras was not long enough, and I am waiting until the day I can return.
The first part of the trip was dedicated to designing water systems. Before this, I had no idea how much planning had to go into the design. I figured it was just running pipes in the ground from the body of fresh water to the houses in the village. The process is SO much more complicated than that… it involves hiking around to determine which body of water will provide enough water pressure during both the rainy and the dry season to ensure the last house on the pipeline receives sufficient water pressure. To do this, we walked to three different water sources, including one well, and two streams. We measured the flow of water and calculated which source was the best. Then, we measured the distance from that water source to each house and marked on a map where each pipe would go. I loved doing this because we met so many families who were ready to start digging that day to get water.
Pictured below is the existing well that women would walk to each day just to have water to drink and cook with, there was another spot just down the hill where they washed their clothes.
Building Water Systems:
The last few days of the trip were spent digging and clearing the path where the water pipes would eventually be buried. Construction in Honduras takes exponentially longer than it does in the US because US because heavy construction machinery is sparse. Virtually all of the work is done by using a pick ax and shovel.
Above is the image of the trench we were digging. In order for the pipe to be buried properly, it had to be about 3 feet deep and 1 foot wide. It took us almost an entire day of digging to clear about the equivalent to half of a city block. Below is an image of a boulder we removed from the trench. The rock was so much heavier than it looked and took an immense amount of effort to remove. (Not pictured were even larger boulders that took teams of men to lift.)
Connecting with the Community:
The last day of our trip we spent sitting in this health clinic talking to many of the community members. We held discussions on how the project would be completed after our group left (there was another group coming in the following week). One thing I love about Global Brigades is how sustainable their projects are. The organization has several full time employees who coordinate student visits with community members to ensure that the progress we make with the trips is not wasted effort once the students leave. My biggest fear leaving was that we would plan a water system for this community and then leave without making a sustainable impact. I was comforted to know that there was a plan to finish the project and bring water to this community after we left.
Working alongside the community members helped me to understand the sense of support and happiness these people experience on a daily basis, despite having to walk 3 miles to the nearest water source. It made me realize how fortunate I am to be able to turn on a faucet and have clean water readily available. In the US, we have a very individualistic, fiscally focused society because we materialism is the key to happiness. While the people in Honduras may have less money and material possessions than us, they have true happiness, something money can’t buy. I would love to have this sense of community back home.
Above, the image was taken with a group of boys who played fútbol (soccer) with us after a long day of digging trenches for the future pipes to be placed for the water system. These boys were so eager to help with the project, they would try to take the shovels we were using to finish the digging faster. It was quite amazing to see how hardworking they were, and when I asked them why they were working so hard on such a hot day, they simply responded that they could not wait to get water.
The image above was taken after this little girl ran up to me from the house in the background. She was so excited to show me her dress with sandias (watermelon in Spanish). She reminded me that it is the little things in life that give us reasons to smile.
This trip made me realize there is so much more we can do to improve the lives of others in a sustainable way. When choosing an organization to volunteer with, I looked at two main things: where was my money being spent and what are the long-term implications of my trip. Often, many “medical mission trips” are a week or two spent in a clinic, handing out a limited supply of medication, and packing up to leave to come back in a year or two. There is no continuity of services provided, and the effort in coming to the community is very limited. However, this trip was through an organization that has employees in the area year round that are dedicated to improving local communities resources and access to better resources. I hope to return to Honduras after medical school so I can provide medical care along with increasing access to clean water and sustainable healthy living conditions.
Click here to learn more about Global Brigades and how to get involved.