Why did I go to the Amazon with Wine To Water?
In 2016, I was an intern at Wine To Water's office in Boone, NC editing videos. I watched hundreds of videos from the field of the labor being done by volunteers and workers to provide clean water to people. I saw people repairing wells in the Amazon, building ceramic water filters in the Dominican Republic, and building rainwater harvesting tanks in Uganda.
I saw that Wine To Water does a lot of good for a lot of people, and wanted to be a part of that by getting into the field and taking action, doing the work myself.
On my Wine To Water volunteer trip, we served in a village called San Jose along a tributary of the Amazon River near the southern tip of Colombia.
The community had a population of about 300 people. They had four wells, one of them was not working properly, and one of them was unusable. Our job was to repair those two wells.
The first two days we pumped water into one of the wells that was filled with dirt, wood, trash, and all kinds of stuff.
We connected PVC pipes via fire hose to a water source, and then pumped the water into the hole to release that debris. There were usually two people at the base of the well shoving the pipe down to break up the dirt. I was part of the first pair, and it was about 3 feet deep.
We did that for two whole days, and eventually got down to about 18 meters deep.
The following day, the Wine To Water local technicians, Gustavo and Romero, broke the rocks around the well and we laid new cement. We carried bags of sand and rocks to the site and mixed the ingredients with water to make the cement ourselves. It was very laborious.
After we finished the cement on that well, we moved on to the other malfunctioning well, which was next to the pastor's house. We took this well apart and pumped it many times, and lots of dirt, mud, and pebbles came out of it. We ended up taking apart the well a few more times to flush it out, because it was not improving.
We removed the metal above-ground pumping mechanism, and then flushed out the well with water from the river. We thought we had done enough pumping, but after we put the pumping mechanism back together, it still came out with brown or red water. We did that multiple times over multiple days, and it was frustrating that we could not solve the problem.
We slept in the community's church. We each had our own mosquito net tent, that had a hammock within it upon which we slept. I was always careful to zip up my mosquito net when I wasn't there. The mosquitoes were a terrible swarm at night, especially when we had the lights on. One evening I wore sandals with no socks, and I had a mosquito bite on every square inch of my feet the following day. After that, I always wore long socks, shoes, pants, and long sleeved shirts.
We walked to the river and filled up buckets of water to use to drink, and to flush the toilet. We had a water filter that attached to the bucket that we used to fill up our water bottles, sort of like a water fountain. Carrying the buckets of water was really hard. It was about a quarter mile. I could not carry a full bucket myself.
We arrived in the village on Wednesday evening, May 17 and started working the following morning. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, the Appalachian State University group decided to leave and go back to the city on Sunday morning, rather than the intended Tuesday afternoon. Rather than going through the ASU sponsored class, I went through Wine To Water, so I was able to stay. That brought the work crew down from 15 to 5 people. The five people included myself, Shane and Kaylie of Wine To Water, and local WTW technicians Romero and Gustavo.
From Sunday to Tuesday we worked on the well next to the pastor's house, but it was still coming out with red sand. We flushed the well out, installed a new pump, cut and installed new pipes for the pump to fit within and push water to the surface, and installed it in the well.
We knew that we had flushed out all the dirt from the bottom of the well, and after many tries knew that the pump and it's piping were working properly, so we eventually figured out that the casing that protects the well from the ground around it was broken. We were unable to fix it, but the Wine To Water local technicians are going there during the week to fix it.
What I will keep with me most about this experience is not the difficulties of life there or the lack of convenient access to water, or even clean water, but it is the joy of the people there. I have never been around a more joyful community of people in my life. Wine To Water is all about serving in community, and the people there made me understand why that is such a big deal.
It was not possible to be sad or upset while I was in San Jose. The people there exuded joy and happiness. Everyone there was so joyful, the only people who ever were upset was babies and young children who cried occasionally. The people welcomed us into their community. Yes, we were foreigners and outsiders, but we were treated like family by the people there.
One of the things that I loved seeing the most there was how the people engaged in community activities every day. Every afternoon kids and adults would gather to play soccer or volleyball. They welcomed us to play with them, and it was a ton of fun. I spoke no Spanish and they spoke no English, but they were so inviting and asked us to take part in their games.
There was one boy whom I will never forget named Caping. He smiled and laughed more than anyone else I have ever seen in my whole life. Almost everything made him laugh. I could not imagine anything making him sad or upset. He was so happy, and joyful, and it was amazing to see. I have prayed that I can be as joyful as him, though that is honestly an impossible goal.
On Tuesday in the late morning, two other local Wine To Water employees came with the parts to put together the well we worked on the first two and a half days. This process took about an hour, and was successful! We put the pump and the piping into the well, put together the steel pieces of the above-ground hand pump, and it came out with clear, clean water.