Monday, October 17, 2016
Community Rallies to Bring Reliable Water to Peña Blanca
Written by Anna Watts, Multimedia Associate
Eight-foot tall walls of corn obscure Don Marcelo from view as he strides confidently through farmland in the indigenous community of Peña Blanca. The path is a familiar one, well-worn by the many community members contributing to the construction of a new water supply tank for Peña Blanca.
Don Marcelo walks through the cornfields of Peña Blanca along the path that leads to the water project currently under construction. Photo by: Anna Watts
For decades, families in Peña Blanca have lived an unfortunate paradox: while its hillside location has some of the most beautiful views of Lake Atitlán, the community struggles to access a regular water supply. During droughts and dry season, every household can lose water, forcing families to travel far distances to carry water from streams and other, potentially contaminated, sources.
“It has been ten years that [the community of Peña Blanca] has wanted to work on this project,” says Don Marcelo, Vice President of Peña Blanca’s committee.
The project will channel water directly from the source, a natural spring, into a large tank. From there, a system of pipes will carry water into every home in the Peña Blanca. Photo by: Anna Watts
The water for the new tank comes from a natural spring. From this central storage system, a network of pipes will connect the supply to 150 homes, providing a reliable source of water for 763 community members in Peña Blanca.
After raising the initial funds to purchase the land by pooling resources within the community, the Peña Blanca committee found that they still lacked the support to continue. Last spring, they brought their proposal to Mayan Families. With the support of grants from World Centric, a socially responsible business that sells compostable products, and the Chicago Rotary Club, as well as additional support from Living On One, the Peña Blanca community finally had the materials and funds needed to continue the project.
“We are very grateful for this support,” says Don Marcelo. “Without it, we would never have been able to start construction.”
Even though the project still requires five months more work, the mood is light and uplifting at the construction site. Men smile and chat as they work, even those carrying heavy bags of sand up the steep hill to the tank. The men work on a rotating schedule as volunteers, accompanied each day by a committee member who keeps track of the schedule and every member’s contribution.
The workers are proud of the community-driven project. “Together, the community bought this land and began this project,” Don Marcelo shares. “It is very important to us.”
Community volunteers carry heavy bags of sand up to the construction site. Photo by: Anna Watts
Community members take a break from construction to chat. Photo by: Anna Watts
Community members volunteer on a rotating basis to help construct the tank. Photo by: Anna Watts
The local public school also struggles to provide its students with water.
“When water in the community is scarce, we also lose our supply. When this happens we will be without water for about a week,” says Fernando Paz, the school’s principal. “This is not ideal because the children have to go ask houses nearby to lend us water and then carry it back to school on their heads .”
Children run in circles around the main courtyard, completing laps for their P.E. class. It’s a hot day and with few clouds in the sky, and the students are soon hot and sweaty, pausing for water in between sets. It is difficult to imagine how they could do this without water. Principal Paz shares this concern. As he talks, he steals worried glances at the school’s single “pila,” or outdoor sink, which singlehandedly supplies water for the 295 students and their teachers.
Fernando Paz, the principal of the public school in Peña Blanca, in his office. Photo by: Anna Watts
The Peña Blanca public school’s water supply is limited to a single pila, which has to provide water for washing hands, dishes, and filling classroom filters for 295 students. Photo by: Anna Watts
Gym class at the Peña Blanca public school. When water is scarce, students in need of water after P.E. classes will have to look for water from other, often distant, sources. Photo by: Anna Watts
Unfortunately, there isn’t much he can do about that. The town’s limited water supply cannot support a second “pila” or tap at the Peña Blanca public school.
The recent droughts from El Niño that have hit Central America have intensified the effects of Peña Blanca’s already weak water supply, putting an even greater strain on the livelihoods and health of families throughout the community.
From Peña Blanca’s families to future generations, the new water project has the potential to create lasting, wide-reaching change. “The problem here is our water. For this reason, we are fighting for [the success of] this project,” says Don Marcelo. For Don Marcelo, and the rest of the indigenous community of Peña Blanca, the project represents more than running water — it embodies their hope for a better future, and improved quality of life for every child, family, and individual.
The community of Peña Blanca, as seen from the water project construction site. Photo by: Anna Watts