When Waiting turns to Wielding

Our ideas and dreams create these goals in our minds. Often I find myself thinking about it; imagining what life could be 5 or 10 years down the road. How exciting it might be for life to change drastically for the better; joy and love and success. While this is extremely relevant to myself, especially as I am applying to grad school and looking to the future (!?!?), I am going to draw the focus more towards my village for now. Las Barreras. I got here in full understanding that I would build a water system that brought water to a bunch of poor people that had some dire need for it. That was exciting. I loved the idea of using my civil engineering background and experience to help real people with real needs. That was the dream. That was the goal.

Here is the reality: I’ve been in the Dominican Republic for 20 months. Still no water system. No picturesque photos of children sticking their faces in newly installed tap stands. No statistics showing the decrease of waterborne illnesses due to the water system. Not yet.

We are on our way though; as of three weeks ago we received a butt load (yeah, lots) of money from Rotary International! Woo! But let’s rewind first…

Waiting. This had become my life; this was my new official Peace Corps title as far as I was concerned. I was redefining the job title: Waiter. This is how it happened: Peace Corps told me that my main project was supposed to be a water system. I did a “community diagnostic” and found out that people not only wanted water, but also wanted a laundry list of basically every human need… including: latrines, water, electricity, an accessible road, a health clinic, a better house, more food, and a way to make more money. So since water was on the list and it was my “specialty” of sorts I went for that first. Yada yada yada, I filled out a bunch of grants and the one that was supported/approved was the Rotary International Matching Grant. Hooray! Well, not yet…

After working through the onerous pile of paperwork and coming out the other side alive I thought we were home free. But that is when it began. The waiting… April turned to May turned to June… I was expecting the money no later than June, but lack of experience with the Rotary grant process on my part and the host club’s part ended up causing complications. Essentially from May on we were waiting on a bank account to be opened in order to receive all the funds. Now those of you that know me could guess that waiting is not one of my favorite things in this world. More of a bing bang boom get it done so we can move on kinda person. Thus frustration started to rise. Luckily for me some other volunteers gave me the idea to start youth groups and look into doing a latrine project (which, thanks to God and your support we are almost finished with). But essentially I spent a small amount of time finishing up design details and budgets and a LOT of time being frustrated.

So, what happens when you’re convinced that the key to the preverbal closed door is lost forever, just to see it fall off its hinges all at once without warning? The continual promises and endless changing timeframes had put me into a state of coma. Bursting out of that wasn’t easy, and I’ve had to play a lot of catch up for the last few weeks. Organizing work brigades, contacting hardware stores and suppliers, coordinating with the host Rotary Club. All of this after spending 6+ months trying to convince the community that, yes, the project was still actually going to happen. It’s been busy. And tough. Transition is a hard thing, and now we have to move the people (including myself) from dreaming to realizing. Turning designs into tube orders and plumbing pieces, etc. It’s all very exciting but still surreal at the same time.

So to bring things back full loop, this is what we are presently working on for the water project: the community started trenching last week, finishing its first full 5 day work week last Friday with a 500 ft section of trench, 2.5 ft deep for the main line. The community was incredibly cooperative forming the work parties and very excited to get things started, so I hope things continue this smoothly. I have been busy getting price quotes for (1) 1300 PVC tubes needed for the whole system and (2) PVC plumbing, metal tubes, valves and other specialty pieces. I just spent the last 2 days running around the capital getting quotes from all the respectable hardware stores I can find. Additionally, I am coordinating with Alfonso, the local mayor, to get a hold of a backhoe to dig approximately 1.5 miles of trench along the main road. This would save us more than 2 months of work and thus make it at least feasible to finish before I have to leave in May. Pray that that works out.

Apart from the water stuff the community has actually been involved in a few additional other exciting activities lately. As I believe I mentioned in an earlier post, the community has been presented with the opportunity to work towards building a micro-hydroelectric system in the area with the support of an organization called PPS-SGP. They are part of the UNDP and have a bunch of projects like this in the country, focusing especially on renewable energy and the environment. With their financial help we were able to take a group of 40 people from Las Barreras and the surrounding communities to do an exchange with a community that recently finished their micro-hydro project. This was last Tuesday and it was AMAZING. The community was super pumped to learn more about how the fancy hydropower stuff works, and were even more excited to hear the community’s story of development from the local villagers. From what I gathered, this community was in even worse condition than Las Barreras 10-15 years ago. The land was completely deforested and so degraded that it produced no harvest. The people lived very isolated and lived very simply. NOW, there is an electrical network, there are complex irrigation schemes feeding neatly organized orchards of avocados, there are massive tracts of land planted with pine and other trees, there is a water system, and people make 10-50 times more money than they did before. Wow. That is what people from my village said. They were all talking about how we could become something like this in Barreras.

All this is to say that my dream is changing. I know that I’ve always envisioned more than just a water system for Barreras. But now I am beginning to see how all the different puzzle pieces might make a picture even more beautiful than the one that I was imagining. And I think the building blocks are in place. Reforestation. It has not been until recently that I have begun to see the dangers of deforestation and the incredible benefits of reforestation. Trees = water, better soil, less erosion = better harvests = less dangerous landslides = water project = electricity. Maybe I’m just becoming a big hippie or something but it’s starting to make sense to me. Luckily we have a reforestation project happening concurrently with the water project, supported by the Ministry of Environment and the Bank of Germany.

Please pray that the people in Las Barreras continue to have hope and a vision for the future that shows them that their dreams ARE possible. Also pray for my future as I consider what the heck I’m going to do when I’m done here. I think that might be part of my next post. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I don’t take so long again…

The crew that came from Barreras and the surrounding communities. Got them pumped up

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