April’s Project brings clean water to Guatemalans
April Veness (second from left) cuts the ribbon during a ceremony celebrating San Isidro’s new water system.
Water poses a paradox to those living in the western highlands of Guatemala. From May to November, heavy rains wash out the unpaved roads that wind between villages at elevations of 10,000 feet or more. Yet during this wet season, residents can obtain water only by walking miles to fill buckets from sparse wells or by using barrels to collect runoff from rooftops.
On a good day, the 38-mile trip northeast from the city of San Marcos to the village of San Isidro takes five hours, says April Veness, associate professor of geography at the University of Delaware in the United States and recipient of a Rotary Grant for University Teachers. She’s made the commute four times, helping with a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant project to install a clean water system in San Isidro.
“The people are subsistence farmers, and the houses are scattered over a large area,” Veness says, explaining that the effort required laying miles of pipeline from springs to the village. It “was a huge and expensive challenge,” she says.
Veness got involved with the project after traveling to Guatemala to teach at the Centro Universitario de San Marcos from August 2006 to April 2007. To her, it seemed natural to combine teaching and research with efforts to better the lives of people in her host country.
During her time in Guatemala, Veness and three of her former students at the University of Delaware, including 2002-03 Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar Jennifer Koppenhaver, helped forge a network between District 7630 (Delaware; Maryland, USA) and the Rotary Club of San Marcos, Catholic Diocese of San Marcos, and San Isidro community.
“Nearly all of the hundreds of e-mail, telephone, and face-to-face communications between Rotarians in District 7630 and San Marcos during the Matching Grant application process and water project construction were filtered through me,” she says. “It was not that I asked to be the spokesperson, but the communication difficulties posed by differences in language, business practices, and social expectations all demanded that someone keep the channels of communication open, flowing, and focused on a common objective.”
In July, Veness went back to San Isidro to help inaugurate the new water system.
“The positive impact of that service project is clearly evident in the happy faces of the San Isidro community that, at long last, got clean water and latrines,” she says. At the ceremony, Veness was moved to learn that the effort had been named April’s Project in her honor.
She’s now helping the San Marcos club and Builders Beyond Borders, a nonprofit organization based in Connecticut, USA, form a partnership to construct a school for the deaf in San Marcos in 2008.
“My role with Rotary as promoter, translator, facilitator, and mentor has certainly improved my skills as a public speaker, Spanish speaker, project administrator, and teacher,” Veness says. “It also embedded in me a rich web of support and fellowship that will be important to me for years to come.”