“How many families live in this community?”
“And you all drink the water that comes out of your taps?”
“We can’t afford to buy bottled water here.”
This is the type of conversation that Saúl, Community Projects Coordinator at Caminos de Agua, has had to have all too often, with countless individuals living in the many rural communities spread across the State of Guanajuato in Central Mexico. All these people are served by the same aquifer; the Alto Río Laja, one whose overexploitation over the years has led to massive levels of arsenic and fluoride contamination in people’s drinking water. There are communities in the region who now must watch helplessly as their children grow up with more and more debilitating health issues. This is because their only source of water, something which should sustain life, is in fact slowly destroying these.
Caminos de Agua has been working for almost a decade to provide these vulnerable communities with alternative solutions to their poisoned water, most often by helping them build rainwater harvesting systems. These harness the rainwater from Guanajuato’s annual monsoon season and give these communities safe and healthy drinking water throughout the year.
I was fortunate enough to work with Caminos de Agua for six months last year, assisting them with the development of a low-cost groundwater treatment system, which would make their tap water once again safe to drink.
After having seen how much work is yet to be done, and witnessing first-hand the positive changes that the organisation achieves in the region, I was determined to return as soon as possible and continue with my project.
Thanks in part to the Go Abroad fund, I have been fortunate enough to travel back to Mexico, this time with a like-minded friend, and work for another six months until March 2020.
In the month I have spent in Guanajuato so far, I have been assisting team members in various visits to vulnerable communities, in order to assess their reliance on the contaminated groundwater, and to offer assistance to them to help build rainwater harvesting systems so they never have to worry about their very own drinking water slowly poisoning them again.
Often, the people we spoke to were concerned mothers whose only concern is the well-being of their children, and who feel the government has left them behind and simply does not care.
These mothers are right. With almost no assistance from the government, Caminos de Agua relies largely on support from institutions and individual donors; therefore, another large part of my time has been spent fundraising to some of the wealthier American expats who live in the city of San Miguel de Allende.
I hope to spend the rest of my time here continuing the work undertaken with these communities, as well as assist in the deployment of a second pilot scale treatment system and more.I have learned that water is not a right for everyone in the world, but more often than not a privilege, and I hope to help change this.