UVic students leave mark in Honduras
A few weeks ago, while some students were using their reading break to head home, party, sleep, or (heaven forbid) catch up on their homework, a group of students from the University of Victoria were in Honduras bringing clean water to a rural community.
The UVic Water Brigades is the first of its kind in Canada, being part of the larger American organization, Global Brigades, the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization. This organization offers volunteer placement in a number of other areas, including law, micro-finance, public health, business, dental architecture, medical, and the environment.
Since March 2009, various groups of philanthropic students from UVic have been donating their skills and labour to implementing clean water systems, with appropriate educational components, to rural communities in Honduras. This was largely a response to the many issues faced by medical brigades, which could be prevented at a basic level with access to cleaner water sources and practices.
The community chosen for this year’s Water Brigade project was Guaricayan, composed of 22 homes, one school, and 185 people located roughly four hours outside of Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa. The top three needs expressed by community members were latrines, sufficient quantity and higher quality water, as well as home infrastructure. Guaricayan had a water system constructed by the government in 1987; however the system was in such bad condition that the water was not of sufficient quality (was un-chlorinated) or quantity to drink.
The project itself involved replacing the old system with new pipes, hooking up houses to the existing water lines, digging trenches for new pipe systems, as well as an educational component presented to some of the community’s members and students (Grades 3-6). These tasks were, in part, due to the previous system’s poor infrastructure, improper building techniques, and insufficient maintenance.
Due to the government’s high level of corruption and corner-cutting, Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America and creating a large disparity between classes, making work like this necessary for the sustainability of rural communities.
The cost for hooking up a house to the water supply is roughly 2,700 Lempiras (about $137 Cdn) however, community members have the option of working off some, or all, of that fee by adding their labour to the project (digging trenches, threading pipe, laying pipe, etc.) Their time is recorded, multiplied by a dollar amount decided by the community and tallied over the course of the project. Many community members were working to have running water for the first time and other younger community members were working to have that credit in their name for when they have their own home in the community.
Education goes hand-in-hand with sustainability, which is why Global Brigades puts an emphasis on an educational component with each brigade they host. Having one of the least developed educational systems in Central America, the importance of its accessibility is not lost on Honduran students. Public education is free and obligatory for every Honduran child from age 7-14, but not every child receives this benefit. Many students, especially in rural areas like Gauricayan, go to school for a few grades then leave to work and help earn a living for the family, generally farming. A shortage of schools and teachers, the poor wages and training of teachers, and the high cost of materials required for public schools adds to the obstacles children face on the road to getting an education. UVic’s educational component covered three general areas of the new water system: parts of the water system and their function, the role of the plumber in the community, along with the tools and accessories needed to maintain the system.
With the additional help of brigades from Mt. Allison in New Brunswick and the North Carolina School of Science and Math, clean and sufficient water was running to 100 per cent of Gauircayan’s homes within two weeks. Those who have traveled for a cause will know that an experience like this can only affect you on the most profound and empowering way.
As one UVic member put it, “through talking and mimicking actions we understand each other and work towards the same goal.” Despite the cultural and language barriers, there are many things that all people share, no matter where they are. Every person deserves health and well-being for themselves and their family, including food, shelter, healthcare, education, and clean water. While UVic’s Water Brigade could only accommodate some of these needs, the notion that positive action breeds positive results will undoubtedly be a creed that each member carries with them no matter where they go in life. M
Arianna Klus is a member of the UVic Water Brigades. They would like to thank all the local business who contributed donations and their support to our cause and to the idea of clean water as a basic human right. Gracias!