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  • Writer's pictureElla Karp

50 Years of Dreams Turned Concrete Reality

Mayan Ceremony Inaugurating the Celebration of 50 years of Agua del Pueblo

Today we celebrate 50 years of continuous work by the Asociación pro Agua del Pueblo (Association for the People’s Water) together with over a thousand rural communities in Guatemala to turn their dreams of having a safe and reliable water supply in every home into a concrete reality and a base for an explosion in growth, education, development and self-determination. I am writing as a volunteer with AdP who has been lucky enough to see and participate in building some AdP water projects and who has had the privilege to attend Asociación pro Agua del Pueblo’s 50th anniversary celebration and to be inspired by Agua del Pueblo’s amazing vision and striking history and accomplishments. Here’s my impression of what Agua del Pueblo has done and what its existence and its tireless work have meant throughout the 50 years it has existed.

With every water project Agua del Pueblo has built and continues to build in partnership with the democratic leadership of rural communities, the communities and AdP together end the necessity of grueling and dangerous daily journeys, overwhelmingly by women and children, to far-off springs, rivers, creeks, and taps, often more than five miles away and sometimes much further. These journeys typically involve the transport of heavy loads of water without the aid of carts or pack animals due to difficult terrain and the absence of sufficient resources and large dependable paths.

With the building of water projects by communities with the help of professional engineers, rural water technicians (TARs), collaborative financing and organization strategy advice from AdP, the time and energy going into these daily treks is liberated to serve whatever ends the people making them think best. Pipes allow the water to make the journey on its own, without the need for backbreaking and laborious human transport. Women who used to have to spend hours to get water while men worked for income or farmed can now work to bring income home themselves and have real options as to how they will spend their time. Children who used to have to accompany the adults getting water, in order to carry water themselves and because no one could afford to stay in the community to take care of them or teach them, can now use their newfound time for education and play. When they grow up, they will have more skills necessary for better opportunities, they will be much more likely to be literate, and they will be better placed to pursue and to achieve their dreams and support the dreams of their own future children.

Together with the building of water systems and water outlet connections in every home, AdP collaborates with communities to build latrines, sanitation systems and erosion prevention infrastructure, as well as plant trees to ensure that the water supply remains plentiful and clean. AdP also trains the community in how to maintain and repair the water system in the years to come. This integrated approach has resulted in water systems which are still providing plentiful and safe to use water nearly 40 years after AdP left the systems in the hand of the communities with whom they had built them. The emphasis on reforestation and erosion prevention has the crucial added benefits of safeguarding farmlands, roads, houses, buildings, and footpaths from the catastrophic effects of mudslides, landslides and topsoil loss which tends to be the ominous and often deadly culminating outcome of erosion in steep, mountainous or hilly areas like those which cover much of Guatemala.

We gather here to celebrate 50 years since the planting of the first seeds of Agua del Pueblo by the visionary efforts of a diverse and fateful team of Americans, a Canadian, an Irishman and Guatemalans both rural and urban, both college graduates and enserfed rural tenant farmers and share-croppers, laypeople, priests, engineers and a social worker, indigenous Maya, Mestizo/Ladino and white, Hispanic and Anglo, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish and non-religious, undissuaded by differences of gender or generation, who all had a vision and a dream of human dignity and freedom which they shared and they nurtured. These multitudes of dreamers in their hundreds of thousands, of all backgrounds and descriptions, began first as a small and fatefully united group of friends, families and travelers who were brought together without at first knowing why. As time passed a few friends and collaborators became dozens, dozens grew to include entire villages of hundreds, hundreds became thousands, and thousands became tens of thousands. All of these people united freely and as equals and collaborators. They were not divided between a charity and passive people who are helped or instructed. The Associación pro Agua del Pueblo and the communities it works with prioritized, planned and acted as one team of free individuals with equal standing, who spoke with many voices, who all had a say in what was to be done and who had many active hands which each had a crucial and indispensable role to play and a labor to undertake in the democratic construction of a brighter future.

This dream and this vision, this forest of saplings in planting and newly fountaining pipelines of hope, freedom and development spreading across the hills, mountains, jungles and coastal plains of Guatemala, this the people and communities of Agua del Pueblo all protected and kept as a fragile and precious child, so full of the infinite potential inherent in a better life for future generations. They kept this child in sunshine and in hurricane, through earthquake, flood and drought, in the shadow of political violence, instability, civil war and the grip of an inferno of political Terror which consumed in its flames whole villages and towns in rural Guatemala, sending their scattered survivors to wander the earth in search of refuge. Even through this inferno and whirlwind which took from the earth many dear friends, beloved mothers and fathers, beloved daughters and sons... In the face of all of this and more, the people of the Associación pro Agua del Pueblo and of the rural communities of the movement pro Agua del Pueblo all came together to share in the building of something. They were not dissuaded, nor did they give up or cease in their determination that a better world was possible. They kept on building and working together for a better tomorrow which they and their friends and families had freely chosen and defined for themselves even in the face of every kind of danger, hardship and catastrophe.

The situation in Guatemala changed once again with the peace accords and end of the Internal War, and has changed since then with all of the events of the 90s, 2000s and 2010s, with the rise in prominence and social violence associated with organized crime, gangs, cartels, maras, and the efforts against them, and now covid-19 and everything which happened because of or in response to it, the new strains and reversals of globalization, the acceleration of droughts and the food and fertilizer disruptions due to the fallout from the war following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, climate change, and civil war and instability around the world.

We should reflect, in light of all this, that the mere existence and success of an organization and grass roots water movement like Agua del Pueblo for a few years would already be a stunning, extremely unusual and difficult achievement in nearly any of the years of its activity. However, Agua del Pueblo has not been active for just a few years, but for 50 years, and Agua del Pueblo is not done yet. All the signs point to the stunning reality that even after building holistic water, sanitation and soil conservation systems directly serving over a thousand communities and over 500,000 people with their own plentiful and clean drinking water on tap in their own homes, Agua del Pueblo is still just getting started. With many new young voices joining in, and new friends from the Global Communities organization as well as old supporters from USAID lending their own strengths and experiences to AdP's world-class internationally pathbreaking methods and results, diverse perspectives, proven and earned reputation in Guatemala and around the world, and unparalleled talent for productivity and longevity, Agua del Pueblo is here to stay.

When one considers that, it is the kind of thing that makes one want to cry, to give some of one's own precious water to the earth in thanks that such an organization can prevail against such high and imposing obstacles for so long and with such a massive success. It's the kind of thing that just doesn't happen. But it is happening, still, after 50 years, and you can be a part of it, if you want to be, whether as a volunteer or by donating or spreading the word. Agua del Pueblo is fighting peacefully for a better world where education, development, freedom from water-borne disease, freedom from hunger, gender equality, intercultural understanding, racial harmony, environmental sustainability, social stability, peace, community, celebration and democracy all flow like water and flow from water. That's something worth getting passionate about. So what are you waiting for? The water is cool, so jump in! Let's do this!

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