Maria is a 49 year-old, single mother of five daughters. She and her family have struggled to make ends meet for as long as Maria can remember. Like most of her neighbors in Sirigual, a remote village located in the dramatic mountainscape of El Salvador, she has only a 3rd grade education and lives a subsistent life. Her family lives in a small, simple home and collects water from a nearby river for drinking and bathing, which is also where they wash their clothes.
For Briselda, a young, 23 year-old woman who lives nearby, life has also been one of constant struggle. She grew up very poor, and even though her new husband works as a security guard, being among the fortunate few to have a job, he is absent from home often, and his wages do not always cover their monthly expenses. She is now seven months pregnant and worries about the hard life their growing family will face.
Water Contamination in Poor Contexts
For both Maria and Brisuela and their families, intestinal illnesses are common. They deal with bouts of diarrhea and face the fear that their young children may not recover from the most recent infection. They worry over dehydration even as they boil water for household cooking. They also worry about the money they spend on clinic visits and medicines when family members get sick. It’s a hard and arduous life.
It is difficult to believe that under such bleak circumstances, life can change in any meaningful way. The problems and complexities of poverty are often overwhelming. But the flipside is that even small changes can make a huge impact.
When the latrine project was introduced in their community last year, it created a dramatic change in their lives. As it was discovered, the regular use of shallow pits and open waste disposal had contaminated the water table so that intestinal disease had become rampant.
That changed with one project.
The church and community leaders spearheaded an ENLACE latrine project that included latrines, health education and technical support. Within months, illnesses were down along with a renewed sense of community pride.
Benefits Beyond Health: Income Level and Restored Relationships
While the health of residents (especially children under five) is the primary concern of this project, and so protecting water sources by proper waste disposal is the aim, the benefits haven’t ended there.
According to Maria, since clinic access is difficult, not having to pay for transport and medicine immediately impacted her income. Additionally, the project also mended and strengthened relationships. “In terms of the relationships with people...[things have changed]. In the past we have not been helpful to each other. We have often confined ourselves to help only ‘our people,’ and we often have shown indifference to the needs of others… [Now] we are organized by teams to able to build all the latrines together, and I am part of one… This opportunity has allowed me to understand that I can’t be distant or be indifferent to my neighbour, especially as a Christian. I am now motivated to collaborate in whatever way I can in every moment with any need that might come up in others’ lives…”
Along with feeling incredibly relieved about the young life of her soon-to-be-born child, Briselda also noted that the impact the project has made in her heart. “What has impacted me the most,” she said, “ is the way people, without knowing much about me, have been very interested in helping me, and that inspires me to do the same with others.”
Restored relationships between people in poor and marginalized communities is fundamental to creating long-term solutions to poverty. It is the core component to ENLACE’s methodology. Latrines, water systems, clinics, home gardens, tilapia ponds, bridges, roads, etc., are all appropriate solutions and key elements in the transformation process. However, the process by which these projects are implemented is just as important as the projects themselves.
ENLACE’s core mission is to come alongside church and community leaders to help them identify viable opportunities to serve and create a process that resolves needs while building unity and strengthening relationships. “Unlikely” leaders emerge among women and men throughout the church and community who until that point may have believed themselves unable, not educated enough or even indifferent.
Latrines save lives, indeed. And they also save whole communities. They can be the beginning to much, much more. To be a part of providing a latrine for a family, give to our Pair Your Potty campaign here.