Time goes by so quickly in Nicaragua. You spend months planning, raising funds, getting all the points to connect and then you blink and you’re already back in the States. This trip was no exception. We left Atlanta late Easter Sunday bound for Managua and much, much warmer weather. We had one checked bag and eek, was it ever a doozy. Imagine a giant black case, big enough to carry a full set of golf clubs plus other assorted items essential to golfery. You can imagine the chatter around the customs table in Managua when two gringo’s rolled into the airport with this monstrosity - which contained two silver tubes not completely dissimilar in appearance to homemade grenade launchers. Miraculously, after about 30 minutes of questioning we were able to enter the County undeterred.
As with every other TW trip, we spent the first day visiting with our old and new partners around Managua. Trashwater’s mission is built upon the idea that helping a community in a systemic and sustainable way requires relationships that are cultivated over years. So getting back to Nicaragua allows us to see old friends, see how things are going for them, and help any way we can. Thanks to our Regional Coordinator, Luis, who lives in Nicaragua and maintains the filters and projects in our absence, things are generally running smoothly when we get there. However, there are always exceptions. Sometimes our partners do not share their needs with Luis because they would rather share them with us. This is rare and on this trip only happened once, but it creates last minute logistical challenges. In this case, we spoke with the school principal and assessed her situation. It turned out to be a fairly easy fix and we emphasized again that she had Luis’s contact information and could reach out to him at any time with any issue or concern. Fingers crossed she will.
This week was groundbreaking for Trashwater in several ways. For starters, we were able to do a full blown collaboration with our partner One Million Goal. Founder and Director Garrett Biss - who is a published author, retired Marine, public speaker, real estate agent, and at least a hundred other things - was able to join us on the trip and together we were able to accomplish twice as much.
This collaboration allowed us to install industrial strength Atlantic UV ultraviolet water purification systems in four schools and leave a fifth at Imagine Ministries in Los Brasiles to replace the very first filter we ever installed. In addition to providing safe, clean drinking water to 2500+ students and faculty we also provided in-home FiltronNica bucket filters in four communities giving hundreds more the opportunity to drink water free of bacteria and contaminants.
When you enter a new school the first time reactions are often mixed in the beginning. “Wait, what’s wrong with our water?", "Who are you again?", "How are you going to clean our water with that shiny silver t-shirt cannon?” and other questions greet us at each project. We take time to sit with the Director and faculty of the school and answer each question as thoroughly as possible. We also have questions of our own, the primary being “how often do students miss classes because they’re sick with stomach issues?”. Every single time, they will pause, look at each other and respond that it happens quite often.
Occasionally someone will be resistant and we completely understand that response. If we put ourselves in their shoes it’s not hard to see how odd it is that strangers from another Country are standing in our office telling us our water is essentially poisoning the kids and they’re here to solve the problem at no charge to us. Most of us would at the least be super, super skeptical. So, we give these folks plenty of information and include them in the installation process as much as they want to be included.
One of the other questions we get a lot is “do I have to maintain the filter” and we ensure them that they do not. We introduce them to our Regional Coordinator, Luis, and let them know he lives in the community and will be checking in on the systems and is available to help if ever they have any issues. This is incredibly important to us because Trashwater always has been and always will be relational. A huge part of establishing and cultivating good relationships is having a local who speaks the same language and lives minutes away.
Every trip to Nicaragua brings with it new stories and special new bonds. There is always something that grabs your full attention and touches your heart. For me, this time as it is most times, it was the children. At the Alfonso Cortez Public School in Mateare, Los Brasiles we had a pretty massive trench to dig from the street to the school. It was about 3 feet deep and 30 feet long. No sooner did we start swinging at the hard Nica soil a group of 15 or more students asked us for the tools and took over the digging until it was done.
In Nicaragua, a school uniform consists of white socks, a navy skirt or slacks, and a crisp, brilliant white, short-sleeve button down shirt. Each uniform costs around $14 bucks US and without one you are not able to attend school. Most kids only have one uniform so keeping it clean when the large majority of the people we serve don’t have washing machines is not only no small feat, it's practically miraculous. Somehow these boys and girls dug this entire trench, dirt flying everywhere, everyone sweating in the unrelenting Nicaraguan sun, and yet, when they were done their uniforms remained pristine. I, on the other hand, looked like I had been dug up by the kids. What I wouldn’t give for their secret for me and my own boys.
Not only did they stay clean there was not a single complaint uttered. In fact, there was laughing, high fiving, and trying to out-dig the kid who had just dug before you. They seemed to be having the time of their life, especially when they were laughing at this particular gringo sweating through my clothes and breathing like I’d just scaled the tallest volcano. The work was hard, but we had such a blast together getting it done. I will never forget it.
The other striking memory was the bond of friendship created with my 8-year-old buddy Daniella at Faro De Luz School. Daniella took to me immediately and assigned herself the role of tour guide and translator with her fellow students- nevermind the fact that she spoke less than ten words of English. She took me from class to class telling me about each and introducing me to her teachers. She showed me where they played soccer every day and where the marching band practiced. She showed me the field behind the school where they were working on a food security project. She did all of this with the confidence of a 30 year-old docent at a private school in Atlanta. It was adorable I couldn’t help but walk around with a smile on my face the entire time.
Can I share with you what a complete honor and enormous responsibility it is to provide these beautiful, amazing children with clean water? My three children will likely never have to worry about what comes out of our kitchen tap. They will probably never miss a day of school because of a water borne disease. However, at Daniella’s school just one month before we arrived the Department of Health, a governmental organization, issued a letter to the school instructing them to stop drinking the water at the school until further notice because they had received reports of people contracting hepatitis from the water. Now Daniella, all of her classmates, and every child at the four schools where there are UV systems have water that is as clean as the water you and I drink out of the tap here. What an incredible privilege it is to be able to facilitate this massive reality shift. What an honor it is that you, our dear supporters have trusted us with your resources to continue this work. “Thank you” from me just doesn’t touch it folks. I only hope that some of you will get to meet Daniella and her friends yourself someday and hear it from them.