I have been Cross Catholic Outreach’s project officer for more than five years, and I have had the pleasure of working hand-in-hand with the social outreach organization, FUNDASEP, of the Catholic Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic. Over the years, FUNDASEP has done everything from building roads, bridges and schools to helping undocumented citizens obtain birth certificates. Eighty water systems and more than 1,000 brightly-painted houses throughout the diocese testify to the ministry’s impact.
This year, Cross Catholic Outreach is collaborating with FUNDASEP to build six clean water systems. FUNDASEP does an outstanding job in this area, always structuring a project based on the community and the nearby water source.
The process of establishing a safe drinking water system for a community requires diligent planning. Once FUNDASEP identifies the water source, they contain it at a catchment site – a huge water tank – to prevent further downstream contamination. Then they pump the water into a smaller holding tank. This holding tank is located on higher ground to use gravity to push it down through the piping system to individual spigots – located beside the family homes, or at the community chapel, primary school or community buildings.
FUNDASEP’s technical expertise is not the only remarkable aspect of their water ministry. They realize it takes a great leap of faith for the poor to believe that they will be able to get clean water. Their staff are all motivational lay Catholic speakers who have a gift for inspiring the people. The neighborhood meetings have a real charismatic feel about them. People are reminded about their responsibility to work and pray. For this campaign, FUNDASEP’s aim was 95 percent participation.
That kind of participation is an amazing feat! Because digging trenches to lay pipe is tough, tough work. And community members still need to tend to their crops. It’s a tremendous sacrifice to take a day out from tending crops to work on the construction of the water system!
Sunilda de Beltre lives in one of the communities that will benefit from a new water system. Sunilda’s current lack of water is not for lack of her laborious efforts to gather it. Several times a day, the mother of four straps her youngest on her back and goes out to fill her containers with water from the nearest creek.
During the dry season, the situation is worse. When the water table drops, Sunilda digs holes in the dry creek bed and waits for murky water to seep up and fill the cavity. Even then, the contaminated water is still too little for cooking, cleaning or farming.
Bianela de la Santo is another mother who is will benefit from a new water system. Last year, one of her daughters was hospitalized with diarrhea and needed an IV for rehydration. People in her village said there was a virus going around, but Bianela knew the cause was the dirty water. Even the cooking water she uses to prepare rice is often so yellow it appears she has added spices to the pot when she has not.
The lives of both Bianela and Sunilda and their families will transform with access to clean water. Risk of disease will be reduced, neither mother will have to travel long, sometimes unsafe, distances to source water, and farming in their communities will improve, providing a dependable source of food and nutrition. For people in these Dominican Republic communities, it is a game changer, and I am grateful to be part of this ministry.