Turning on the taps

Ladysmith helps bring water to Guatemala through international Rotary project

  • Apr. 14, 2015 8:00 a.m.
A Guatemalan work pauses from his pipelaying project (top).

A Guatemalan work pauses from his pipelaying project (top).

In January, the Ladysmith Rotary Club sent John and Mary Mulrooney to Guatemala to implement theclub’s latest international aid project

The couple travelled to Antigua and then on to the mountains around Lake Atitlan. Their mission was to support a group of 17 displaced plantation workers and their families by bringing water to their new homes, and help a Mayan women’s group make it possible for children to attend school with school supplies..

A Rotary Community Services Grant of local, Island and District funds purchased the materials and some skilled labour.

They’re back and filed the following report:


By John Mulrooney, special to the Chronicle

Mary and I arrived in Guatemala on Jan. 15. Mary settled in Antigua, and I continued to San Lucas Taliman to meet with Qualicum Rotarian Jacqueline Mealing and the community of  Vista Hermosa.

It was time to start the work on the Ladysmith water project.

This was the plan: stage one, the trenching for and burying of the half-kilometre of four-inch pipe by the main road; stage two, the trenching and burying of three-inch pipe in the “streets” of Vista Hermosa; and stage three, the trenching and burying of two-inch pipe in the avenues. Individual property owners were responsible for making their connection to the system.

Forty-nine men and women, not counting children, attended the initial meeting. The project was outlined, discussed and clarified for the benefit of all — community members, Mayan women facilitators, the community and me.

Before this meeting, I had a number of questions which needed to be answered before releasing the funds.The money had not yet arrived from our club yet due to a one-digit error in the bank transfer. So there were a few sleepless nights for me and some investigating for the club treasurer. The funds arrived within a few days.

Jacqueline has been a guiding spirit behind the Mayan women’s group, which she formed about three years ago. Although she was busy preparing for other projects, she was available for ours as needed.

With the plan looking good and little for me to do but wait for the trench digging to get going, I returned to Mary in Antigua to spend some time in Spanish class.

The Vista Hermosa community volunteers began to dig on Monday, Jan. 19. On Saturday, Jan. 24, when Mary and I got back from Antigua, we saw that the toughest of the trenches, those by the highway were completely dug out. This was the difficult part, as these trenches went through cement driveways and under a cement drainage ditch in places.

By Jan. 29, the trenches for the streets and avenues were dug out. These trenches were “an easy dig” through the rich volcanic soil, except for a few rocky high points.

The town of  San Lucas Taliman took on the responsibility of laying and connecting the mandated four-inch main along the highway. The Vista Hermosa men filled and cleaned up this half-kilometre road section.The pipes in the streets and avenues of Vista Hermosa were connected with town supervision of the team of Mayan women who had taken plumbing training.

I visited the worksites on many working days to find progress each day. I was puzzled to find so many men on site and working.

The explanation? They were almost all seasonal coffee plantation workers whose work was over, and water was vital to living on site and putting in food crops for their families.

From the outside looking in, the community is a mixed population of young and old and a mix of Latino and Mayan. Only 17 families are living on site at this point, but that will change soon, as there are 150 lots in all.

The plumbing of the streets and avenues and the filling in of the trenches was almost complete on Jan. 30.

Turning into the centre of the three streets of the VH community on the following Monday, Feb. 3, I saw one man digging a square hole around the shut-off on one of  the three-inch pipes. Beside him was the form to pour the cement box he was about to place to protect the shut-off.

Further along, I turned onto one of the avenues and spoke to another man who was clearing the dead corn stalks on his property.

I asked if he would burn them.

“No, no,” he said.

He lifted a few of the recently-placed stalks to show me the fine compost that had formed from last season’s stalks.

I walked back to the central street to find a freshly-erected cement podium or book stand. ‘Hmm,’ I thought, ‘a good place for a Rotary sign.’ I

walked the complete Vista Hermosa property to see that all the work was done on the three-inch street pipes and the two-inch avenue pipes.

This was the quietest I had seen the place, after a few weeks of intense activity.

On my way back to our hotel, the protective boxes over the shut-offs were being poured.

Tuesday, Feb. 4 was a big day for the Vista Hermosa community. All my Mid-Island Rotary colleagues arrived at the community for the concluding celebration.

There was a large tarp erected over a central area where the community awaited us.The ground was covered in a carpet of fresh pine needles.

A group of musicians and over 100 community members welcomed us with lively Guatemalan music. Mayan dancers treated us to their traditional corn dance. Graceful, impressive. Speeches, thank-yous and gifts followed.

The Lantzville Rotary project of pilas (large triple sinks), stoves and school supplies was also recognized (Mary worked with them).

Here was a happy community, and a group of Rotarians who felt that they had done something of value on behalf of their clubs back home. As for the podium I mentioned earlier, on this day of celebration, a permanent plaque was unveiled on it with the Rotary wheel front and centre.

So concluded the Mid-Island World Community Service projects in the area around San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, for 2015.

Our project has made a difference to a community, and our Chemainus Rotary colleagues were about to begin their project across Lake Atitlan at San Antonio Palopo.


Thank you to  all Mid-Island Rotary Clubs who, as a group, seeded the project through their contributions to Mid-island World Community Service, to Nanaimo Daybreak for an addItional contribution, to District 5020 for a District Community Grant, and to our Ladysmith club for taking on significant expense, as well as responsibility for the grant.