Dear friends and family, today I invite you to celebrate with me; it’s World Water Day, and it’s been 6 months since I arrived in Bolivia!
Last weekend I went to visit a project site, and for me it seemed like a normal community visit. We took photos to document river erosion, analyzed cracks in a water tank, talked to a pastor about how the biosand water filters are working for the orphanage and community, and played for a few minutes with the kids at the orphanage.
My co-workers and I found a fitting place for engineers to have lunch: atop a water tank! Fun fact: most days, I have a 2-3 hour lunch break.
Measuring slope of a pipe with an iPhone app.
I had heard about this orphanage from my friend Carrie or “Mama Carolina” as the kids call her, a missionary who started the orphanage. Many of the kids had experienced sexual or other abuse, and had to be removed from their natural families. Some have learning or physical disabilities. The kids grow up in this picturesque rural orphanage until they move to another orphanage in the city to go to school and re-integrate into city life. Separating the older kids also protects the younger ones, as children who’ve been abused, sadly, are more likely to abuse other kids.
Yet like I said, to me this seemed like a normal project visit. I’ve learned hard things on other project visits too, and my friends here work for an organization that fights for justice in cases of child sexual abuse so it’s no news to me that these things happen. For my newer co-worker, however, our trip to the water project at the orphanage was her first like this. For her it was far from “normal”, hearing about the kids’ pasts, the orphanage’s miniscule water supply, and the kids saying, “take us with you”!
So I’ve had some food for thought:
Is it bad that I have become so used to poverty and injustices that I’m hardly surprised by them? Am I jaded, desensitized, numb?
Or to the contrary, is it good that I was just seeing them as kids- high energy, sometimes annoying, fun, beautiful, kids- rather than seeing them as defined by their “disabilities” or their past?
Or, are both things true somehow? When exposed to bad things like poverty or abuse, can I maintain an uncomfortability, remembering that bad things that are “normal” don’t have to be? Yet while I realize that not all is right, can I still look at each person and community as good, full, wonderful, seeing them for who they are rather than for what they lack?
I explored a similar tension when I wrote an abstract to present at a water conference later this year. Traditional aid and development see a community as lacking, and outsiders come in to fulfill the needs. A method I’ve studied called Asset-Based Community Development says that the necessary resources to sustainably meet a community’s needs are found primarily within the community. Most development experts recognize asset-based approaches as best practices, yet most water and engineering projects are still “needs-based”. I’ve realized I’m passionate about encouraging engineering development projects to become more sustainable by relying on emerging research and methodology in other related disciplines. (Surprise! Lauren likes interdisciplinary work!) 🙂
Yet the tension is here: in technology/infrastructure projects more often than other development projects, the resources must come from outside the community. E.g. most small towns that need a bridge don’t have a structural engineer. But that’s okay! Maybe it would be arrogant to assume that any single, isolated town or city has everything they need. I believe the answer to our world’s problems lie not in social reorganization or physical structures, but in Christ! “He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107). In addition, maybe working together and accepting that we need each other makes the world a better place, just as much as a sustainable water system!
We have some exciting new things going on; I’m now the coordinator for a research project between a U.S. and a Bolivian university to create wind pumps for irrigation, we’ve gotten connected to a network of water well experts in the U.S. willing to advise our projects, a “well” of resources if I may 🙂 and I’m in discussions with the Department of Rural Development (the Bolivian Methodist ministry that my work is under) to do a holistic development project where they’d focus on increasing quinoa production and seeking organic certification, and a yet-to-be-recruited engineering team would look at potable water, irrigation, silos for grain storage, and review a design for llama stables. In addition, Rotary-Bolivia has committed to help fund my project in Konani and many other Engineers In Action projects.
And now for the news: I write to tell you that I’ve now committed to more than one year in Bolivia; right now I’m thinking more like two years. It would be premature to leave my work earlier, and I feel nothing but peace about staying for this time.
Personally, here are some things on the horizon:
-My family is visiting in late May! All four of them will come for over a week, and I could not be more excited.
-Unfortunately one of my roommates who has been like a lifeline for me is returning to the U.S.. Praying for what God has next in terms of community.
-Continuing to learn and grow in humility, giving up self-will and pride, and seeing my own brokenness so that I can better see God’s immense love.
-Spending Easter with the small local church I’ve gotten connected to, including a hike on Good Friday to where we’ll hold baptisms, have lunch, and play soccer. They have an active young adult group, and I’m helping with the free English classes they’re offering to 60 neighborhood kids (picture on below).
Thank you for your prayers, encouragement, support, and friendship. I would love to hear from you. May you be blessed!
In Peace and Joy,
A friend visited recently, and we got to bike on the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” and visit beautiful sites. More pictures in the facebook album.