If you mention Honduras to most folks, they probably have heard of it but could not find it on a map. By square-miles, Honduras is the second-largest country in Central America, but in comparison to population, it is fairly small with only about five million people. Honduras is also the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, so it follows that they have inadequate sewer systems, which makes domestic water undrinkable. According to The Official Travel Guide of Honduras 2004, “tap water is generally unsafe to drink in all of Honduras.”
Casa de Esperanza
For the past few years a group of people from Western Michigan—dentists, doctors, nurses, dental hygienists and others—have gone to central Honduras to set up a portable health clinic that travels to different mountain villages each day to work on an amazing number of people that would otherwise have no access to this medical care. Known as Casa de Esperanza (House of Hope) Ministries, Inc., a key function of our work is plumbing installation and repairs and the delivery of clean, safe and reliable drinking water.
Word spreads like wildfire in these villages that a doctor and dentist are coming. Most of these people have never set foot in a doctor’s office and they have walked for many miles to get there. Often they arrive the night before to get a coveted front place in line to see the doctor and dentist. It’s safe to say that all these people come from villages where gastrointestinal diseases are rampant. Rivers and other drinking water sources are contaminated with bacteria and viruses and little if any precautionary measures are ever taken to treat the source water before ingestion. As a result, these diseases are a key contributing factor to malnutrition in many Hondurans, especially children.
It still amazes me that we can send people to the moon and back again safely; that we have phones the size of a deck of cards that can call anywhere in the world, take your picture, make a video and email messages; but we struggle with cleaning up water we have contaminated so average folks and especially kids can have safe and clean drinking water.
Fuente de Vida Orphanage
Nineteen girls ranging from ages 4 to 17 call Fuente de Vida (Fountain of Life) Orphanage their home. The orphanage, located in Taulabe, has two sources of water; a municipal connection from the city and a well. The city’s municipal system has very low pressure and is often turned off completely without warning. These gaps in service can last for weeks, making it unreliable at every level. The well pumps what appears to be water from the contaminated river that runs behind the home. It is impossible to drink the water from either source but compared to the little village of Jaitique, a few miles up the mountain, just having water, even contaminated water, is a luxury.
During the second half of 2004, our group worked in Jaitique to construct a church and we also started sponsoring 15 young women of the village to start attending high school in Taulable. Many of the girls were just starting seventh grade though they are between the ages of 17 and 20.
Our goal is to provide Jaitique with a community well that pumps reliable, non-contaminated water for all the townsfolk and to get proper plumbing equipment installed at the orphanage.
Establishing a safe water source will eliminate many of the intestinal parasites and the diseases they cause. That’s something of us, even in this industry, take for granted, but one that can literally change lives everyday.
I realize that Honduras is one small country in the world and that Jaitique and Taulabe are very small villages, but if you could see the smiles of the poor as the leave a dental clinic and feel the hugs from the girls at the orphanage; it makes all the frustrations of trying to do plumbing in a third world country (where there are no such things as rules, regulations or inspections) all worthwhile.
Casa de Esperanza has just begun with ambitious plans and we have recently opened a transition home in the town of Siguatepeque for the girls from the orphanage and the village of Jaitique that would like to continue their education. We want to give these girls a place to be safe and off the streets after they turn 18 and leave the security of the orphanage system and to help prepare them for adult life in Honduras society. We have made progress with the aid of folks like: H.A. Campbell Supply, Major Sales, Dave Watson Associates, Burke Agency and many area churches. All are located in Michigan and have donated supplies and funds for our projects.
We have many hopes, dreams and ideas for our friends in Honduras. Looking back, we as a group have already achieved more that we thought possible, but one of the major concerns is the availability of safe and clean drinking water. The need for clean water isn’t unique to Honduras and Casa de Esperanza is not the only entity connecting drinking water professionals, those with the expertise to make a difference in this area, to those in need. I encourage any and all people who have the knowledge to provide access to clean drinking water to do so. Whether it’s to the needy in your hometown or a world away, we all need clean water and you have the power to make a difference.
About the author
A master plumber, Dave Herrema is the owner of Herrema & Sons Plumbing, 2691 S. Division, Grand Rapids, Mich., 49507, as well as a member of the Board of Directors of Casa de Esperanza. Herrema and Sons was founded in 1967 by his father, Steve Herrema, and today has 20 employees doing residential plumbing work on new homes and condos. He was named Michigan Contractor of the Year in 1999, and can be reached at (616) 452-8669.