Remember a time when you dropped a stone in water and watched as the water rippled long after the stone had disappeared. The installation of a water purification system has had a similar effect in the town of Cárdenas, Cuba, where St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church (SCAPC) has a long-standing partnership with sister churches El Fuerte and Juan G. Hall.
Juanita, Isis (from Cárdenas) and Janet Favrot (from SCAPC) toast the first flow of clean water at El Fuerte (2012)
The first SCAPC trip with Living Waters for the World was in May 2012. Eleven of us hauled luggage stuffed with 1,000 pounds of equipment and training materials through three airports to get to our final destination in Cárdenas. Our education and engineering teams worked with interpreters to train El Fuerte community leaders. Sharing pictures of our families, of New Orleans, and of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, our Ministry of Presence was underway with God’s grace. After 4 ½ arduous days, we celebrated completion of the system with worship and gave thanks for the opportunity to fellowship together. Throughout the week our Cuban friends were fervently generous.
System operators for El Fuerte proudly display bottles of clean water at the system's opening (2012)
Pablito fills a cup of water at the opening of El Fuerte's LWW water system. Ashley Alden, member of SCAPC's educational support team looks on (2012)
The realization of what it means to be part of this ministry came to me on a return sustainability trip as I walked with a team member, who is fluent in Spanish, to visit with folks in the water line. We heard from a mother with her two-year-old son that “the water system was put in one month before my son was born; he has not been sick a day because of bad water.” An older man spoke through tears to share that his kidney disease had been greatly lessened since “taking the water… I am old and have problems, but the water has made a difference.” A father had traveled from a neighboring community for water for his family. Doctors referred patients to El Fuerte for clean water to combat intestinal diseases. We heard story after story and felt ripple upon ripple.
A woman leaves El Fuerte with bottles full of safe drinking water (2015)
People travel to El Fuerte using whatever means available to get water (2015)
In 2012, when I asked LWW engineer and teammate Jerry Goode about the life expectancy of a standard LWW system, he said “It depends on the number of batches run, how often, how many epidemics of cholera roll through, 350,000 to 400,000, maybe 500,000 gallons before the system could need replacement. Hear the good news: this summer the El Fuerte community celebrated a distribution benchmark of 1,000,000 gallons of clean water freely given to the community on August 1, 2018.
(Left) As a baby, Melanie was given water at the opening of El Fuerte's system. (Right) Six years later, she holds a bottle celebrating El Fuerte's 1 millionth gallon (2018)
I must acknowledge the amount of love, care, and energy that SCAPC member Laura St. Clair, members of many teams, and the El Fuerte Water Committee have spent proactively and collaboratively problem solving for the maintenance of these LWW systems.
We are grateful for the support of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Women, and all who have been touched by this ministry and have helped to sustain it in many ways. Thank you to all who have prayed and participated in this partnership of faith. St. Charles, El Fuerte, and Juan G. Hall churches may be separated by a large body of water, but we are brought together through the mission of clean water for all God’s people.
2012 and 2015 photos by Kate Elkins.