Living in America my entire life, it has been difficult to honor and preserve a common culture with the people around me – we are, after all, a vast melting pot of diverse peoples and cultures. Perhaps that’s why it was so impactful when I traveled to El Salvador with Living Waters for the World (LWW) this past summer. I had the opportunity to gain a new, profound appreciation for Salvadoran culture.
Photo: Me and Diego: one of my new friends
Rather than taking part in a typical installation process, I visited six different communities with Denis Humberto Evangelista Peña (in-country coordinator for LWW’s El Salvador network, our guide, and driver extraordinaire), Eric and Karen Reidenbach (the moderators of the El Salvador network), and Alice Crotwell, who like me, was along for the ride. We analyzed the current stage of existing purification systems in most of these communities, in addition to furthering the development of an implementation plan in another community. I am about four months removed from the trip, and while I can vividly recall traveling up and down mountains (or volcanoes) on rocky roads, and eating homemade pupusas, my most graphic memories are those of the incredible people and the friendships I formed there.
Photo: These two were snarky & sweet! I met them in Guadalupe, El Salvador.
We spent most nights at Alexa’s Guest House, a small building in the heart of San Salvador run by Sonia. I didn’t realize that it was possible to feel so at home in a foreign country with people I had known for less than a day. But Sonia worked remarkably hard to make our stay comfortable – we woke up every morning to a homemade breakfast (typically consisting of some variation of eggs, beans, and fruit), and while I am not particularly fluent in Spanish, I didn’t need to speak a word to feel welcome.
Perhaps the most memorable parts of the trip were the hours I spent talking with Denis as we drove, learning about what makes each community unique, teaching each other English and Spanish, and trading song suggestions. I have met few people as passionate about helping others and dedicated to what they do as Denis. He is deeply connected to and proud of his culture and people, and it manifests itself in the way he treats others, and his commitment to the mission of Living Waters for the World.
Photo: Denis took a well-earned break while guiding us around his country.
As for Eric and Karen Reidenbach ... realizing how fortunate they are to have been born with access to clean water, they have devoted their lives to providing clean water and opportunities for people in El Salvador. Their overwhelming commitment speaks for itself. And Alice – who joked consistently about her driving abilities (or lack thereof), and to whom I am deeply indebted because I shut a door on her fingers – is quite possibly the nicest, most genuine person I have ever met.
When he wasn't playing with children, Eric Reidenbach led conversations with water system operators and local health educators that we visited.
Karen Reidenbach's love for the children served by
LWW water systems was evident in the many hugs she gave and received.
The people in every community we visited were unbelievably welcoming and kind, even though most of them had never met us before. However, one interaction sticks out. After visiting El Centro, a teacher at the school there invited us back to his home. He is also an avid woodworker – creating intricate chairs and tables made of recycled wood – and an architect, in the process of building multiple stories on his home. We chatted over coffee for around an hour, and his generosity and hospitality reminded me that simple acts of kindness go a long way.
Teenagers carried water on their way to school in El Pinar, El Salvador.
I used to think that my fundraising work with Living Waters for the World was big. But I think that the people I met in El Salvador had a much bigger impact on me. I am eternally grateful to everyone who supported me and had faith in the mission of Living Waters for the World. My new friends in Mediagua, Guadalupe, Huiziltepeque, Estandarte, El Pinar, and El Centro are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met, and they deserve so much more than just clean water – but it’s certainly a start.