Pandemics don't understand boundaries

I hope this blog post finds you healthy and safe as we deal with the effect of COVID-19 on our lives and our partners’ lives around the world. As I thought about how I might get from Eastern California to Franklin, Tenn., for a Living Waters for the World (LWW) meeting, someone sent me a photo from McCarran International Airport which happens to be close to where we’re sheltering in place during the pandemic.

McCarran International Airport April 2020 (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The empty concourse was a reminder that while it is difficult for us to travel here in the U.S., it’s impossible for most teams to install new systems or visit with their partners due to airport closures in Guatemala, Cuba, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and other countries where LWW has partners. For water system operators, the ability to purify and deliver water, or have a visit from in-country staff is further impacted by curfews; by travel restrictions enforced between departments, states or even communities; and the closing of non-essential business to help slow the spread of the virus. Then there are quarantines (mandated or self-imposed) for travelers coming into a country or traveling between areas. Cuba has imposed some of the most extreme government quarantines, isolating entire communities when the source of infection can’t be readily identified.

The usually-bustling street in Cabaiguan, Cuba, is empty as people shelter at home.

Many countries have closed schools for the foreseeable future and parents globally are faced with the prospect of home schooling their children. Governments have introduced shelter-in-place orders and in many areas, violating an order, a curfew, or a travel ban can result in arrest or detainment.

Amidst all of this, however, there are bright spots. A March 30, 2020 blog post highlighted how partners, both here and in Honduras, have responded to make a difference in the village of Monte Redondo to address the need for clean water and food insecurity. We hear similar stories from partners in Mexico and Peru – answering Christ’s call to not only give drink to the thirsty but to feed the hungry as well (the picture to the left are our water partners from Arca Colombo, Mexico, distributing food to families in need). Perhaps more amazing is that we hear from operating partners that they are concerned about us. They look at the impact the coronavirus is having here, in one of the nations best-equipped to deal with it, and they pray for us. Being in relationship with one another is a two-way street of caring and support.

LWW is working with our in-country contract staff and partners to help ensure that communities have access to purified water through this crisis. Staff and partners are taking measures to protect themselves, their families, and others around them. When they can go out, they don masks and review hand-washing techniques to reinforce best-practices. And in areas where water systems/water companies are deemed essential, we provide IDs so that in-country staff can validate their relationship with LWW to facilitate their travel within and between departments/states. We’re also continuing to pay our in-country folks a monthly stipend to help ease their financial burden.

Water partners in Mexico deliver water in face masks made especially for this purpose.

Due to restrictions on group gatherings and travel, LWW has also postponed partner conferences where system operators and educators come together to build community, share best practices and engage in continuing education. In the meantime, our in-country staff practice social distancing and teach it to system operators to help keep people safe when they come to get water at the plant.

LWW's Haiti staff demonstrate social distancing

Being in relationship with one another has always been a hallmark of LWW’s water ministry and communication in these times of uncertainty is critical. We have seen an increase in the number of WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages being created to further build support structures among our partners, and our in-country staff is making a concerted effort to be in communication with our Operating Partners.

The line for water in Placetas, Cuba

It has been said that pandemics don’t discriminate, nor do they care about politics or honor borders. We are experiencing a global crisis that threatens to divide us, but by embracing common experiences, showing concern for our fellow brothers and sisters around the world and uniting in LWW’s ministry, we can help ensure that people have access to the clean water they so desperately need.

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