Changing, Growing, and Learning Together: Guatemala Network Goes Virtual
Think of the changes we’ve experienced over the last 18 months. Now consider what those changes may have looked like in a Living Waters for the World (LWW) network country—more rigorous lockdowns, curfews, shortages of goods, a lack of vaccines, and schools closed for months at a time. Add a dedicated, creative staff, undaunted by the challenges and eager to support the operating partners, and the seeds of a Virtual Partners Conference start to grow.
For 2021, the Guatemala staff was eager to offer the annual training opportunity for the operating partners and began making plans to host a first-ever Virtual Partners Conference, dividing the country into three regions and offering a separate focus day for operation, education, and administration in each region. Nine days were scheduled for the conference, with the purpose of having small groups to better serve the operating partners and create multiple opportunities for every partner to attend.
The virtual conference presented new and somewhat formidable challenges. Everyone leading or attending this conference was going to be on a cellphone or a computer. The Network staff needed to figure out how to do everything online—the registration form, the presentations, the evaluation. Not the least of the challenges, the operating partners, many from remote locations, needed to be able to connect to internet for the conference, often without the correct equipment or the appropriate technology.
The theme of the conference was “Without Change There Is No Growth”. It was a timely choice for this conference. No doubt, the entire Network grew throughout the process. A significant outcome was the development and strengthening of relationships between the staff and the partners, both new and seasoned. A common goal of everyone was to grow sustainable water projects and provide pure water to more people.
What a grand success the virtual conference was. As In-Country Coordinator Rubenia Sánchez reflected, “The education component is really important, and it has been one of the weakest areas in the projects. Seeing more people interested in this area is special. They were engaged and happy to learn new things that we sometimes don't pay attention to anymore. I have learned so much in education in the past years, and I am passionate to keep teaching and giving the partners the tools they need so they can share this message with those they know. It was an honor to be able to share information with the partners that can change the lives of so many. I want to see my people with better health.”
Pablo Pérez, also an In-Country Coordinator, commented on how pleased he was to see operating partners committed to continue learning how to better manage their projects. Even with more than a dozen years of experience, partners were enthused to attend a virtual conference. Pablo found that organizing a virtual partners conference gave the staff the opportunity to be creative and teach from a distance. He noted that the moderators, staff, and operating partners rose to the challenges required by a virtual conference.
Participants in the conference were pleased with the opportunity to attend as well. They asked the staff to provide access to the videos and presentations so they could view both a second time to pick up more details and share them with other members of their water project. They asked specific questions related to their roles in the projects. The participants were grateful to Living Waters for the World for the training they received to improve their operation, education, or administration.
The operator for an older project was so energized by what he learned about the importance of pure water that he transformed the water room in a flurry of activity to meet many of the Sanitary License requirements. He stood out as an example of someone being blessed beyond expectations at a partners conference.
Sergio, another operator from a 12-year-old project, has only recently changed his first ozone lamp. He had one spare bulb on hand, left by the initiating partner from the U.S. When asked why the ozonator had lasted so well, the operator said he takes good care of the system like he takes good care of his daughters. He cares for the system with commitment and a sense of responsibility. That’s a well-cared for water system.
The success of the conference was due to the commitment, creativity, and problem-solving of the staff, support from Living Waters for the World, and the faithfulness of the operating partners to the mission that we all share. Vital relationships between staff and operating partners were strengthened once again. Best of all, operating partners received the opportunity to increase their skills and lead sustainable water projects to create healthier communities where clean water will flow for generations.
Lois Johnson is the co-moderator for Living Waters for the World's Guatemala Network. She is a member of the water team at Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church in Crystal Lake, IL. Lois attended Clean Water U and is a water project management graduate (101).