Water to drink

With help from BYU, community inagurates new culinary water system

In the mountain community of Cuambo, Ecuador, a band played and villagers danced.

With community, state and national leaders — as well as a delegation from the United States — the town had just inaugurated a new culinary water system July 10.

"We could not recommend more food, because their bodies were not absorbing nutrients."

Everyone celebrated; for the first time children plagued by waterborne parasites all their life here would drink clean water.

With the help of BYU's Ezra Taft Benson Agriculture and Food Institute, the villagers built the culinary water system themselves, digging 1-meter-deep trenches for a pipeline route and then carrying sand, gravel, cement and concrete forms to a high-mountain spring.

The system provides potable water to each of the village's 75 homes, with sufficient reserve capacity to accommodate double that number of homes in the future, said Allen Christensen, director of the Benson Institute. "We are confident that the new water system will benefit the villagers of Cuambo for years to come," he said. "Our mission is to improve nutrition of poor people through enlightened practices. We can feed them better, but until we get better water they will never be as healthy as they should."

Cuambo was founded by slaves from Africa shipwrecked off the coast of Ecuador in the early 1500s. For years they have been living in Ecuador's highlands, making progress and improving their quality of life, said Luis Espinosa, Benson Institute associate director over Latin America. However, he added, the African-Ecuadorian community still needed help with nutrition and food production.

He and other Benson Institute representatives visited Cuambo in early 2000. With the University of the North in Ibarra, the Benson Institute selected Cuambo as a target community for their small-scale agricultural program. The water project is just one aspect of the Benson Institute's integrated program of teaching methods to increase crop production, improve health and enhance nutrition.

While evaluating the community, Brother Espinosa found severe problems of malnutrition, primarily related to the high parasite loads carried by children and adults. The villagers were using contaminated irrigation runoff for drinking water.

"We could not recommend more food, because their bodies were not absorbing nutrients," Brother Espinosa said. "We hoped by the improvement of the water situation, we would make a dent in the health of the children, particularly."

The villagers recognized their need for clean water years before. In 1996 they presented an official request to their government for help. A study was conducted and a source of water — a spring located atop a steep hill near the village — was identified. Still the project could not move forward.

Then two brothers, Michael and Steven Bumstead — who with their wives, Diane and Jackie, had been sponsoring other projects in the area — visited Cuambo and learned of the village's need for a culinary water system.

Through the Benson Institute, they donated the funds to build the system, with the provision that Cuambo's people would provide the labor for its construction. The villagers also agreed to undergo the necessary training to maintain and manage the system.

The new water system should improve the health and economic circumstances of the families living in the agricultural community, said Brother Christensen.

Brother Espinosa said this is the Benson Institute's first culinary water project. But while other communities need culinary water, the institute will continue to focus on improving agricultural practices, he said.

Luis Sarazin, Ecuador's former Minister of Health, and Fidel Endarra, Assistant Minister of Health, invited the Benson Institute to Ecuador in 1980, at which time the institute initiated its first small-scale agricultural project in the province of Manabi.

"We do what we can with the resources we have," said Brother Espinosa. "We would like to solve all the problems, but that is impossible."

For now, he said, "We are happy to help the people of Ecuador."

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