During my first year in El Hato I didn’t pay much attention to the water situation. I was new and my job was to run English and afterschool programs for the children. The bathrooms were stinky and dirty and sometimes the door was locked, so the English staff took on a general policy to not drink anything, hold it, and in an emergency early dismissal.
With the start of the preschool class last July the bathrooms and over all water issues of the school were forced upon us. We had to come up with plan Bs for everything. In the case of no water to wash hands, use alcohol gel, in the case that the one grocery store in town that sells it is out, then what? We work in and with a village public school with 300 students from kinder to 6th grade. The school policy is that when there’s no water and the bathrooms are nasty, they close them. The older students will sneak off to the surrounding tree line to relieve themselves, but what about out our new 4 and 5 year old students? With the new construction we considered building our own bathrooms, so we could run them the way we wish and have them closer to our young students, but that plan became more complicated than expected. We opted to fix the school bathrooms in the hopes to make them more pleasant for all. The village homes have latrines and the plumbing is very simple, maybe 1 pipe from the street to a sink, so finding a local plumber didn’t happen. A non profit organization donated and installed standard flush toilets several years ago and at the point of my entry into the school none of them worked and how they worked was a bit of a mystery to everyone. The students carry buckets of water from a sink outside of the bathrooms into the stall to flush. They wash their hands, dishes, and drink from this same sink, except when there is no water at all and the bathrooms are closed and no washing of anything happens.
We hired a plumber and after everything was fixed, still no water. It turned out that the underlying problem is that the municipal water supply to El Hato is just inconsistent and unreliable.
For the past 7 months we’ve been working hard to come up with solutions for the lack of water problem. At times it seems to be getting better and times I’m not so sure. We just finished installing 3 rainwater collection tanks (thanks to our dedicated donors). The first one installed didn’t work and needed some adjustments. The second is full of rain and running smoothly. The municipal water has been off for the past several days, so now we’re just waiting for rain. This has been a rather light rainy season, but I’m going to try to enjoy the beautiful Antigua weather today and pray for rain tonight.