By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Since 2006, the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, Iowa, have worked to bring safe water to villages in Tanzania and Honduras through its Sister Water Project.
With support from Safe Water for Life and Dignity (SWLD), the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport, Holy Spirit Sisters, Salvatorian Missions, Dubuque Rotary Club and many donors, the Sister Water Project has completed or restored more than 125 well projects in Tanzania and 10 water systems in Honduras.
Tyla Cole, the Diocese of Davenport’s archivist, was among 14 people who worked on a water project in Honduras earlier this fall. “I am grateful for the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, the Diocesan Volunteer Program, and Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque for their generous gift of a scholarship toward my mission trip. Their donations allowed me to take advantage of the opportunity to share that our God is big, and he cares about the nations. He is a universal God. This was a great opportunity to serve.”
The mission group members, ages 16 to mid-70s, arrived at Mount St. Francis Center in Dubuque for a supper, sendoff Mass, orientation and bus departure for Chicago. “The most memorable moment was the sendoff Mass,” Cole said. She teared up knowing that she was going to travel to one of the poorest countries in the world. Once in Honduras, the group was ready to bring potable water access to the village of La Iguala, near Gracias in Lempira. The group dug trenches, laid PVC pipes and built roads. Later, other groups will install a water tank and pump.
Brian Gilligan, a Sister Water Project board member and one of the project leaders, said the Dubuque contingent was the first to start trenching for a new line. The volunteers dug about a half-mile of the 10 miles needed for a well. He estimates the project will take about five months to complete.
“It was very hard labor,” Cole said. Alongside the U.S. volunteers were Honduran workers. “No one complained; we had work to do.” She said some volunteers took an ax pick to break the ground, and then others used a hoe to move the dirt. A group followed with shovels to dig and even out the trench. Another group came through with piping later on. The volunteers also helped level ground for a road.
Volunteers and local residents worked for three days from morning to evening. “We were surrounded by this sincerity of community and unity wherever we went,” Cole said. “From our host family who prepared a hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner to the workers being patient as we learned how to pick, hoe and shovel.”
She knows the work will help many Hondurans. “I will cherish every moment and experience. However, the truth is that we did more for ourselves on this mission trip than we did for them. It gave us a chance to learn a little about life in another country and culture. It was an opportunity for us to know how blessed we really are. It will help us become more aware of other people’s struggles firsthand.”
Mary Stephany of Maquoketa, Iowa, said, “Seeing firsthand how the Hondurans live without the basics we take for granted, such as clean water, is a very startling reality. It drives me to seek out ways to take action regarding social justice issues that are all around us — actions such as writing our lawmakers regarding justice issues, supporting projects such as Sister Water and continuing to pray for those struggling to have basic needs met.”
The Rev. Heidi McGinness, director of outreach for Christian Solidarity International–USA, said she was overwhelmed by images from the journey: singing, women working, the contingent working outside and more. “The images abound of Kingdom hospitality extended to us by all the Hondurans with such sibling tenderness it reminded me of the Great Banquet we will all share with the Lord in Heaven.”
Zach Little of Dubuque said he learned about his ability to keep going, even when he didn’t feel like he could. He was impressed by the hard work the Hondurans did to help bring the clean water to their village. “They are incredibly rich in faith and spirit.”
Little said he learned about the power of love and teamwork and community. “We are truly stronger together. God did not make us to live alone behind a computer screen, but rather to experience life, the ups and downs, together. And together, we find joy even though life circumstances may be tough.”