The Community of Las Martitas
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
A simple glass of water is not simple in the mountains of Honduras.
Las Martitas lays approximately 40 kilometers north east of the capitol city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The community consists of 60 cement block houses which are homes to approximately 250 people. The community is served by a narrow dirt road which is barely navigable by car. Accessibility is difficult or impossible during the rainy season. The houses are spread apart and there is no central business district. There are no shops or community services. There is a church and some donated land on which there are plans to build a community center to accommodate a meeting area, pre-school and maybe a primary school. At this time primary students walk 45 minutes to school and children under the age of seven do not attend school. A small clinic would be feasible in this building as well. The people support themselves through small scale farming and working in the community of Valle de Angeles, a one hour walk. Few people have cars but some travel by horseback. There is no bus service. The community received electric service including street lights in 2009 with the help of a non-government organization.
In 2003 the community completed a water project with the assistance of a European funded non-governmental agency whose goal was to protect the resources of nearby national park, La Tigra. The gravity flow water system consists of a large collection tank, various smaller tanks with shut off valves, a purification system and water pipes to most houses. The infrastructure is in good working order. The project secured a lease from the owner of a mountain spring that gives clean, pure water. The agreement for permission for use of the spring was to be in effect for fifty years.
The problem arose when the owner, a farmer, realized about five years into the fifty year lease that there was not enough water to supply the entire community as well as irrigate his crops. For five to six months, depending on the rains, there is no water at all available to the community. Families must carry water from a polluted river and purchase drinking water from town. Purchased water is nearly impossible to afford because of the difficulty and expense of transportation. The owner of the spring has been working with the community to find a solution.
There are two nearby sources of spring water which could be collected and routed to the existing collection tank. Neither source supplies enough water, so they would need to use both sources. The owners of the two sources would have to reach agreement with each other and with the community, but so far the owners have not been willing to give permission to use the water source. The uncle of someone in the village council was the previous owner of this water source. When he sold his property he made a provision that the community be given rights to the water. Unfortunately, this provision was not documented in the land deed before the man’s death. The village leaders are planning to approach the current owner again to reach an agreement.
The fire department of Valle de Angeles has provided tanks of water to the community for the cost of transport. (L600, about $30.) However, the fire department has said that the road is now too difficult to navigate.
A community well may be feasible, but a study would be necessary and success of finding water is not guaranteed due to the terrain. Digging a well in this area would be like gambling your life savings in Las Vegas.
Some homes have rain water collection systems and cisterns, however the installation of these systems are financially out of reach of most households.
Sanitation is in the form of a pit toilet in each home. Some have a brick outhouse, but most have a designated area surrounded by a bamboo or black plastic fence for privacy. The ground is unstable and the holes frequently cave in during heavy rains, rendering the outhouse unusable. In early 2015, twelve holes collapsed due to the heavy rains and unstable soil. The community is seeking funding for individual sanitation systems for each house.
The community of Las Martitas has not received help or attention because it is small and remote. There is a central governing structure consisting of a council who oversees the Electrical Board and the Water Board. When the community approached the local government for aid, the local official expressed hope that this small community would raise enough money to install not only the 60 systems they need in Las Martitas, but 500 new sanitation systems for his city. It was an impossible road block.
The community has had assistance from Environmental Protection agency in Honduras, CERNA. In the past CERNA has not been of much help, but there is a new hopeful government now and the community is seeking assistance once again. A CERNA planning engineer has visited Las Martitas twice to being designing a water system for them.
Don and I have provided assistance in organizing the community to collaborate resources for Las Martitas. We have put the community leaders in touch with local officials, technical assistance and funding sources so they may begin to lay plans for a long term solution to their water problems. We have helped them organize a systems of self-sustainability including the negotiating of legal agreements and developing usage fees.
This project has some distance to go before the community has access to safe, clean water and sanitary sewage systems, but the seeds of hope have been planted.
I will never again take for granted the simple act of pouring a glass of water.
Don and Maryjane Westra serve in Honduras assigned to the Christian Commission for Development (CCD).