El Salvador: The Stories Part II

Forecast: Fountains of water in San Juan

by Hannah Wiest

“When the poor and needy search for water and there is none, and their tongues are parched from thirst, then I, the Lord, will answer them. I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them. I will open up rivers for them on high plateaus. I will give them fountains of water in the valleys. … I am doing this so all who see this miracle will understand what it means -- that it is the Lord who has done this, the Holy One of Israel who created it.”

--Isaiah 41: 17-18a, 20

In El Salvador it’s not who you know that makes a difference. It’s where you live. As Carlos Molina, coordinator for Agua Viva Internacional in El Salvador, says: “Location is everything.”

This is a truth Rafael Antonio Gonzalez knows well. The community leader for San Juan, a small village northeast of Acajutla, has watched three Agua Viva drill teams come and go -- and still his people have no water.

Early this summer, the first team came, as all teams do, with high hopes of providing water for the needy. They set up the drill rig, dug a mud pit and trench, and began to chip away at dirt and rock. It didn’t take long, however, to realize the rock was too hard. As it’s said, location is everything.

So the team moved to another location, and for a while, it looked promising. The drill bit pounded downward meter by meter. But then, one night while the team was away, the borehole collapsed. The week was over; it was time to go home.

The next week, members of the local Salvadoran Agua Viva drill team moved several meters away and started borehole number three, patiently drilling inch by inch. Still, by week’s end, there was no water. And that’s where team number three picked up.

Fresh from the victory of hitting water their first day on their first well, the nine American volunteers were confident God would grant two wells that week. They prayed He would. And then they drilled. And drilled. And drilled. Sometimes they got a meter every half hour, sometimes a meter every other hour. They drilled late into the night, guided by the headlights of a truck and munching on Oreos for sustenance. They returned the next morning and reached a depth of 58 meters. Soil samples indicated water was close.

Rafael hardly left the drill site. His son, Rafael Junior, hauled water and lugged pipe.

Roca. Roca, de agua buena,” Rafael said again and again to the drillers, pounding clenched fist into open palm.

“The good water is under the rock. There is too much rock."

The day drew on. Two drill rods were broken and needed to be fixed before going any deeper. The team needed to dedicate their first well. For the third time, Rafael watched as pipe after pipe was pulled from the borehole in preparation for the next team, the next try.

Location is everything -- for both a well and a village.

Living Water wells drilled just miles away hit good water at 60 meters. Hand-dug wells in other villages produced filthy water, but at least they produced.

“My hand-dug well doesn’t work anymore,” Rafael said. “The neighbor’s is dry. And the neighbor on the other side, his is also dry. The water does not taste good. There is sickness in the water.”

Villages just miles away -- across the main road through Acajutla -- have electricity and passable roads. But not San Juan. When the rains come, the road leading to the village washes away in a slough of mud, leaving Rafael and his people isolated even though they are only a mile from the main road. Rafael has asked the mayor for help repairing the road many times, but to no avail.

“It is bothering all of us that the other side of the road has water and electricity, and we don’t,” Rafael said. “To me this water well is something everyone will appreciate. All the community is happy. But the sad thing is it won’t help so much. There is so much left to do.”

The same things bothered Agua Viva teams one, two and three. Each hoped to complete the well, giving San Juan a foundation on which to build itself up, yet each left only a hole in the ground. Still, it’s a start. John Nadolski, a Living Water staff member and volunteer on the third team, put it this way: “We had the satisfaction of success on our first well but didn’t get big-headed because on the second well, we didn’t do any better than any of the other groups. Now we get to celebrate with the team that does hit water."

And what a celebration it will be. Dozens of Agua Viva staff members and American volunteers -- and the friends and family members who have heard the plight of San Juan -- will celebrate God's timing and provision. Some day soon, there will be fountains of water in the valley.

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