It's All About Partnerships

Last November, I jumped on a plane at my least favorite airport, LAX, setting off for three weeks in Peru. In the first two weeks, I assessed seven potential 2019 project sites near Cusco. I then traveled to the northern coast to complete a joint project we had launched the year before. All of it just reinforced how important collaboration is for what we do. I’d like to share a few stories that stood out to me as I reflected on my latest trip to Peru.

Paul Strong | Co-Founder of 33 Buckets

 
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Looking around, you’d never have known you were just a few miles from a destination where tourists flock from all over the world. Any signs of the city of Cusco had disappeared behind the mountains. We were driving 5 miles on this narrow dirt road to see the water capture points for the community of Santa Rosa de Jaquira. Our goal: to figure out the cause of the community’s water shortages in the dry months of August-October.

I was in the car with Señora Faustina and Señor Benaguin, leaders of the JASS, a community water management group. Outside of the city, these volunteer-based groups are responsible for the water resources in their communities. I had met several of these groups back in August and agreed to return now to view their situations in-person.

 
 

We took just enough time to snap some photos and collect water samples from the concrete reservoirs. After the drive back, we launched into a discussion of what could be done between the JASS and 33 Buckets to make a difference for the 200 families living in Santa Rosa de Jaquira. The growth of Cusco city to the north, fueled mainly by tourism, has put increasing stress on the area’s water supply in recent years. Increasing contamination and shortages are the result.

Local populations in under-served areas are not helpless, contrary to some narratives. Groups like the JASS have the knowledge, relationships, support, and local presence that any development project needs to have a real benefit. All around Cusco, the JASS groups understand their water issues - some even have project plans drawn up that would address them. What they lack are the resources to execute these solutions.

Our role as 33 Buckets is not as a savior, but a partner. International NGOs like us can provide the technical knowledge, training, and funding that, when combined with local groups’ strengths, produce the complete and sustainable solutions that the world needs.

 
 

Let’s jump ahead two weeks from Santa Rosa de Jaquira, to a dusty street just outside the surfing destination of Huanchaco in northern Peru. I was working with our partner Hands On Peru (HOP) to demonstrate water filters to the kids of this community. Trying to keep their attention, HOP Director Katie Baric threw a handful of dirt into a bucket of water. “Este agua es limpio o sucio?” (“Is this water clean or dirty?”) Katie asked. “Suuucioooo!”, the kids all yelled. When we ran this revolting water through the filter and it comes out crystal-clear, the kids all rushed us to try drinking it.

Partnerships made it possible to bring clean water here. Hands On Peru is an NGO that brings medical volunteers from around the world to their neighborhood clinic. They were naturally familiar with the water-borne illnesses affecting the community. In 2017, they reached out to 33 Buckets for help on a solution. It was only after working together on surveys, water tests, and local meetings that we both understood the real problem. There was a lack of urgency at the municipal level to complete any infrastructure projects that could improve the community’s water.

The situation meant we could not implement the same water purification systems we had used in past projects. Instead, our organizations devised a program that would address not one, but two critical needs. First, we brought in small home water filters, capable of lasting over 10 years, from Sawyer Products. Each family pays 25 Soles (about $7.50) for one filter. The cost motivates people to use and maintain their filters. The income will pay for future sanitation improvements to address another health issue in the community.

 
 

None of this would’ve happened if we simply arrived with pre-formed ideas about the need and the solution. May well-intended projects have failed for that exact reason. Thinking about the scale of global water issues, no one is going to solve them all on their own. But by working together, we can make the global clean water crisis a thing of the past.

Paul Strong