Rosa Granja will turn 99 in 2018. That’s 99 turns around the sun, 99 years full of family. “A kid here, a kid over there, everywhere… I’m surrounded by them,” she says laughing. And during all their years on this planet, she’s wanted the best for those nine kids, plus grandkids and great-grandkids.
In her 99th year, she’s witnessing a change that will impact every family member in each generation. Behind Rosa’s home in the Amazon, a water tower stretches to the sky. This recent addition to the skyline signals a big shift.
“I never thought I’d see clean water here in my lifetime,” Rosa says. But seeing is believing, and Rosa has her son to thank for it. The recent water project in the community of Los Rios—built in partnership with WE—provides clean water to the primary school and piped water to homes. Access to these resources mark a landmark achievement in the community’s history, identifying a clear before and after.
Los Rios is a settler community, tucked right up against the shore of the Napo River in the Amazon basin in Ecuador. Forty-five years ago, the community didn’t exist. Hector—Rosa’s son—was one of the first settlers, under a government program to decentralize densely populated regions and foster agriculture of uncultivated land.
As Hector tells the story, he first crossed the river to get to the land by… wait for it… zipline. There were no roads leading to the forest that would become Los Rios. As he explains, f“For it to become a community, we had to fight many adversities.”
In addition to no road access, the biggest challenges included severe weather and diseases that destroyed crops, no access to medical care, no school for their children, and no drinking water.
But that didn’t deter Hector and his family—along with five similarly tenacious families—from making a home in the Amazon in hopes of building better lives. Coffee was one of their first crops, but when the production decreased due to a plague outbreak, families started growing cacao, corn, plantain and yuca, as well as raising animals. The community built a one-room school house to educate their children and successfully petitioned the local government for a teacher.
As the community continued to grow, so multiplied their needs, which included the need for a better school, access to health care and safe drinking water. Rosa recalls constantly repeating the same mantra to her grandkids and great-grandkids: “Don’t drink the water,” in order to avoid the parasites making people sick. The water needed to be boiled before drinking it, and at the school that wasn’t happening.
When WE started working in the Amazon region, a natural partnership formed with the community of Los Rios to address the most pressing problems and help provide access to basic human rights. Once again, Hector was at the helm: “Today, we are talking about a very different community and this is where the foundation WE is having a wonderful impact.”
That one-room school house is being rebuilt to provide classrooms for each grade, the new medical clinic in the nearby community of Mondana provides quality care, the women’s artisan group gives women an income opportunity, and—to Rosa’s surprise and glee—the water project supplies drinking water to students and families.
“We have water,” Hector shares. “And not any type of water, clean water—water that is good for human consumption.”
The water kiosk ensures Rosa’s great-grandkids stay healthy and in school. The community provided 10 per cent of the water tower’s funding to support the sustainability of the project. As Hector explains, it’s an investment in the community’s future.
“It’s not only our four generations that are benefiting from this, many more will come that will also benefit from this water. I don’t know if it’s right for me to say this,” Hector pauses, “But this is something that will remain as my contribution to the community—my grain of sand.”
For Rosa, her son’s achievement gives peace of mind. She knows life will be that much easier, as she encourages the younger generations to reach for 99.
Wanda O'Brien loves finding out people’s stories and learning from different cultures. A Canadian abroad, she’s worked on four continents.