El Jefe de Agua
While Medical Missions Foundation’s core mission always will be to provide surgical and clinical services, we sometimes add complementary health programs. These programs are designed to address root causes of the medical cases we encounter. Missions to Uganda and Romania have added programs on burn prevention and women’s hygiene, for example.
In San Lucas Toliman, Denny Moser has spearheaded a multi-faceted effort to address clean water issues — a common challenge throughout the developing world and a root cause for many of the clinical cases we encounter.
Though quick to emphasize that he is not a water engineer, Denny’s training as a geologist and work at Burns & McDonnell, a leading engineering company that undertakes large-scale water projects, gives him a valuable perspective and resources to assess the challenges of San Lucas’ water infrastructure.
As always, working with local and U.S.-based partners is critical to the success of our efforts. Locally, Denny has developed a close working relationship with Carlos Maldonado, a retired 3M engineer who spent most of his career in the U.S. and recently retired to his hometown of San Lucas. What are the chances of finding someone that qualified in the backwaters of Guatemala?!
Denny, Carlos and their partners take an integrated approach to identifying and addressing clean water needs. Upon arrival, Denny tests water at various points in the distribution system for bacteria and chlorine. Though systems are in place to chlorinate the city’s water, water quality can be sub-standard at any given time for a variety of reasons. Mechanical breakdowns are frequent and the hospital and most hotels have installed their own purification systems.
Thanks to a purification system financed by a California rotary club, the hospital’s water is reliable. As a service to the community, the hospital has installed a public spigot. Though not as convenient as their in-home water supplies, local women and children make the trek to fill containers with the clean water. Over time, they have been educated to realize that it is worth the trip.
For those outside the town’s water grid, Denny has worked with the hospital to establish a program to provide Sawyer water filters to local residents. Designed specifically for use in the developing world, Sawyer filters are low-cost ($50, including 5-gallon bucket), long-lived (10+ years) and easy to maintain. MedMissions finances the costs of the filters, Denny and the team schlep them to San Lucas, buy the buckets locally and the hospital distributes the filters to people they identify as having the greatest need.
Our goal is not to replicate the good work of other nonprofit organizations for which clean water is their sole mission. Kansas City alone has at least two organizations dedicated solely to different aspects of providing clean water in the developing world. As we identify needs in San Lucas and elsewhere, our objective will be to recruit and partner with those organizations. With each trip, Denny has learned more about the water challenges at San Lucas and has broadened his network of partners.
Ending on a humorous note…
Denny is an unassuming guy, not one to seek the limelight. Well, this trip the limelight found him! Denny and Carlos invited me to join them for a meeting with the local water board. We assumed that this would be a casual, courtesy visit. Not to be.
Without warning, an entourage entered the room, led by the local mayor. The fact that the mayor of little San Lucas had an entourage was interesting enough. What was more surprising, little San Lucas Toliman has a local cable channel — Tolivision. Channel 7 in San Lucas, but I don’t think it is yet available in the U.S.
Sure enough, the mayor had made arrangements to film our “state visit” to San Lucas. The mayor spent 5 minutes extolling the virtues of our partnership. Denny sheepishly spent 30 seconds describing our activities. We had no idea if, when or where the footage would be broadcast and gave it no further thought — until the next day when I happened to be walking by a TV in a local restaurant, saw a few seconds of the interview and snapped a grainy shot of the TV image.
Denny Moser, now promoted to Medical Missions Foundation’s Director or Water Projects (or “El Jefe de Agua”) — the title we bestowed spur-of-the-moment when asked by the Tolivision reporter. An honor long overdue!