Posted by Joe Smith


A charity should fly in, solve a community’s problems, and be home in time for tea and medals. Sounds a little utopian to me, but people are terrified of the dreaded ‘D word’.

Here are two stories about Dependency.

The first is about a family that Nuevas Esperanzas was helping to build a rainwater harvesting tank when I was a volunteer in 2010. For the purposes of anonymity I will refer to the head of that family as Juan.

Last week I visited Juan’s house again. Now he has neighbours: his nuclear family. I asked civil engineer, Arturo Juarez, what effect a growing population – with around half in primary education or below – was likely to have on water supply. He pointed out a bigger issue.

One day, Juan approached Arturo about a problem with his tank. The tube that feeds it had broken and he wanted Nuevas Esperanzas to buy him a new one. A few makeshift repairs ensured that at least some water was making it into the tank, but it was filling a lot more slowly than usual.

A complete repair simply needed one new tube which would only cost about $6. But Arturo knew full well that Juan could afford this sum. Furthermore, he knew that paying for minor repairs would be unfair and set a bad precedent to the hundreds of other rainwater harvesting tank owners in the area. So he told Juan how much the tube would cost, and with occasional encouragement, left him to it.

The rainy season thundered on and water continued to trickle into Juan’s tank. In November the sun came out and his tank was under half full. By early January it was empty. With blue skies scheduled until May, Juan has had to reacquaint himself with the path to the spring.

Hopefully he will invest those $6 in time for the first rains….

The second story also starts in 2010 when Nuevas Esperanzas was installing a storage tank at a spring in Agua Fría. The principle aims of this tank were to increase the amount of water available to the community and to provide a more hygienic way of collecting it. With bags of cement still being ferried in when I left three years ago, I was impressed to see the finished article with my own eyes last week.

Arturo told me that last year some of the taps that had been installed began to leak. Some members of the community approached him with the problem. Arturo suggested that they try and find a way to overcome it, so that is what they did. Despite it being no one single person’s responsibility, they organized a meeting, raised the money needed to buy a new set of taps and went shopping.

Unfortunately, the taps did not fit and their money went straight down the drain. But it turned out that Nuevas Esperanzas had a spare set that fitted. Having seen the community take the initiative, Arturo gladly handed them over.

I am not advocating dependency. Nor am I advocating complete disconnection. Building rural infrastructure gives my blog a nice promotional cover photo and it is of course the first step. But changing attitudes is equally important and rarely happens overnight.