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Small water district helps bring clean water to Nicaraguan village

Members of the Westside Water Association say they’re happy to support the project. From left to right are Diana Drayton, John Staczek, Mary Margaret Briggs and Kate Thompson.  - Leslie Brown/staff photo
Members of the Westside Water Association say they’re happy to support the project. From left to right are Diana Drayton, John Staczek, Mary Margaret Briggs and Kate Thompson.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

By LESLEY REED

For The Beachcomber

For years, Jiquelite, a remote community in Nicaragua, struggled with a lack of clean water.

The tiny town in a mountainous region of Central America has no running water, and its communal well was in disrepair. Women and girls spent hours each day lugging water from a stream up a steep hill, and because of the work of getting water, many bathed right in their drinking water. People, especially children, were often sick from water-borne illnesses.

Today, thanks to the creativity of Islander Doug Dolstadt and the generosity of hundreds of Islanders, the village of Jiquelite is beginning to be transformed.

Dolstadt, the owner of Island Water Management, a company that manages a number of community water districts on the Island including his own, Westside Water Association, decided to try to create a program that could make a difference for a small village like Jiquelite.

He’s passionate about clean water and its impact on people’s lives.

“I know how fundamental water is and how trapped many communities are in not having resources to get reliable, clean water,” he said, tearing up as he spoke.

So two years ago, he and his mother Enid Dolstadt, who recently passed away, took their shared passion for water and their deep belief that ordinary people can make a difference and presented an idea to the Westside Water Association.

Members would be given the option to add a small amount ($1, $2, $5 or $10) to their bi-monthly water bills. The money would be pooled into a fund, dubbed the Global Water Initiative, and sent to the nonprofit El Porvenir, which has been creating sustainable, self-help water, sanitation and reforestation projects in Nicaragua for 18 years.

The plan passed overwhelmingly, and half of the 240 shareholders chose to contribute.

“One woman thought it was such a great idea that she wanted to contribute $20 a month, so we created a new category,” said Dolstadt.

In the two years since, the Westside Water Association has raised more than $6,000, and the project has taken on a motto: “It’s easy to change the world.”

For the people of Jiquelite, it’s meant their old well is now fixed and a new one is being built.

The money has also built a “lavanderos” — a washing and bathing station — in Jiquelite and a neighboring village named Los Chagüites. Eventually each family in Jiquelite will also have a latrine.

Each of these projects “comes from the people,” said Islander Mary Margaret Briggs, who was so excited about Dolstadt’s idea that she joined the Global Water Initiative committee as well as the water district’s board.

El Porvenir provides the materials and expertise while the communities provide the labor and maintain the simple systems.

The villages even form their own water committees, with each family contributing a tiny amount of money each month to support the water system, a bit of synchronicity, said Briggs, that makes the fit between the Westside Water Association and El Porvenir’s projects even more perfect.

“Before, women were beasts of burden getting water,” she added. “Now there’s a real community spirit. The women socialize at the washing area, and they have more time to do other things. It changes their life dramatically to not have to spend so much time getting water.”

“It’s really quite wonderful,” agreed Mary Ellen Carlow, El Porvenir’s development director, speaking from her office in Colorado. “The people are so grateful.”

She called Dolstadt’s brainchild “an extraordinary idea that speaks to the everyday kindness of the people who are giving. The fact that your community is willing to contribute regularly is just an extraordinary gesture for people who don’t have what we have.”

For Islanders, it’s meant a way to make a meaningful impact on at least one of the world’s pressing problems.

“Finding out about communities that don’t have water makes us grateful for what we have,” said Briggs. “It’s so nice to have a way to act on that gratitude. And the amounts are small enough that people don’t have to feel it. But if they’re inspired to, they can give more.”

“Ten dollars in the right place makes the difference,” said Dolstadt. “It’s not about the amount of money, but how much need is met … and having the most delight in the power we have.”

The project has also helped Westside Water Association become an organization that people want to participate in, which is one of Dolstadt’s goals.

“There used to be quite a lot of discord in the Westside Water District,” he said, “but the meetings are a joy now.”

More than half of the district’s shareholders came to the last annual meeting. “It’s the event of the year that brings the neighbors together,” said Briggs.

“When you feel like you belong, it’s easier to step up and contribute,” added Dolstadt, who calls Vashon’s small water districts “the last vestiges of participatory democracy” and notes that any shareholder can present an idea like his to their district.

In fact, Dolstadt and Briggs hope every water district on Vashon grabs hold of the idea. Maury Mutual Water already has; about one third of the cooperative’s shareholders are making contributions.

“We’re inundated with news filled with fear and safety issues,” Dolstadt said. “But there are also 10 million acts of compassion that happen every moment. This is one of them. It’s very empowering. The problems in the world are huge. What do you do? Start with this one.”

— Lesley Reed is a freelance writer who lives on Vashon.

Find out more

Islanders can learn more about the Global Water Initiative and the work of El Porvenir from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 13, at the Vashon Public Library.

El Porvenir’s development director, Mary Ellen Carlow, will be on the Island to show photos, discuss current projects and future plans and share opportunities for Islanders to travel to Nicaragua with the organization.

The event is free, though contributions are welcome.

RSVPs are appreciated though not necessary and can be made at info@elporvenir.org.

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