Community spirit springs up

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March 2, 2011

Maggie Niebur ’11

Kenzie Kraemer '08

For most of us, it is a simple, expected pleasure -- to walk a few steps to a sink, pour a cool, clear glass of water from an always-working faucet, and be instantly refreshed. In a rural community in the Dominican Republic, men and women see regular access to clean water as a privilege, a privilege that will be theirs for the first time thanks to their own hard work and the help of one Saint Ben's alumna.

Kenzie Kraemer '08 graduated from Saint Ben's with a degree in nutrition and a desire to live in a culture vastly different from her own. The combination led Kenzie to make a two-year commitment to the Peace Corps as a health volunteer living and working in the Dominican Republic.

Her assigned community, Los Guineos (which translates to "Bananas" in English), is located 22 kilometers from Sabana Grande de Boya, Monte Plata. Here, Kenzie experienced a different culture from her own. Different weather, a new language and unique customs. She quickly discovered another way that Los Guineos was strikingly different from her hometown of St. Cloud, Minnesota: tension among community members because there simply wasn't enough water.

Not enough water

Three community water taps provided water for only 20 of the 200 homes, when water was available. "From December until April, often there is not any water in the taps, and we are required to wash clothing and bathe in the river," Kenzie explained. "People who are friends become enemies because with the little water that is arriving to the community people wait in line for hours to fill a bucket. The average woman spends at least two hours a day getting water and in the dry season anywhere from four to eight hours."

Inadequate water supply also has had tragic health repercussions for many individuals. Kenzie described witnessing these additional effects. "Where I live the majority of children and adults suffer from parasites, skin problems," she said. "I have seen children die from diarrhea and leptosporisis." Because of this, Kenzie became determined to find and fund a water source that would not only increase the quality of life in Los Guineos, but also limit the loss of lives to preventable causes.

Finding more help

Kenzie contacted fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Mark Humberstone, an engineer with experience in designing water systems.

"We started hiking the nearby mountains looking for potential springs that could be a source of the water. After a few months, we found two sources that could flow to the community using gravity," she explains. With a source identified and a plan in place, the Rotary Club of Saint Cloud helped with funding, in response to Kenzie's letter-writing campaign.

Incorporating Benedictine values

Several decisions Kenzie made reinforced the Benedictine values of community, stewardship and moderation.

First, a sustainable and culturally specific design was chosen for the water system, so the community could maintain and operate it without outside help or hard- to-come-by supplies. Because of the community's rural location, if an additional tool or part was needed, it could take an hour or longer to go and get it, and all supplies were transported to the site by horse.

Second, construction was done entirely by the community. Physically digging trenches and laying pipes required cooperation to achieve a common goal, and they achieved it in February 2011.

Third, and perhaps most important, Kenzie initiated the formation of a water committee. The committee consists of community members who meet weekly and are in charge of designating ongoing maintenance work and determining if fees are to be collected for water. This, explained Kenzie, gives the community a sense of ownership. "Every family who has a tap in the back of their home will know they deserved it and will probably take better care of it because they worked so hard for it," she said. "They can tell their grandkids they dug really deep trenches in the hot sun."

Kenzie credits the Peace Corps, the Rotary Club of Saint Cloud and the people of Los Guineos for the success of the project. "Together," she said, "we were able to do amazing things and bring something so simple yet so important to an impoverished community."

Thanks to this Bennie, a community was strengthened around a simple, uniting need for water. To a healthy and new spirit of community, raise your glass and drink up.

More information

The system is comprised of two spring catchments that allow water from two natural, uncontaminated springs to flow down to a collection box. From there the water is piped to a reservoir tank capable of holding 11,000 gallons and filling in nine hours at peak flow. Using economically and culturally sustainable techniques, the tank was built using  fibrocement construction. Piping was then installed that leads to a personal tap stand at each of the 200 homes.