BY HOPE HARRINGTON OAKES
Many people say they want to help those who are less fortunate than themselves, and there are many folks in our local area who are happy to receive this help. First Presbyterian Church of Columbus is very active in assisting those in our community with such projects as Helping Hands and Loaves and Fishes, to name a couple. But for the past several years, First Presbyterian has taken their outreach abilities one step farther by helping their sister-church in Campeche, Mexico bring clean water to their community.
In 2007, Reverend Tom Bryson met with his counterpart in Mexico, Manuel Segovia Zapata, who’s been pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church for 20 years. His father founded the church over 50 years ago.
“Campeche is a very beautiful, very old city,” Bryson said. “It was originally a shipping port for the Spanish Empire. It has an old-style town that is being redeveloped into a large tourist destination. Just like other areas of Central America, once you get out of the urban centers you can see the standard of living goes down a great deal. Most people manage on just $20 a day. Clean water is not just something they can get from the faucet. Even though there is city water available, it is not very clean. Most people are forced to buy large 5 gallon containers of water, or they use the dirty water that makes them sick. What we do as Living Waters for the World is to help bring clean, safe water to communities in need. We help provide water, but we also help educate the people in what clean water is and how it affects their lives.”
Living Waters for the World is a three-year process that involves an intensive education program called Living Waters University. The program educates those who intend to go to their places of mission, build the water filtration systems, and educate the people in use and maintenance, as well as give them tools to educate others, themselves. Recently, Bryson, along with church members Lacy Jaudon, Noelle Avenmarg and Tiffany Caldwell, travelled to Campeche for the second stage of the three-year operation. The system had already been built and they went to check it out and begin to educate those who are to use it. Caldwell had gone with the group before, so she was happy to get back and see all her friends from before.
“It was wonderful seeing them all again,” Caldwell said. “That church and its people are all so supportive and nice, and so genuine. There’s none of the material stuff. When you get there, you don’t really think about the things that keep you occupied at home. It’s a simpler life. Everyone looks after everyone else and they genuinely care about us and want to hear about our families and lives.”
Caldwell said she was surprised at how urban the town was.
“It has a beautiful city center with sculptures, a McDonald’s and a Wal-Mart, and everything you’d need, but the further away you move from the center, the more you see the extreme poverty you’d expect,” she said.”
Jaudon said the people were so amazing and kind, as well.
“Everything there is so communal. Dinner-time and lunch are very important,” she said. After a while, we’d all gotten to know each other at that point, and they made us some Mexican soul food — like a gumbo — for us, which was delicious.”
Since Jaudon and Avenmarg are vegetarians, they said they were considered a little unusual in Campeche. During the educational classes, they taught the children about good cleaning habits and good nutrition. They talked a lot about “happy plates” (which is a clean plate), so when the celebration dinner came around, Jaudon and Avenmarg were presented with their own Campechen version of a happy plate: a huge platter piled high with vegetables and fruit. Avenmarg said she really enjoyed having “approved” midday siestas.
“It was really great resting during the heat of the day, after having gotten up so early for classes every morning,” she said.
The group agreed the heat was the worst part of the whole trip. They compared it to Mississippi in August. Avenmarg said she regrets her Spanish wasn’t up to par, and she said would have liked to converse more easily, but were very thankful for the translator.
“There were a few kids who made a game out of teaching us words and learning a few from us, too,” Avenmarg said. “We’re hoping our translator will get to come visit us in America, sometime soon.”
For the time being, they all keep in touch through Facebook and other social media outlets.
An additional trip to Campeche is being planned for next year to check on the system and see how the villagers are coping with the maintenance of it. Members of the group said they cannot wait to go back, again.
“The ultimate goal is to establish friendships, to help the community, and to change lives,” Bryson said.