Living in a major metropolitan area, I find myself sometimes taking city services for granted. Even in the midst of fiscal deficits, turning on the tap and receiving clean, healthy water is a given, but not for many people living in Guatemala.

A team of employees from PBS&J’s Jacksonville, Fla., office along with volunteers from various organizations are trying to change that. They recently traveled to El Adelanto, Guatemala, for a week to finish installing a water system that will bring 300 residents of the mountainous terrain disinfected water from a nearby mountain spring.

“We felt like we were helping and accomplishing something good,” says Heather Cavanagh, an engineer with PBS&J and one of the participating volunteers.

“Having potable water is saving their lives,” adds Mary Goldsmith, business development manager at PBS&J, who decided to supplement the company’s financial contributions to clean-water initiatives and made the trip. She called it a learning experience. When she asked for bottled water, the people gave her a soda. Water in a bottle is too expensive, and the people do without.

Cavanaugh, Goldsmith and others helped connect water pipes, complete a water storage tank, and install meters and taps in homes, after people in the village installed more than 11 kilometer of pipe. With about a dozen U.S. volunteers on the ground, in the trenches with the locals, wrapping up the project went smoothly.

“We worked with the people who lived in the town,” Cavanaugh said. “If the people in the town aren’t invested in the project, it has been found they tend not to maintain the system, and if they don’t understand it, they don’t maintain it.”

Therefore, in addition to providing a water delivery system, the team educated school children about hygiene and residents about the importance of using and maintaining the system. Goldsmith found she drew on her communication skills to educate the youth and to reach appreciative adults.

“It’s an amazing effort on so many terms,” says Cavanaugh, who is setting up a nonprofit corporation to raise funds that will directly support water initiatives. Goldsmith hopes to return to Guatemala next year to continue the work.


Below: Heather Cavanagh, an engineer with PBS&J, connect pipes to bring clean water to residents of El Adelanto, Guatemala.

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