In The Trenches: Community Leaders Behind Global Brigades’ WASH Programming

Published: August 9th, 2021

Written by: Former GB Honduras Program Associate Madison Dutson

As a Program Associate, we were each given a “champion role,” or focus area, to guide our additional projects during our time as a PA. I might be a bit biased, but I bet by the end of this article you will agree I had the best one: water and engineering.

Witnessing The Water Council

What made my role so meaningful were the opportunities I had to visit communities and interact with the community members who make all of GB’s projects possible. For each program in The Holistic Model, there is a sustainable community leadership component. For our medical initiatives, we have amazing Community Health Workers. Business programs rely on the community bank. Public health initiatives and hygiene are supported by the Basic Sanitation Committee. In the water and engineering programs, the community members who make it all possible are those elected to the community Water Council.

Global Brigades staff with members of the Water Council in Altos del Estiquirin, Honduras.

“Water council members and leaders are ‘people who see beyond what regular people will see.’ Meeting and working with some of these incredible leaders has been the most rewarding aspect of my time with Global Brigades. It is thanks to their passion and vision that the work Global Brigades partners on can continue for years to come…”

Former GB Honduras Program Associate Madison Dutson

In Honduras, this water council is a governmentally recognized, officially elected body. This grants them legal power to carry out tasks crucial to the maintenance and sustainability of our water projects. Water Councils play a role in every stage of the process. Before a system is built, they work with our engineers and our Global Engineering Brigades volunteers to outline community needs, map out the water system, and generate local support for the project. They then lead efforts to buy the land for the water tank, petition for government support of the project, and buy materials. When construction begins, water council members oversee each household’s monetary and labor contributions to the project. They organize a schedule of workers to build the system in conjunction with volunteers, and keep a meticulous log of hours to ensure each family contributes equally.

Once the system is up and running, their work doesn’t end! They are then responsible for maintaining water quality by keeping the area around the water source clean and safely chlorinating water collected in the tank before it is distributed. Council members also track each household’s water usage, and establish and collect a small monthly fee. Water Councils are entrusted to save these funds which are used to maintain the system and make any needed repairs or replacements.

As you can tell, these are not small tasks! Water council members have an incredible degree of responsibility to the community. Talking with anyone on the water council, it is easy to see that the reason they are so willing to volunteer their time and skills is due to a true love of their community. As José Castejón, a GB Honduras Water and Engineering Technician, said, water council members “are people who love to serve…they are visionaries. They get to think ‘within thirty years what is going to happen to my children, to the children of my children.’”

Vanessa and her son after meeting with students from the 2020 University of Victoria Engineering Brigade.

Meet The Members

I’ve been lucky enough to join José on many brigades and trips to communities, meeting countless inspiring community members. After talking to José, we wanted to highlight three of them for their contributions.

Magin is the president of the Water Council in Suyapa, Cantarranas. Suyapa’s road to getting a water system that covered their entire community was not an easy one. However, with Magin’s experience, humility, and hard work, Suyapa completed their water system in early 2020, and now enjoys equitable, sustainable access to water. José noted that “even during the most difficult times, against the hardest difficulties he kept himself calm, he always had hope and faith that everything would be completed. Many people lost their faith at some point, but he was able to convince them and give them hope.” Even though he is on the quieter side, he holds the love and respect of everyone in the community.

In El Censo, Morocelí, Vanessa serves as a passionate, and incredibly knowledgeable secretary for the council. When brigade groups visit, she eagerly tells them the story of how her community miraculously (not an overstatement!) completed their water system in 2017. Vanessa’s family was one of the strongest proponents of the partnership with Global Brigades, and Vanessa’s work on the water council is crucial to sustained access to water in the community through her accurate record keeping of water tax collection, household participation, and system maintenance. 

In the southernmost (and hottest!) part of Honduras, Elvin, the president of the Water Council in Altos de Estiquirin made the impossible possible by completing the community water system in record time. In José’s words, “he is a different kind of leader, very effective, very efficient, convincing with a tough character. He was able to convince everyone to work in the most efficient way I have seen.” Despite the fast pace, Elvin never sacrificed time for quality, and the household taps of all community members were successfully turned on in November 2019 after years of using a hand pump well.

José said it best when he observed that water council members and leaders are “people who see beyond what regular people will see.” Meeting and working with some of these incredible leaders has been the most rewarding aspect of my time with Global Brigades. It is thanks to their passion and vision that the work Global Brigades partners on can continue for years to come.

 Texas A&M Engineering Brigade volunteers with community and water council members in Suyapa after presenting the design for the new water system in March 2019.

Partner With The Counsel on Water Brigades

So did I convince you water and engineering is the best? If not, seems like you will just have to experience it for yourself. Visit the Water Brigades page on our website to find opportunities to join the movement for sustainable access to clean water!

Global Brigades