By Abby Seaburg
As a field intern for Project Schoolhouse, Joseph Kilgallen has gathered many stories from people living in rural Nicaragua. The stories may vary, but one point remains the same.
“You introduce [clean] water into somebody’s life out there, and the impact is far beyond just their health and basic convenience,” Kilgallen said.
Although Project Schoolhouse does much more than just bring clean running water to these communities, Kilgallen emphasized the drastic impact of these measures.
One of the unfortunate trends Kilgallen noted within these rural communities was that people are often left with no choice but to make use of the resources they have, even if they know those resources — such as water — are negatively affecting their families.
“A lot of people’s kids get really sick,” Kilgallen said. “Everybody will say, ‘we know we’re getting sick from the water, but we just have no other options.’”
After speaking with members of seven different rural communities, Kilgallen estimated that people, primarily women, are losing two to three hours a day by taking eight or ten trips to retrieve water.
But these trips are not just time-consuming, they’re also dangerous. This fact holds particularly true for rural Nicaraguan women given that the water locations are sometimes distant and isolated, leaving room for threatening interactions with other people and the surrounding wildlife hidden within the rolling hills.
Kilgallen added that the new water systems implemented by PSH gave the community members a sense of freedom and alleviated the daily stress they faced worrying about water.
“They’re much safer, they have a lot more free time on a daily basis,” Kilgallen said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Kilgallen stayed in Nicaragua for three months. During his time there, he spoke with many people directly affected by the work of Project Schoolhouse, averaging about 20 to 25 households per community. Surveying a large number of people affected by Project Schoolhouse allowed for Kilgallen to witness overall life improvement first hand.
Besides their water projects, PSH also does a lot of work with rebuilding schools in the rural communities. Kilgallen said the new schools helped excite students about going to school as well as improve overall safety for the children.
“They need a fence and all these things, ‘cause there’s so many animals around out there. If you don’t, you have pigs and cows and everything just walking through your school,” Kilgallen said. “The kids are a lot safer and more enthusiastic to go to school ‘cause it’s a nice place to be.”
Not only was Kilgallen impressed by the impact of Project Schoolhouse’s efforts, but also by the sustainability of its projects. He said the focus of the non-profit was to empower the community to help themselves.
“It’s like the whole ‘give a man a fish or teach a man to fish’ philosophy,” Kilgallen said. “Every aspect of the project is completed working alongside the community so nothing’s just given to people. Every family works around 100 days to build the school and the water system; and so, for me, I thought that was pretty amazing because the people care so much about the end result after putting in so much work in on it.”
Their participation also ensures Project Schoolhouse’s impact is sustainable: the people take pride in what they’ve built and know how to maintain and repair it themselves.
“I think that’s pretty different from a lot of others that just come in and they build it all themselves and they leave,” Kilgallen said. “I’ve been to some communities [with other NGO’s] where they’ve had that happen and their water system is in complete disrepair, but there’s nothing they can do about it; basically, they don’t know how to fix it or maintain it.”
Kilgallen’s trip to Nicaragua not only allowed him to see the efforts of Project Schoolhouse, but also the people behind the non-profit. One person he grew really close with was Maria Ines, the PSH Project Coordinator in Nicaragua. He lived with her and she became a really close friend.
“She’s my Nicaraguan momma now,” Kilgallen said fondly.
Kilgallen left Nicaragua with fond memories of Maria Ines and the rest of the Project Schoolhouse staff in Nicaragua.
“The Nicaraguan staff are just all fantastic people, just so caring,” Kilgallen said.
Now that his journey is over, Kilgallen will finish up a report that includes the data and photos he collected as he rode horses through Nicaragua. Data that highlights the needs of people with a drive to improve their communities, nestled within the rolling hills of Nicaragua.