A bottle of Poland Spring + a five-minute shower + a flush of the toilet + a washing of the hands + a load of laundry in the sink ≈ 20 gallons of water. Within the past hour, I—a single person with reasonable needs—have used 20 gallons of water, roughly equal to how much half of the student population at Colonial San Juan uses during the length of the school day. To me, this is unfathomable.
The school at Colonial San Juan does not have easy access water. It has a pipe on the roof that catches rain and brings it to a sink in the kitchen, but that doesn’t help so much when you’re going on five weeks without rain and you’ve got 90 students enrolled.
Despite a lack of it, water is necessary. In an effort to make the most comfortable learning environment possible given the poor conditions at Colonial San Juan, the administration asks students to carry whatever water they can from their homes to school every day. For most students this amounts to a couple of liters. When the children arrive, they dump the water into a communal class dispenser. This ritual may be enough to keep the kids from extreme thirst, but it cannot begin to satisfy all of their needs.
The school actually has sinks, a technology that many rural schools in Guatemala lack. Colonial San Juan cannot use their sinks, though, because they don’t have the water to make them relevant. Flushable toilets are another luxury that students here do not enjoy. When it’s time to make the snacks that the government promises all students, this community uses dirty pots, because there isn’t water to clean them out. To say the least, sanitation at the school isn’t great and improvement isn’t imminent.
At homes, conditions aren’t better. There’s no water there either. Whenever people need it, they walk long distances to wells. To add to the burden, the recent drought is drying out corn and other crops that families eat and sell.
When we sat down with community members today, it was evident how deeply the lack of water is affecting them. The point of our meeting was to discuss the state of the school; how it’s been improving and what it still needs. No matter what topic was raised for discussion, the conversation always progressed to the same subject. The most pressing issue, the problem that eclipses all others here, is the need for a reliable water source. The dream of every parent, teacher, and child at Colonial San Juan is to build an underground pipe that would bring in potable water. The cost of realizing it is 20,000 Quetzals, or about $2,500, a price the community simply cannot afford.
To need to be conscious of using even the smallest about of water must be awful. To me, this is unfathomable. To the people of Colonial San Juan, this is reality.