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Thursday, May 5, 2016

A world away from home

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

One of many homes in Aguacayo.

On July 23, Sally Schutte went on a trip that would change her understanding of the world around her.

Schutte, administrator of Holly Hill and member of Brazil's Rotary Club, along with her son, Austin, 17, packed their bags and headed to two small Central American towns a world away from her hometown.

The towns, Suschito and Aguacayo, were adversely affected by a revolution in El Salvador in the early 90s. After heavy bombing, the citizens of Aguacayo were left with no running water and no easy way to obtain it.

"The people there are amazing," Schutte said. "The Mayor of Suschito told us that nobody there believes in handouts and everyone works for what they want."

And work they did. During her week-long journey, the Schuttes saw what a $2,000 donation from Brazil Rotary -- and countless others from various other organizations around the country -- could do. Residents dug trenches for pipe, built structures, and did whatever they could to get a steady water supply from a nearby river to the town.

Residents are expecting running water "any day now," Schutte said.

To obtain water to do anything from washing clothes to bathing to cooking, the town's women and children have two options: Make a 90-minute trek up and down a steep incline to gather water from the river or buy it from a neighboring town, which is a 5-mile walk.

Schutte, who walked up and down the hill, said the townspeople were hesitant to allow her to make the trek.

"There were a group of kids laughing because Austin said he wanted to carry water up the incline," she said. "Looking at it, I thought he'd be lucky to get back up with a cup of water, let alone a big container."

Women in the community will carry clothes, a container, and children down the incline, wash clothes, collect water, and carry everything back on a daily basis. Children as young as 5 years old are taught to carry what they can. Schutte said she was amazed at the difficulty the townspeople had to go through to get something readily available to us.

"There were times where we had to sit down to advance further down without falling," she said. "At times it was almost straight downhill."

Behind the movement to change the town's standard of living is Companion Community Development Alternatives, or CoCoDa. Founded in 1992, the nonprofit organization has taken over 60 delegations from the U.S. to El Salvador, educating the groups on the problems the country faces, including the water situation in Aguacayo.

At the helm of this delegation was Ivan Villasboa, an Indianapolis-based CoCoDa representative who showed the Schuttes the hardships the residents of Aguacayo faced. Schutte said the average delegation consisted of 30 to 40 people. There were four in Schutte's delegation: Sally, Austin, and two others, one of whom was a member of Jasper's Rotary Club.

Schutte expressed interest in visiting the community after a presentation Villasboa made to Brazil's Rotary Club earlier this year. Sally's husband, Jeff, had reservations from the start.

"All the news you hear from El Salvador is bad," she said. "And with the terrorist situation and everything else... he was nervous from the first time I mentioned it."

After a phone call and meeting with Villasboa, Jeff's fears were somewhat quieted.

The trip was not all business. Besides the visit to Aguacayo, the delegation toured Suschito, where they ate new foods and experienced a way of living new to them.

"It was amazing," Schutte said. "I thought people might cause trouble because we were Americans, but I was never once afraid or made to feel unwanted. The people were very welcoming."

Schutte said Villasboa was an excellent guide, showing the delegation where to eat and how to stay safe on the town's streets. For instance, the guide was familiar with the town's restaurants and told them where -- and what -- to eat.

"He'd been there several times and he knew which places used clean water, washed their vegetables, stuff like that," she said. "I never once got sick."

She said the presence of the Policia -- armed guards stationed on town streets, armed with pistols and rifles -- was a bit disconcerting at first. However, she grew used to them.

She was also surprised that the town featured two Internet cafes, not to mention a small shop that allowed international calls. Though the language barrier was thick, she utilized both shops' services and managed to stay in contact with Jeff.

She said her biggest scare came not from people, but from insects. During a stay in a home in Aguacayo, she and Austin had to sleep on mats on the floor. Instead of a good night's sleep, however, her fear of bugs left her -- and Austin -- with little shut eye.

"Austin was getting irritated," she said. "Every five minutes I had him up with a flashlight."

Schutte hopes to return to Aguacayo in April, when they hold a celebration for their new water source. Austin also plans to return with another delgation dedicated to building churches and schools in the area. He is planning to stay three weeks.

She said the trip opened her eyes in ways she never expected. She paid for the trip out of pocket, and she'd gladly do it again.

"There's no way you can understand how wonderful this experience is without seeing it," she said. "Pictures just don't do it.

"I'm very proud of Rotary doing this, reaching out to a community many people will never see," she said. "I don't think any of them realize the impact they've made."

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