Tapping Into Water

How access to water improves lives of women and girls in Guatemala

A girl washes her hands. / Catholic Relief Services

The small community of Nuevas Maravillas in Sibinal, San Marcos, sits high in the mountains of the Western Highlands of Guatemala. This area is known for Indigenous communities whose rich histories and cultures make Guatemala the unique and vibrant country that it is.

Unfortunately, many communities like Nuevas Maravillas suffer from a lack of potable water. This is due to insufficient or nonexistent infrastructure to deliver water to homes, resulting in community members spending hours each day carrying water from the nearest source. This burden commonly falls on women and girls, depriving them of the time they could be spending at work or school.

A water tap. / Luis Cocon, Catholic Relief Services

USAID is committed to increasing access to sustainable safe drinking water and sanitation services in Guatemala. We foster inclusive development through our Communities Leading Development Project, implemented by Catholic Relief Services, by partnering with communities to identify and solve development needs at the local level.

This year, the community of Nuevas Maravillas decided to prioritize this lack of potable water in their homes and public spaces as a key development challenge that needed an immediate response. For years, the community had forced women and girls to travel long distances to bring water back to their homes.

Community leader Alfredo Vásquez washes his hands. / Catholic Relief Services

“Clean water is a right for everyone,” said community leader Alfredo Vásquez, who collaborated with other community members in the creation of a community development plan.

Nuevas Maravillas is one of 200 communities in the Western Highlands that USAID supports to identify and prioritize their own development goals through community development plans. This includes strategies focused on improving water systems, economic development, agricultural value chains, and rural business enterprises.

Nuevas Maravillas community members and the Sibinal municipality worked together to conduct environmental studies and finally build the community’s new water system. The system provides water to each of the 38 households in the community, as well as public taps at the school, church, cemetery, and the Community Development Council office. Through community participation and strong leadership, the Nuevas Maravillas community received the necessary support to make its drinking water project a reality.

Albina Velásquez. / Luis Cocon, Catholic Relief Services

“Before I used to carry water in buckets on my head from far away; it was very tiring,” said Albina Velásquez. “But now, I am happy because I have water in my house. I have time to grow chili peppers, which — with the money from harvesting them — will allow me to buy food, clothes, and medicine for my children.”

A girl drinks water. / Catholic Relief Services

Through this work USAID is empowering women to become leaders in their communities, improving girls’ educational opportunities, creating economic opportunities for women, and strengthening families. This is part of USAID’s root causes of irregular migration strategy to promote a Guatemala where people can create better futures for themselves and their families at home.

“My family and I used to spend a lot of time bringing water from far away, but now everyone in our community has clean water,” said Rodemiro Robledo, as he washed his hands at a running tap in his house.

Community leaders inaugurating a water project. / Catholic Relief Services

About the Author

Benjamin Ilka is a storyteller and visual media specialist at USAID’s Mission in Guatemala.

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