By Ralph Kurtenbach, Special to ASSIST News Service
IWIA, ECUADOR (March 22, 2018) — Make no mistake about it; children represent the biggest age group in the village of Iwia deep within the rainforest of Ecuador. To inaugurate the community’s clean water system, the children’s families and Reach Beyond missionaries celebrated. This was done with speeches, drama, dance, eating and drinking chichi — a slightly fermented beverage made by combining water and yucca that women have chewed.
Photos of the joyful event show dozens of dark-haired girls and boys. One youngster is drinking water from a faucet. “The water flows now by gravity into the community, without any pumps,” said Hermann Schirmacher, the mission’s associate regional director in Latin America. “Every house has a spigot in the backyard with clean, fresh water.”
“We are happy that Iwia has a water system,” added Wim de Groen, who directs the mission’s community development department, “and even more joyful for the water’s daily example of Jesus as living water to a thirsty soul.” Not only clear as it gushes from the faucet, the water is also safe. In contrast, dirty water brings diarrhea, a fluid-depleting malady that weakens the body and can even cause death. Children are especially vulnerable once their balance of electrolytes is compromised. The biggest beneficiaries of Iwia’s clean water system are the village’s smallest — the children.
Worldwide, diarrhea caused by dirty water and poor toilets kills a child under age five every two minutes, according to WASHWatch, a data site for several organizations including the World Health Organization and the United Nations. For some people, clean water means life itself and for others, it comes in the benefits offered by an adequate education. Around the world as many as 443 million school days are lost annually because of water-related illnesses, according to a report in 2006 by Human Development Report.
“Modern medical treatment and drugs, provided primarily by missionaries, reduced mortality rates, especially among infants,” wrote New Mexico historian Allen Gerlach in the book, Indians, Oil and Politics. In his speech to launch the water system, Jorge, an Iwia community leader, described the community’s advances. “Our ancestors probably would never believe if we could tell them today about the many changes we have seen during the last 50 to 70 years,” he said.
The people of Iwia are Achuar, a well-known tribe of the Jivaro people. The Achuar speak a language that is similar to that spoken by the Aguaruna and the Huambisa across the border in Peru. Before their exposure to the gospel, the Jivaro upheld a tradition that every death had to be avenged. A slain enemy’s head was later pickled in a mysterious process and kept as a tzantza or shrunken head in a bid to harness the opponent’s spirit.
Christianity allowed a model of feuding clans to be replaced by communities, as decimating patterns of vendetta and reprisal to fade into the past. “Praise the Lord,” said Schirmacher. “The ministry of many evangelical missionary efforts had their impact. Their life does not continue as it did before.” (In 1599, the Jivaro destroyed mission stations established by priests and brothers of the Catholic Church’s Dominican order, who later returned to their work, aided by another order, the Jesuits.)
In 2013, initial planning for Iwia’s water system began. As with all Reach Beyond water projects, community members needed to commit to the work even as the mission assisted in logistics, acquisition and transport of supplies, and legal processes with the municipality. The following year, 2014, a neighboring community of Wayusentsa dedicated its own water system, also facilitated by Reach Beyond. Families in Iwia have expressed interest in another project, receiving and caring for cacao plants now growing in the mission’s greenhouse in Shell.
The Iwia project utilizes spring water captation, followed by the protected transport of the water to the people’s homes, according to Schirmacher. “With a steel cable, a bridge was installed to support the pipe crossing the river,” he said. “A previous attempt to cross the river had failed.” The work by residents and visiting community development interns from the United States, also involved constructing several cisterns.
“Pedro, one of our contractors — a believer and hard worker — shared his experience with the people from Iwia during the process of the construction,” said Schirmacher. “This community [received] the message of Jesus very well. They loved to come to the evening’s programs, watching the Christian movies. Eighteen people dedicated their life to Christ.”
Photo captions: 1) Reach Beyond missionaries, Wim de Groen, Vinicio Salazar and Hermann Schirmacher, with the residents of Iwia, Ecuador. 2) Under the wing of a Mission Aviation Fellowship plane that brought in Hermann Schirmacher and other missionaries to inaugurate a new clean water system at Iwia, Ecuador. 3) Schoolgirls hold a sign that reads, “To all of you at HCJB [Reach Beyond]. From The Achuar community, Iwia. We infinitely appreciate your unconditional support in [constructing] the potable water system.” 4) Children of Iwia gather around Vinicio Salazar to view photos taken with the camera of his smartphone. 5) Ralph Kurtenbach at the microphone.
About the writer: Ralph Kurtenbach has been an English-language newscaster and program host on the international shortwave radio station, HCJB, in Ecuador. He blogs at www.calloftheandes.wordpress.com. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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