Two McHenry County men who earlier this month went on a volunteer trip to bring clean water to a rural village in Guatemala said the experience gave them renewed perspective on their own lives.
Friends Brad Simpson of Lake in the Hills and Russ Schweizer of Lakewood were part of a team of volunteers with the Christian-based organization Living Water International. They spent five days drilling a well for the 700 or so residents of Monte Carlo, in coastal Guatemala. This was the third annual trip for Simpson, and the first for Schweizer.
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Simpson said he'd been trying to get his friend to join in the effort and knew that he couldn't say no to a trip to Guatemala. That's because Schweizer's adoptive daughters, Ysabel, 7, and Gabriela, 12, are from Guatemala.
"It was fabulous. This is obviously a wonderful cause in all the countries they (Living Water International) are in, but Guatemala has a very special place in our hearts," Schweizer said.
It's hard to overestimate the importance of access to clean water, Simpson said. This particular village only had hand-dug wells, and had even gone through an outbreak of illness after a man fell into a well and died, and his body wasn't discovered for some time, he said.
During the trip, the team set up operations in a hotel about an hour's drive from the village, Schweizer explained. After a 5 a.m. breakfast, they spent the whole day working in humid, 95-degree weather. The villagers provided lunch every day and were given hygiene classes to learn about how to use and maintain the well.
Each individual pays about $1,700 for the trip, and many raise funds through family and friends, said Simpson, who helps organize trips year-round. Drilling the well itself costs about $5,000, for which funds are raised by Living Water, he said.
The beauty of this kind of volunteerism are its tangible, fast results, Simpson said.
"If I give to the Cancer Society, if I give them a check for $500, I don't know where that goes. But there, you get them the water, you see the people smiling (and) drinking the water."
Living Water has a spiritual component to its mission, which both men said was very important to them. They brought Bibles in Spanish, clothes and toys. And on their last day, their left their boots behind as gifts to the villagers who helped them drill, Schweizer said.
"(The trips) keep me grounded in trying to keep an understanding of how truly blessed we are and how much we have. To see the love and compassion that these people have -- and they have nothing -- it changes your perspective," Simpson said.
"It gives you a different perspective on life here -- I was expecting that, I was hoping for that," Schweizer said.
Schweizer said he plans to make this an annual trip, and hopes his daughters will one day continue the family tradition. "I want to keep the momentum going. I wish I had done it much sooner in my life."
The Chicago chapter of Living Water organizes several well-drilling trips a year. The organization serves countries including Mexico, India, Honduras, Haiti, Kenya, Liberia, Nicaragua, Peru and more. If you're interested, call Simpson at (708) 542-4175.