Thursday, February 25, 2010

We All Live Downstream

Next month I am joining a social mission trip to Guatemala, where a group of Minnesota women will be taking energy efficient, clean-burning wood stoves to a Mayan village. Why stoves? Wood burning stoves are used both for cooking and indoor heating in the villages and there are many serious health problems caused by the smoke from the inefficient stoves. Also, wood is scarce and expensive, and the new stoves will require only 1/10th as much wood for fuel.

This will be my first trip to Latin America, but many of these women have been making this journey for many years. Some are teachers and health care professionals and will teach women's health classes and provide women with reading glasses -invaluable because many women in this very poor country earn money from their beautiful weaving. The group also hopes to dig some latrines and assist with some construction. My main role (I feel sort of guilty because it is such a dream job) will be to photograph and document the trip.

Some of the women in our group are developing a manual for the workshops. Because the villagers are mostly illiterate, the manual must be mostly in illustrations. I offered to create simple drawings, if needed. I have just completed my drawing assignments for the manual, which ended up being about parasites, clean water and hand-washing. The women gather water from the river--this image is about what happens upstream and why water must be boiled before using. I have never created images of animals and people defecating before--kind of awkward.

Coincidentally, the downstream drawing resonated with an initiative I am volunteering with here, focusing on water issues in our own South Zumbro watershed, and called "Water Matters.". Although many people assume Minnesota doesn't have water issues- we are the land of 15,000 lakes, after all - I am learning about the many complex issues we face, including chemical and nutrient run-off from both agricultural and urban areas that gets into our ground water and ultimately contributes to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico , pharmaceuticals and estrogen-like compounds in our water, increased flooding from so much impermeable surface and tiling, the drawdown of our precious aquifers - to mention just a few.

On Tuesday, three of us attended an amazing art exhibit opening Friday at the Katherine Nash Gallery in Minneapolis, entitled "Women and Water Rights." Throughout most of the world, women are responsible for hauling the water used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, and I learned that the average distance women throughout the world have to walk for water is 4 miles! (I will no longer complain about hauling water form my house to the barn for the cows.) Estimates are that by 2025, 2/3 of the world's population will face moderate to severe water shortages.

I left with a renewed resolve to make significant water conservation efforts at Squash Blossom Farm, which I promise to post about on this blog. I am adding a "Water" tag.


Linda said...

This sounds like a very worthy cause. I'm always pleased to know people are working on water issues.

Oregon is a "green" state and I like that a lot.

Dan said...

That should be a fun and educational get away.

Our water comes form the Grand River here in Ontario. If we have heavy storms a lot of the smaller towns up stream can not hold the water and untreated sewage ends up in the river. They say they shut down the inflow here when this happens.... I need to get out of the city!

Becky said...

Wow, I admire your work that you're doing for that organization. Your drawing is very clear and easy to understand. It really makes me grateful to live where I do and to have fresh water that comes from the tap. We're really lucky.

david, kelly & sam said...

wow susan. thanks for sharing about this trip. let us know if there's anything we can do to support you on this most important endeavor!!