By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
WESTON — They are so close.
Students at St. Pius X High School have already raised the money for 45 basic water filtration systems for the villagers in the San Andreas Itzapa region of Guatemala.
They just need the money — at $125 each — for 15 more to reach their goal of 60 before the students make their annual mission trip in June to the Central American nation.
Students Katie Pileggi, Emma Meinking and Katie Rainey told parishioners at Holy Trinity Parish March 6 that a record 35 St. Pius X students — about 9 percent of the entire student population — will be making the mission trip this year to live and work for a week among the poor.
“It’s more than we’ve ever had. That’s because we come back and tell them how much fun it is, and they want to go,” said Pileggi.
Fun? Doing backbreaking work in a country with exactly none of the comforts of home?
You bet, the students said. They receive far more than they give. They may give hard work, but they get back love.
That’s the message the Holy Trinity parishioners heard not only from the St. Pius X students, but also from parishioner Keith Stutterheim and Weston resident Rogers Strickland who have also done years of work in Third World countries, as the parish held its monthly potluck dinner series during the Year of Mercy, this one on the theme of “Give Drink to the Thirsty.”
Take the water filtration systems, said Meinking. They are simple two bucket systems in which a few gallons raw water is poured into one bucket, runs through a simple non-chemical filter into the second bucket, and within seconds becomes drinkable water.
This region of Guatemala has neither a landfill for garbage or a sanitary sewer system.
“All that trash goes right into the river,” Meinking said.
“Guatemala is one of the three poorest countries in Central America,” Pileggi said. “They have to throw their garbage everywhere, and it goes right into the river. That’s where they get their water.”
Meinking said the students know that the very simple systems they will give those families isn’t the ultimate solution.
“The systems we provide are obviously not permanent. They are temporary,” she said. “But they are a lot better than what they have.”
Villagers also are required to sign a contract.
“They promise that they will clean the system, and we show them how, and they must share with other people in the community who do not have access to clean water,” Meinking said.
The students said people who want to donate — any amount, but 15 people giving $125 would give them their goal — can go online to the school’s Web site,www.stpiusxhs-kc.com , scroll over to the “student life” tab where the “clubs and organizations” tab will appear, click onto that, then on “The Mission Guatemala” link for the form and payment instructions.
Donors should also know that the students won’t be the only people grateful. So will the people of Guatemala that they assist.
“They are so unbelievably grateful,” Meinking said. “It is amazing.”
Strickland, who has done mission work in the Santa Teresita region near where the St. Pius X students serve, echoed the need for clean water systems in Guatemala, although his expertise is in building construction.
Strickland has been making two mission trips a year, 10 days each, for 18 years.
“We’ve built over 50 buildings that are used for schools, churches, community centers,” he said. “We can complete the whole building in a week.”
Water, he said, “is a huge problem all over Guatemala.”
“They don’t have a sewer system in the whole country. That’s going to mix right in the ground water. It’s hard for us to even imagine unless you’ve been there.”
Stutterheim told his fellow parishioners that he spent years working with Catholic Relief Services on a variety of projects, including water, and mainly in Africa.
The same dire need for clean water that exists in Central America also exists in Africa, he said, and when a new project is completed, the blessings flow.
“You have appreciation from all sides,” Stutterheim said.
“As an individual, you receive far more than you give,” he said. “Your perspective on the world will never be the same.”