When Jorge Arnez gets an idea in his head, nothing can stop him.
A silver-haired farmer, Jorge talks a mile a minute. His passion and energy for taking care of his tiny community of Saca Sirca in the district of San Benito, Bolivia is clear.
The homes in Saca Sirca are spread out. Slow-moving cows like to block the deeply rutted dirt road. To the right empty brown fields await the next planting season, and on the left green lines of carrots sit in their marshy fields – the only color in the dusty dry season’s faded landscape.
Plains stretch from Saca Sirca to the far-off mountains that surround this valley. The people who live here don’t have much. They live simply on these plains and they like it that way.
Two years ago, Jorge got an idea in his head to improve life for Saca Sirca: he wanted to build a well that would provide safe water.
The problem with this idea was that people didn’t want a new well and water system. Most of them already had wells at their house. They were shallow wells that provided water that was often contaminated by families’ pit latrines, but they were still wells. Most community members didn’t want to invest in a new water system, even if it would bring them safe water.
“People were saying, ‘We don’t need a water system, we have our own wells,’” said Jorge.
Leaders from the district told Jorge he would never convince the people. Saca Sirca was too poor, too far away, too set in its ways.
Even so, nothing could stop Jorge.
“Give me the opportunity,” Jorge told the district. “I will convince them.”
He went home to home and organized community meetings. He told families how they could have water coming out of a tap – water they wouldn’t have to boil to remove bacteria.
Little by little, the community’s resistance lowered and they saw Jorge’s perspective. When everyone was in favor, Jorge worked with the district of San Benito and Water For People to make plans. All 31 families in the community pitched in to help with the construction, but they quickly ran into a problem.
“The soil was not strong enough for a water tower, so we couldn’t do a gravity-fed system,” says Jorge. “The families were so disappointed.”
Jorge figured out they could do a different kind of system that didn’t need a water tower. But first they needed a power connection, and the nearest connection was 100 meters away from the well.
Jorge refused to give up.
“I traveled several hours and found a high-level manager in an electrical company,” says Jorge. “I did everything I could. I talked with him and a week later they were digging holes for electric poles. We got the electricity for the system.”
After two months of construction and solving the electricity issue, the water system was finished, and the community threw a big party.
“It’s unbelievable that now we just open the tap and have water,” said Jorge. “Seeing water come out of pipes in your own backyard…who could have imagined that?”
The community members are already seeing the benefits of investing in their new water system.
“There has been so much change,” says Jorge. “The children are cleaner, they are able to go to school more, people can even have showers in their home. Now I have more water to irrigate my crops.”
Although he’s too humble to admit it, Jorge is a hero of Saca Sirca. All he wanted was for the families in this little farming community to have the good life they deserve – and he knew it started with water.
“Someday I will be able to die at peace,” he says. “Because I’ll know all the families here have water.”