Está muy lejos, they tell us. Thagoni is very far.
The drive to this far off Bolivian community starts in the valley, the stretches of cactus-dotted plains morphing into mountains. The route veers down a rough cobblestone lane. Then it veers onto a rock-strewn dirt road up the side of a mountain, the landscape of endless hills stretching as far as the eye can see. The car kicks up fine dust that seeps through the cracked windows – evidence of the dry season.
Thirty minutes up the side of the mountain and we arrive. Bienvenidos a Thagoni, the sign says, announcing our arrival. The brisk wind and stark landscape give away the town’s altitude. Here, high in these mountains, the 30 homes of Thagoni are the only civilization to be seen. And it could hardly be called a town – the mud brick homes are strewn along the hillsides, dispersed between fields and fences.
Thagoni is so far away, so deep in the mountains, and so spread out that national programs for water access never would have reached it. Just the cost to get a rig up there to drill a well would be prohibitive.
But the community needed water.
The hillsides below Norah Zurita’s home in Thagoni hold the barley, wheat, beans, and potatoes she and her husband cultivate, and the animals they raise wander around their modest mud brick home. Norah says that for most of her life she would wake up a 5am to walk two hours round trip to the nearest river to collect water for the day’s cooking, cleaning, and bathing. If it was a laundry day she would spend the whole day at the river. Norah’s young daughters Liliana and Danitza also had to help her collect water every day – water Norah says often made the girls sick. In the dry season, the river held no water and they had to collect water from shallow springs in the community – they would have to wait until the dirt settled before they used it.
"The water was very dirty," Norah says. "It was the same that dogs and all the animals drank from."
The oldest community members in Thagoni suffered the most from the state of water. If they couldn’t make it to the river or the water hole early enough, they’d be without water for that day. And many got infections from drinking or washing with contaminated water.
Most of Thagoni had lost hope that they would ever get access to safe water.
Miguel Claros Cotrina, Norah’s husband, is ruddy cheeked and slight framed. He’s learned how to live on this isolated mountainside. With weathered hands folded and brown eyes bright beneath his flat brimmed sombrero, he explains that he was elected by the community to work with Water For People and the mayor of the district of Villa Rivero to finally bring reliable and safer water to Thagoni. He was cautiously optimistic.
"Many mayors have given up," he says. Thagoni was just too far, too hard to get to.
Construction on the long-awaited water system began in 2016, with Miguel and the other five members of the Thagoni Water Committee helping lead the project. Miguel says every community member pitched in, helping dig trenches by hand and construct the system. Because it was too expensive to pay a plumber to travel to Thagoni to connect all the homes to the water system, Miguel was trained to be the community’s plumber – he was willing to do whatever it took to ensure Thagoni had water.
After all that back-breaking work, the water system was completed in August of 2017.
Miguel says everyone in the community was overjoyed – having water to their homes has changed everything.
"Because the water made us sick all the time, most families would go to different cities to live," he says. "But now that they know Thagoni has water, they’re coming back."
"My daughters are happier," Miguel says. "They used to be worried about getting sick and would lose entire days when they had to go to the river. Now they’ve told me, ‘We don’t want to leave anymore. We want to stay here with you.’"
Having water has transformed Miguel’s family – and his wife Norah is so grateful.
"Now I drink water anytime," Norah says. "I wash my clothes whenever I want. The girls can study instead of going to collect water."
Life in Thagoni is better than ever before – all thanks to water. Kids are in school, families are healthier, farmers are irrigating fields and gardens to increase their income, and most importantly to Miguel, people want to keep living in this tiny, tranquil mountainside town.
When we talk about Everyone, we mean Thagoni, because even the hardest-to-reach people deserve water. They are One of Everyone. With the completion of Thagoni’s water system, the district of Villa Rivero has reached every community with reliable water access – a huge milestone.