Turning beer into water for our Sister City

CAMOAPA CONNECTIONS Antonio Llanos, Heberto Mejia, Dennis Kalson. Janine Volkmar | Union

Janine Volkmar
Mad River Union

CAMOAPA, NICARAGUA – If you have gone to any I Block party in the last 30 years – you know, that fun party with beer, food, music, and old friends always held on Labor Day next to Los Bagels – you have magical powers. Your beer buying habits have turned beer into water for Arcata’s sister city, Camoapa, Nicaragua.

That’s a great trick.

Imagine a hospital where you are a health care worker or a patient and imagine that hospital only having water for one hour per day. That has been the reality in Camoapa for years.

Now, because of the monetary support from the I Block parties, the efforts of the Sister City organizations in both Arcata and Camoapa, and the skilled volunteers from Engineers Without Borders, the Camoapa hospital has water. Lots of water. The wells are flowing and there is water 24 hours a day.

Heberto Mejia, his son Heberto Jr., and Jorge Luis Martinez recently made the trip from Camoapa to Arcata to convey their heartfelt thanks in person.

Antonio Llanos, a professional engineer who works in Arcata and volunteers with Engineers Without Borders, and Dennis Kalson, a longtime Sister City volunteer, translated for this interview with Heberto Mejia.

“The community of Camoapa really appreciates all the efforts of the Engineers Without Borders and the Sister City organizers and really appreciates the community of Arcata for supporting the fundraising events,” Mejia said. Mejia is the President of the Sister City Association in Camoapa and has been a member for 12 to 13 years. He visited Arcata in 2015 and I was fortunate to interview him then. (Union, Sept. 9, 2015). He is the most sincere human being I have ever interviewed.

Mejia and the citizens of Camoapa have a lot to be happy about with the new wells. The water situation has been a problem for many years and has, at times, been mired down in both practical and political problems. “This was a struggle for many years,” Mejia said. Four dry holes in ten years and a small amount of strictly rationed water from the city system all added up to “serious problems for the hospital.”

Mejia credits the Engineers Without Borders for sticking with the effort and bringing it to a solution. “High quality water is now a reality for the hospital, thanks to the work of the Engineers Without Borders in partnership with the Sister City project,” he said.

Engineers Without Borders is a unique organization that combines the skills and experience of  20 to 25 professional engineers and the enthusiasm and young energy of  five or six engineering students at Humboldt State University. Members of the group have made three trips to work on the well problem.

“Every time we go down, the people of Camoapa provide home stays for everyone,” Llanos said. Llanos works at Michael Love & Associates in Arcata, primarily working on stream restoration and salmon habitat. He’s an HSU graduate. He talked about the ongoing connection with the cities.

“A few families from Humboldt have gone to visit recently. One family’s daughter was inspired to do a fundraising event at her school,” he said. Developing personal connections for the cities will keep the programs going, he feels.

It’s a program that has been going for almost 33 years. That’s a lot of parties and a lot of beer. The funds raised over the years have supported the library, a child development program, and a women’s center with job training, legal services, and psychological services, as well as the infrastructure projects.

What’s the next big need? Sewage and drainage. Mejia described the problem in Camoapa. There are three small streams that run in drainage courses through the city. They are heavily polluted with garbage, wastewater, and trash.

He said that the solution rests in the hands of many different actors: the municipal government and the community itself, Engineers Without Borders for technical assessment, and the Sister City organization in Arcata for support. “The municipal government is starting construction of a sanitary landfill. This would start an awareness of the problem,” he explained.

The Arcata/Camoapa link was the first city project in Nicaragua and is still the longest continuous running project in Nicaragua. Let’s keep it that way. Please mark your calendars now for the next I Block party, Monday, Sept. 3, 2018.

Viva the Sister City Project!



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