By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — When was the last time you got a drink of water or brushed your teeth?
A few minutes ago? A few hours?
How much time did you spend worrying that the water would make you violently ill?
How much time did you spend worrying that your children would die from drinking the water?
If you live in the United States, you probably never spend any time at all thinking about the quality of the water.
Not so if you live in Honduras.
Last February, Elk Mound residents Kristin Johnson and Julie Stunkel and Colfax resident Bill Tice traveled to Honduras to drill wells so people would have clean water to drink.
Their mission trip to drill wells was in connection with Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie and an organization called Living Water International. All together, 24 people from this part of Wisconsin went on the trip.
The well-drilling teams went to different areas in Honduras, and Johnson and her husband, Craig, ended up at a high school with 800 students.
Johnson owns and operates Jewelry Box Dancer in Elk Mound. Craig is the owner of the Eau Claire Animal Hospital.
“They were so excited to have us there … they were really excited about this because they don’t have water in their school. Can you imagine not having water in your school? They have water to flush toilets, but they use a bucket to pour the water in. The water has a lot of bleach in it and runs down from the river,” Johnson said.
Even though the school did not have clean running water — there was always Coca Cola.
“They have a little Coca-Cola shack on their school grounds … they were all carrying around little Baggies with Coca-Cola in the Baggies. They don’t even get a can or a bottle. It’s all put into a Baggie with a straw. And that’s what they drink. So their teeth are all falling out. Coca-Cola is prevalent there, but they can’t get water … that’s when I felt the weight of what we were doing,” Johnson said.
“It was such a disappointment when our equipment hit rock … they drilled and drilled and drilled but the equipment from Living Water (International) is not sufficient for rock that hard. They drilled several times in the valley. You’re always hoping the lay of the land might change. But it doesn’t. We broke the equipment we had. We had to make the decision to pull out and go somewhere else,” Johnson said.
Other teams also experienced hitting rock.
“It was hard to pull out. It was one of the larger missions. And we left with a sense that we had to go back and bring the right equipment with us, an air drill,” Johnson said.
Unfortunately, an air drill can cost $50,000 used or about $100,000 new.
In addition to not having water at the school, the students did not have books or other materials.
“I was at a school, and I never saw a book or a pencil. All I saw were cement cinder blocks and desks and chairs. The kids had nothing. I wondered what they were learning. What materials were they using? What does the teacher use to teach?” Johnson said.
Since Johnson’s team was unable to hit water at the school, they went on to another town where a well had been drilled on a previous mission trip.
Johnson’s team had brought materials with them to build a swing set for the children.
One morning, there was an uprising just down the street because another child had been abducted, Johnson said.
The abducted child meant that deciding where to put the swing set posed a definite problem.
“They said we couldn’t place it close to the fence because that’s where the children are being abducted. It’s over the fence. They are taken over the fence,” Johnson said.
“My husband and I thought it was horrible. We figured it was sex trafficking or slave trade or something like that. No. We were told that most of the children (abducted) are being sold for their organs on the black market,” she said.
Johnson paused with tears in her eyes.
“How can you even imagine? You can’t even think that something that bad would happen. You can’t even think that (children) are murdered for their parts,” Johnson said.
“You wonder how they can even have hope. But they do,” she said.
Part of the mission trip, in addition to drilling wells so people in Honduras will have clean water, is to teach basic hygiene.
“We presented to the moms on how to take care of a child with diarrhea. How to wash their hands. How to use the water… the houses are built out of mud with black tarpaper wrapped around them,” Johnson said.
“It changes your whole perspective when you come back. It changes your life. We gave away motel soap and shampoo to each child. They were so excited to get a bag of soap and shampoo. Mothers would get in line, and then they’d go home and get the baby and get into line again so they could get more soap and shampoo,” Johnson said.
“We go to Sam’s Club and get the 24-pack of soap. The first time I reached for (a bar of soap) after we came back, it really hit me what we have,” she said.
Bill Tice of Colfax also went on the mission trip, which, as it turned out, was his third trip to Honduras to drill a well.
Tice did a presentation at Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center in May about his mission trip to Honduras.
“Hygiene is important. It’s important to learn how not to transfer bacteria from one thing to the next,” he said.
“The kids are sick a lot. The kids get really sick,” Tice said.
The wells drilled in Honduras were between 80 feet and 120 feet deep, he said, noting that about a thousand people will use one well in one day.
Once the well has been drilled and is operational, “they start lining up at 3:30 or 4:30 a.m. because they think the water will run out, and they want to get their water before there’s none left,” Tice said.
“The water does not run out,” he added.
The well-drilling team does not, however, have a chance to see the first person who draws water from the new well.
The crew puts chlorine down the well to disinfect the shaft, and then the well has to sit for 24 hours.
“We’re gone by the time someone actually uses water from the well,” Tice said.
In Honduras, the summer temperatures get up to around 100 degrees or 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I can’t imagine how hot it is to live in a house that is wrapped in black plastic and has no windows,” Tice said.
Running into rock while trying to drill a well is not a problem unique to Honduras.
“People going to Haiti have run into the same problem that the equipment from Living Water cannot get through the rock,” said Julie Stunkel.
Stunkel and her husband, Lloyd, own and operate The Natural Touch Landscaping and Supply on U.S. Highway 12 east of Elk Mound.
Stunkel and others in the group are working on raising $100,000 to buy two used air drills.
To help them toward their goal, they are holding a fund-raiser August 25 at the Lions Club Park in Elk Mound.
“We want to base it around your old-home family church picnic with games, three-legged races, watermelon eating, dunk tank, face painting, bake sale, food plates,” Stunkel said.
The fund-raiser also will feature a silent auction.
“We are open to anyone who wants to donate money or volunteer their time … and we are always open to sharing the experience with church groups or women’s groups or any group that wants to find out more about the mission trip to Honduras,” Stunkel said.
The mission team also will take donations of hotel soap and shampoo.
“That makes a world of difference to be able to give them soap and shampoo and toothpaste and toothbrushes,” Stunkel said.
“When we got there, we found out a tube of toothpaste costs 75 cents, and we thought that was cheap. Then we found out the women earn $12 a day in income,” she said.
“We bought a bunch of soccer balls to give to the kids. The infield leaders (Honduran) said those were expensive because they wanted $12 for the ball, and the Hondurans asked if we were sure we wanted to give those. At first we didn’t understand, then we realized that a mom has to work all day to pay for one soccer ball,” Stunkel said.
Stunkel says that anyone who would like more information about their mission trip or the efforts to raise money for an air drill can visit their Mission Possible Facebook page.