Troy Wetherholt is one of our summer interns in Ixiamas, Bolivia. He arrived in Bolivia June 12 and will post to our blog about his experiences. Troy has been helping SIFAT graduate Bolivar Sanga drill water wells in communities near Ixiamas.

Plans had been made to provide the community of Santa Fe with a well, and on a Monday the community leaders gave us the word to come. On Tuesday, after a fifteen minute ride from the Internado, we were dropped off in Santa Fe with the materials. We arrived to find only two workers, but in the afternoon more workers showed up. For the next three days with enough laborers, we drilled 30 meters. During much of this time, I was making the outer filter with two inch pipe, plastic tarp, contact cement and a saw. We installed the filter and pipe, filled sand in around it, and began pumping water to clean out the well.

Working in Santa Fe was much easier than working in Puerto Russo because it is so close to Ixiamas. Bolivar and I have been able to sleep in comfort at home in the Internado and either be driven to the site by car or take the 40-minute walk. The week ended with only the pumping mechanism left to be installed.

Sunday (July 11) a mission team from Trinity UMC in Birmingham arrived. The men with the group had come to help us with well drilling.

Monday morning we took the group to Santa Fe where we installed the last two pipes, each with its respective valve and piston, thus completing the well from the previous week. The group’s mission, however, was to construct a well in front of the Internado, thereby providing water for the nearby chicken coops, to Andres’ hut and as a back-up source for the Internado. We began late in the morning after returning from Santa Fe.

The well is situated on the edge of a ridge which slopes down toward the riverbank.  My assigned job was to bring water up from the river to the barrels at the well construction site using a large motorized water pump and two inch pipe, thus allowing the team to focus on drilling instead of hauling water. For the rest of the day, however, it rained, causing an already treacherous, steep riverbank to become slick with mud and an already fickle, unwieldy water pump to become even more difficult to prime. During this time, the group retrieved water from the rain collected off of the roof of the Internado building. That night the temperature dropped, and for the rest of the week during the daytime it remained overcast, windy and in the 50s with on and off rain.

The following day, after relocating the pump to a newly constructed shelf closer to the river, a part broke in the starter for the pump. Using the smaller pump and one inch tubing in our possession, I was able to provide water to the construction site much more easily than would have been possible with the larger water pump.

Being able to easily communicate with my fellow workers during well construction was a new experience. It was nice being able to talk and joke about random things, although at times I grew tired of the multitude of questions concerning the well. For dinner every night I was able to accompany the group to the restaurant, where with the family style serving I devoured large quantities of food.

There was no reprieve from the cold wet weather for those of us who live at the Internado. We have no heating and our outside facing walls are made of screens since it is normally warm here. Occasionally to warm up we huddled around the kitchen fire. Chas the monkey probably had the hardest time with the cold.  In the wild he would have his mother to keep him warm. Instead Chas had two sets of monkey clothes, but nevertheless I needed to sometimes put him under my shirt to warm him up.

Each well needs a wooden post and a lever for pumping the water. Inspired by my memory of the skillful, machete wielding people of Puerto Russo, I decided that in crafting these two items I would only use a machete. I went out to the back of the property in search of a tree with the proper dimensions. I found a suitable fallen tree and cut it to size with my machete, only discovering afterward that it contained an unacceptable amount of termite damage. On another fallen tree I found a good branch that was high in the air, making it difficult to cut down with a machete.  I went back to the workshop to see about a chainsaw when Roberto (the same individual who helped out the second week of Puerto Russo) returned from school. With Roberto operating the chainsaw, we were able to cut a post out of the tree and create the groove on top for the lever.  With my machete, I was able to shape the post and lever to my liking.

On the third day of excavation we encountered hard ground, and after hours of painfully slow progress the drill head broke off. This was unfortunate, but there was enough depth and meters of sand for the making of a well. I felt bad for the group because we were only able to install the outer pipe and begin the second phase of cleaning the well before it was time for them to leave. After finishing the cleaning phase, the following day Bolivar and I installed the last part of the well.