Seeing people without access to basic necessities changes you. Witnessing their daily hardships while comparing your own reality impacts you profoundly, and once you experience it you can’t turn your back on it. The good news is that there are solutions, and for us in Mexico there’s a great solution changing the lives of many through the rainwater harvesting efforts of Isla Urbana who is helping to bringing clean water to the roughly 12 million Mexicans without access to it.

I recently took a trip to observe progress and the work ahead with the Wixárika (Huichol) in the Sierra, Northern region of Jalisco. An effort that came about through a fusion of organizations known as “Ha Ta Tukari“, “Agua nuestra vida” (Water, our life). The work with the Huichol initiated not long after Isla Urbana first got started in 2009. About a year later, the team made the trek alongside Proyecto Concentrarte, a nonprofit dedicated to education and resilience through art-based activities. Their director initially made contact with the community, who shared their need for water. She in turn contacted Isla Urbana and the work commenced with the two organizations teaming up to provide resources in implementing rainwater harvesting with education, bonding and training within the community.

In time, others joined the team, including LUUM, an organization implementing productive group models to help improve quality of life for artesans and farmers. Their work has included starting a women’s cooperative in the Sierra through providing training, workshops and in turn selling their creations out of a local store. Collectivo Wixari also joined the team with time. Through their existing work of supporting economic empowerment of Wixari artists in the Sierra, a connection was made and their focus through the team has been in promoting self-managed environmental projects within the region. Ha Ta Tukari is the sum of these organizations working together toward the common goal of serving the community to improve living conditions while also supporting the Huichol’s efforts to maintain their autonomy and customs.

As I made my way to the Sierra last month with part of the team in a caravan packed with tents, food and materials, it was hard to imagine how others made this trip time and time again over the years. Not only is it a 15-hour drive from Mexico City, but the road is rough. At some point, a paved road turned into a dirt road, then a rocky road and eventually the driver knows what tree to make a turn. It’s a trip you can’t make with a car that is in bad condition. Trucks are ideal. How many flat tires? How many overheated cars? How many times have they gotten stuck in the rain? They must have been so lost in the beginning, I thought.

The team has worked with two main communities, starting with La Cebolleta, which has roughly 260 habitants. Of the 50 households or so, most of them have rainwater harvesting systems installed. During this recent trip, Isla Urbana installed 8 more systems, completing 43 of the 50 households. Also during this trip, 14 households were provided with laminate roofs since some of the homes had cardboard roofs (making it unsafe and impossible to properly harvest the rain). As more homes are built, the need continues to arise for systems. But the Ha Ta Tukari team doesn’t allow that and other obstacles to get in their way. The team has an administrative base in La Cebolleta that serves as a community center where many income generating activities and community empowerment efforts are birthed.

dsc_0957

A view from La Cebolleta

When we first arrived, I witnessed a welcoming familiarity between the community and the team. It seemed as if the children were being reunited with their aunts and uncles. Many of them were babies when the Ha Ta Tukari first met them. I saw them climdsc_1051b over staff, call them by name and they appeared to pick up where they left off. The parents at times brought gifts, and though I noticed a very reserved demeanor amongst the adult community, many of them searched for specific staff members to greet them, often with extended hugs and warm smiles. The team generally visits the Sierra 3 times per year for 1-3 weeks at a time while each organization also makes their own independent visits so they have definitely become an extended part of many families here.

La Laguna Seca (the dry lagoon) is the other area where the team has worked in. A dry lagoon, or a lagoon for that matter, doesn’t exist, but it’s an appropriate name for an area where clean water is an issue. To get there from La Cebolleta, it takes an additional hour on a rocky road. The first caravan team, which arrived one week prior to us, got there in the middle of a downpour, causing their trucks to get stuck 3 times! It’s definitely the roughest part of the drive.

dsc_1091dsc_0206

This next phase in La Laguna Seca commenced in 2014, so relationships are still being forged and the trust is still developing. With roughly 600 habitants and 120 homes, 39 homes have had rainwater harvesting systems installed. By the end of this year, we expect a jump with an added 26!

This visit to the Sierra for me was extra special. Not just because it was my first time, but because recent fundraising in California was focused on rainwater harvesting systems and roofing in this area for single mothers and their children. So I had the opportunity to see how this work has affected both communities and how these funds will be further impacting. Below are more pictures to help show some of that. I hope that they bring further understanding of this part of the story. But, even after all of the systems are also put in at La Laguna, this story won’t be over. The end goal is to provide clean water and services to all Huichol. One community at a time.

dsc_0505

Part of the reason we can install the added 26 systems before year end is because of people like Felipe who are part of the community and are trained to build/maintain systems.

dsc_0573

The transportation of laminate roofs arriving (Felipe far right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dsc_0386

This trip included an introduction to a brand new cistern that has been designed specifically for this environment. “Atlali,” was designed by Isla Urbana and Sistema Biobolsa. A cistern that completely seals so that no component can enter other than rainwater. The material is lightweight yet built to last much longer than the conventional cisterns.

This is Paulina, one of the single mothers benefiting from fundraising in California. She received her roof the day prior and it was up that evening with help from her son in law. In front of her you see her previous roof made of cardboard. In back of her, the new laminate roof and her daughter.

This is Paulina, one of the single mothers benefiting from fundraising in California. She received her roof the day prior and it was up that evening with help from her son in law. In front of her you see her previous roof made of cardboard. In back of her, the new laminate roof and her daughter.

Paulina and her grandkids. You can see some of the space in front of her which she prepared for the cistern and system she was to receive in the coming weeks.

Paulina and her grandkids. You can see some of the space in front of her which she prepared for the cistern and system she was to receive in the coming weeks.

When I took this picture, I was focused on this woman's beautiful smile, her cistern, the simplicity of her going about her day with her bucket of clean water. It was much later that it was pointed out to me that her old roof was behind her and that our team had put in a new roof for her. Amazing!

Here is another mother who makes use of her system while not having to walk long distances to collect water. She is standing in front of her cistern, beside her, her old cardboard roof.

dsc_0347 dsc_0352

This is Carolina and her sons. The boys have a sister, but she was playing at her grandparent’s at the time. This is another single mother who will benefit from roofing and a system thanks to California supporters. The family had received materials for her new roof on this day. They manage with a small garden, support from her parents and they are allowed to, at times, shower at the local clinic.

dsc_0658

During our visit, Carolina shared that she was recently employed to improve roads. I realized that I had seen her earlier that day working.

A community meeting at La Cebolleta where it was discussed that most homes here have systems in place. The community is now looking at a wood burning stove project in the near future.

A community meeting at La Cebolleta where it was discussed that most homes here have systems in place. The community is now looking at a wood burning stove project in the near future.

Meet Shiara. She's cute and she knows it! She is one of the many beautiful kids of La Cebolleta.

Meet Shiara. She’s cute and she knows it! She is one of the many beautiful kids of La Cebolleta.

This is Santos. Also someone that helps to organize the planning of the work and who is a community member. Here he is with his son standing proudly in front of their cistern.

This is Santos. Also someone that helps to organize the planning of the work and who is a community member. Here he is with his son standing proudly in front of their cistern.

dsc_0151dsc_0149

This is Estela who had her system put in within the last year. We did a follow up visit with her and she’s happy with the results! A few minutes into the visit, it started to rain. Like on many occasions, it was great to see her system working for her. To know that she is no longer walking long distances, that she can wash and shower at home and not be sick from dirty water. This is what it comes down to!

img_3330

My focus within this trip as an Isla Urbana employee was on rainwater harvesting efforts. Especially for donors who have given this past summer to systems in the Sierra. However, it’s impossible to go on a trip like this and not catch the importance of what the entire Ha Ta Tukari team represents. In the past, I’ve experienced how complicated it can be to partner with other organizations while undertaking such ambitious goals. For this team to have accomplished providing so many services within this environment for a period of 6 years is a bold achievement. I have a tremendous amount of respect and gratitude to every person that’s been involved over time. Their commitment through empathy and a deep value of the community is beautiful to witness. Follow them on Facebook to stay up to date.

Written by Sol Garcia – Isla Urbana Foundation Coordinator