Research comes alive in Honduras
during Living Waters well project
It’s one thing to study social entrepreneurship; it’s another thing to live it. WSU graduate student Mark Mulder is doing both. In May, he and six other Pullman residents (four with ties to WSU) participated in a week-long service project in Honduras.
Mulder and his teammates, all members of the Pullman Presbyterian Church, worked with Living Water International, a Christian nonprofit that builds wells in developing countries. The church contributed $5,000 to Living Water International, the cost of drilling one well, and then the volunteers did additional fundraising to help defray the travel costs of $2,000 per person.
Mulder – along with Christine Bernard, a WSU engineering student, Carl Ketchie, a retired WSU facilities employee, and Stephanie Kreshel, a nurse and WSU alumna – traveled to Arena, a village of about 600 people on the outskirts of Saba. Other members of the Pullman group included Mulder’s wife, a dental hygienist, and Matt McNelly, co-pastor of the Pullman Presbyterian Church.
While the others worked on a drill team with leaders from Living Water International to build the well, Amy Mulder and Kreshel organized workshops on hygiene and preventive healthcare.
Most people in the area live in homes made of cinderblocks or in mud huts, Mulder said, and do their cooking outside. The village has electricity, he said, but few people use it because it is too expensive.
The village has two other wells constructed by Living Water International, but each serves only 200 people so another was needed. Residents without access to one of those wells were forced to collect water from a river that goes dry several months a year, or from shallow, hand-dug wells that often are contaminated. Worse yet, the river water is tainted by chemicals from nearby banana, pineapple and orange plantations.
Traveling to Honduras to help install the well was an expensive undertaking, Mulder said, but worth it both personally and professionally.
Personally, it was an opportunity to touch the lives of people he would otherwise never cross paths with – and be touched by them.
The residents of Arena are, for the most part, subsistence farmers, Mulder said. They gather as much food as they can during the harvest, such as corn, and hope that it lasts until the next harvest. Still, he said, they were incredibly generous and wanted to share what they had with the volunteers.
“The team got a chance to experience charity and be transformed by the experience,” he said. In return, they were heartened by the knowledge that the well will make life a little easier and safer for the residents for many years to come: “This is a gift that will last,” he said.
Mulder said he was particularly affected by a young boy named Joshua who he met a short distance from the well site. With the noise of the hydraulic drill pounding in the background, the boy, with the help of a translator, excitedly told Mulder that volunteers were building a new well for his village.
At first Mulder was surprised that the boy didn’t realize he was one of the volunteers, but then Mulder realized the boy was blind. The two continued talking with the help of the translator, and then Mulder offered to take the child to the well site.
At one point, while Mulder was holding the boy in his arms, the translator stepped away but the boy continued talking to Mulder in Spanish. Finally Mulder said in his elementary Spanish, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying.” At that point, he said, the young boy put his hands over Mulders’ ears and just held him in a tight embrace – and the language didn’t matter.
That embrace is a highlight among the many memories he has of the trip.
“It was amazing how fast and how deep the relationships developed,” he said.
Professionally, he said, it was an opportunity to be on the ground and see the potential challenges, and rewards, of donor-designated, participatory charity work.
“I had a chance, on the ground, to not only experience delivering the service but to see how many things could potentially go wrong,” he said.
Dealing with the fallout of a failed service project is one of Mulder’s research interests. Donors tend to be unforgiving if a nonprofit is unable to deliver as advertised, he said. But after participating in a service project in a developing country, he has an even stronger appreciation for the challenges nonprofits face.
For instance, he said, although the well his group drilled went as planned, a group that set out a week later had to change plans mid-way through the project. After two days of drilling, he said, the well came up dry.
“Absolutely, stuff can happen,” he said. “Charities often work in remote areas with little infrastructure and in less than ideal or even harsh working conditions. I want charities to succeed in their mission, and that’s why helping charities understand (and prevent) negative donor responses is so critical.”
Changes upset donors
Complaints harm organizations
Stuff can happen which may be beyond the control of the charity, Mulder said.