Mary Meyers and the Water with Blessings Story
Mary Meyers surrounded by her supportive family
Mary Meyers, parishioner of St. Jude Parish in New Lenox, and veteran missioner of Bolivia, the Navajo Nation, and Natural Disaster Team, was presented with the St. Francis Xavier Award at the annual Faith Promise Dinner on November 6, 2015. As part of her acceptance speech, Mary shared the story of the growth of the Water with Blessings ministry which she was instrumental in introducing to our organization.
"After my first trip to Sucre, I wondered, “Why in this day and age, don’t these people have clean water?” In retrospect, I think that was God letting me know that Water With Blessings was in my future.
In 2013, after finishing our work on Marta’s house, a particularly physically challenging project, Maryellen Thomas said to me, “Well, kiddo, I think this is my last year, how about you?” I was still on the fence, but that summer I met Sister Larrraine at a conference in Louisville. I had the opportunity to listen to her story about Water With Blessings. She describes WWB as “mothers and missioners partnering in developing countries to bring clean water to God’s thirsty children.” As I listened to her talk about her mission work in Honduras, I thought “This could work in Bolivia.” When I got home I presented the idea to Tom who said “Talk to Bruce and get it started.” I jumped off the fence.
So in April 2013 with the gift of filters from my family, the first 12 water women were formed in Sucre. By divine intervention, the filters were lost for a couple of days. They came to Sucre with the medical supplies but no one remembered seeing them at the hospital. They were found and sent to Linda’s dental office in the hospital. While they sat there, Cimar, Linda’s Bolivian partner, saw them and asked what they were. Linda explained and Cimar said he knew people who could use them. Since we had learned that the nuns we had met last year had been transferred, we were happy to have a new contact.
Sandra took Beth and me to the market for buckets and Linda borrowed a drill from the hotel staff. I said to Linda, “Now we need to find Bruce to drill the holes” and her reply was, “Mary, drilling is what I do for a living.” And so she drilled.
Cimar and his friends, Miguel and Ivan, introduced us to our first water women and have been faithful water brothers ever since. And our Bolivian friend Adrianna, did the first training, teaching the women through the use of the WWB training manual, the importance of clean water and the blessing of being able to share it with others. These women then promised to meet monthly with their group and to filter water for 2-3 neighbors for at least 6 months. Empower, equip and entrust are the threads that anchor this program model.
With the help of family, friends, fellow missioners, and the Joliet Franciscan community, we were able to empower and equip 40 more women in 2014.
That year we traveled to Presto, 2 hours away, where the water comes out of the faucet brown and to Yotala where their water comes from a river which receives the sewage fromSucre. In Yotala the water is turned on every other day for 4 hours. With Kathleen’s help we also did a training at Mission Esperanza, a free medical clinic. Liz’ Bolivian friend, Lourdes, took us to Illimani, a barrio out by the airport. Some of these neighborhoods have their water brought in by truck or have wells, neither of which is clean, it is clear but not clean.
In June of 2014 the university students took 10 more filter systems to Mission Esperanza.
2015 was our banner year. We formed 70 more water women and with the help of the new administration at Christ of the Americas Hospital, we are establishing that firm contact base which is so important for growing this ministry. Prosper, the hospital administrator who did one of the trainings, helped us seek out the poorest of the poor. We added an orphanage in Yotala and the very poor town of Tarabuco where the water we filtered came from the river, complete with ants.
In all of these places in the past 3 missions, it has been my privilege and joy to watch these women’s faces change from looks of confusion and doubt when we start the training to smiles accompanied by lots of hugs when we finish.
This past June, Kevin and the university students helped train 30 more water women.
As you can see, establishing WWB in Sucre has been the result of teamwork. Our water brothers Cimar, Miguel and Ivan told me when I thanked them for their help that they do it because we are helping their people. Then there’s Jose my faithful taxi driver who has participated in so many trainings, he gets what I need before I ask for it. The trainings which last 3-4 hours could not have happened without the help of Judy, Beth, Sister Nancy, Liz, Helena and Maryellen who have polished countless little girl’s fingernails, read books, drawn pictures, held babies or whatever it took to keep them occupied while their mothers listened. And thanks to Claire who finished drilling the buckets this year when Bruce was busy. I am particularly grateful to the training facilitators I already mentioned plus Rafael, Lourdes and Jackie.
I don’t know if you have been keeping track of the numbers but Partnership in Mission in partnership with WWB now has 162 water women in the Sucre area. Multiply that by 3, the neighbors the water women reach out to, and we have almost 500 families drinking clean water, perhaps for the first time. Then consider the community building that has happened and their sense of pride and accomplishment.
Besides these Bolivian water women, there are many more in the Philippines. Sister Clarissa was at this dinner tow years ago, the day after the first typhoon hit her country. She looked at the filter system and training manual and said to Mary Jane, we can use this and we sisters can train the women. And they have.
Thank you for this award and special thanks to all who have helped bring Water with Blessings to Sucre."