When Maria Lopez decided to move in with her husband’s family to the rural community of Nueva Esperanza in San Antonio de Cortés, Honduras, the residents there were on the verge of naming it "El Olvido"- the forgotten place. They needed water and weren’t getting the support they needed from the government. They felt neglected and forgotten.
"I had come from a place where there was plenty of water," Maria explained. "Here there was no place to bathe or even drink water. The children where the ones who suffered the most. At times they went hungry, because they did not have the water to properly cook their food."
Nueva Ezperanza had a rudimentary water system that could provide minimal water services for four families, but nowhere near enough for the whole community. During the summer when water was scarce, the residents would have to make an hour trek up to three times a week to the nearest stream to fetch water and clean their clothes. Others would buy water from the closest town, but it was costly and burdensome to bring the water back to their homes.
"This solution would waste time and made it difficult to prosper," Maria shares. "We were spending all our money on the most basic substance – water."
When she realized how dire the situation was, Maria met with her neighbors and created a committee that would address water concerns. She started as the secretary, but soon became the committee leader.
To add to her responsibilities, Maria also had a baby with health complications around the time she started the committee. However, she knew that to improve her community and her baby’s wellbeing she would have find the help necessary for Nueva Esperanza.
"You have to fight to make things happen until you see a change," Maria said.
The newly created committee asked major authorities for help but received no response. The committee eventually made it into the district mayor’s office, but he would only provide assistance if they would vote for him and support his political causes.
Door after door closed on them, until they were eventually referred to Water For People. When Maria arrived at the Water For People office, she learned about how Water For People would work together with her community to respond to water challenges.
"It was as if they were waiting for us there," Maria shared. "Eight days after asking Water For People for help they came with technicians to make measurements. They said they’d be back in a month, and sure enough they were."
Water For People helped supply the materials, engineers, and contractors to complete the project, but the community still needed the support of the district mayor. Eventually, a new candidate who was sympathetic and understood the seriousness of the crises ran and was elected mayor.
With the additional support from the district government, the community members installed a water system, which now reliably provides water services for Nueva Esperanza. The community has experienced huge changes. People are more relaxed because they’re not fighting for water. Kids are happier, healthier, and miss less school. And having abundant water allows community members to mix concrete which has meant they can build better homes.
Maria vowed she wouldn’t have another child if the village didn’t have water. She is now expecting her second child.
"He will have a different life than my first son," Maria reflects. "I didn’t want to have another child who would come to this community and have to suffer."
After facilitating reliable water services, Maria wanted to continue improving her life and her home. Water For People helped her obtain a small loan from a local microfinance institution that allowed her to build her own bathroom with a new toilet and shower.
"Our focus is to give low-interest loans for rural families with low economic access to make investments in making their lives better," explains Mignodio Lopez, a loan officer with the microfinance institution. "In the case of Maria, we hope to keep on supporting her as she continues to construct her bathroom and improve her house."
Once Maria took out the loan and started construction, her neighbors saw the improvements and also decided to apply for loans. Maria continues to lead through example and always has inspiring words for those who face water and sanitation crises.
"I would tell people to keep on fighting for water, for what gives us life," she shares passionately. "And if you see the chance to fight to help people who are struggling, fight with all you’ve got."
Thanks to the collaboration of the community, the local government, and Water For People, the community that was almost named "The Forgotten Place" chose to keep its current and more appropriate name, Nueva Esperanza – "New Hope." And that’s what Maria keeps on fighting for: a place where people have clean water and hope for a better future.