Lynden grandparents Don and Jean Beckman hadn't traveled outside of North America before the day they raised their hands in response to a call for volunteers at Bellingham's Christ the Servant Lutheran Church.
The couple, both 57, made their first trip to Honduras in 2011, and have made four more since, working on clean-water projects with their church's Deep Waters group, and with a bilingual school they recently founded. They anticipate many more trips.
Don is a longtime local large-animal veterinarian and Jean is retired from the business office at Lynden School District.
Question: What motivated you to serve a Third World country for the first time in middle age?
Jean: We had been busy raising our family in Lynden and working for many years. In one of our adult Sunday School classes, Deep Waters called for volunteers and we raised our hands. We work with an international organization, Living Waters for the World, which installed 70 clean-water systems in 14 countries in 2012.
Q: Were you worried about danger?
Don: We knew crime was endemic in Honduras, and poverty, too. Safety was a question, so we read up as much as possible. A lot of missions go forth in Honduras and we just thought it was the right place at the right time for us. We hire local folks to be our guides and translators.
Q: What's your focus in Honduras?
Jean: We don't dig wells. What our groups focus on is the installation of systems to provide clean water.
Q: What was your first trip like?
Don: It was in May 2011 with more experienced people. We put in a clean-water installation in the 400-person farming village of La Cosecha.
Jean: I'll always remember how one of the men from the village of El Triunfo, Dennis Lazzo, came to the celebration of our first installation. He rode a bicycle in 100-degree heat 50 miles each way. All he said was, "Please don't forget about us in El Triunfo."
Our second installation was at a high school of 5,000 students in the city of El Progreso. That was in August 2012. In November, we went to El Triunfo for an installation. Tests had showed arsenic in the water, making it a lot more complicated project. Don researched this problem for hundreds of hours.
Don: We put in what's called a reverse osmosis system. This was the first time a project affiliated with Living Waters of the World had removed arsenic.
Q: How do the residents use their clean water?
Jean: They bottle the clean water in five-gallon jugs and use it for drinking, cooking, caring for babies and brushing teeth. We (Deep Waters and Living Waters) require that the villagers sell the jugs at half-cost or less, and also give away a percentage of the water to poor schoolchildren and families who can't afford clean water.
Q: What about your other project?
Don: We've partnered with a principal/teacher to start a private bilingual Christian school. Classes started Feb. 1.
Jean: The work is with children from babies to first-graders, who will stay involved through sixth grade. This way, they will grow up learning English along with Spanish.
Q: Would you recommend clean water work to others?
Jean: Absolutely! This puts your life in perspective. I don't take clean water for granted now. For example, I don't let the water run while I'm brushing my teeth.
Don: I look at it all as a grand adventure.
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Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.