MCC Photo/Silas Crews

Peter Bergen and his family now have easier access to water through a MCC-supported water project that provided the family with a new 10,000-litre cistern and a new pumping system.

DURANGO COLONY, Bolivia—Life just got a whole lot easier for Peter and Aganethe Bergen and their nine children.

Through a water project supported by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Bolivia, the family now has a new 10,000-litre cistern and a pump powered by a six horse-power gas motor.

 “Without help from MCC things would still be the way they were,” said Peter Bergen.

The Bergen family moved to Bolivia from Paraguay in 1995 and is one of the founding families of this closed, church-governed Mennonite colony in the municipality of Charagua, a hot dry region in southern Bolivia. 

Before installing the MCC system, Bergen said he had managed to earn enough money in Bolivia to pay for the cost of drilling a well that is 47 metres deep—a cost of about $1,000, plus the costs of a 200-litre barrel and horse-drawn cable system.

However, this system was inadequate for the needs of a growing family and a farming operation of 23 head of cattle, four horses, six pigs and 50 chickens.

“If things go well, we could fill the barrel in 15 minutes but if the horse didn’t want to pull the cable it took much longer,” said Bergen. “If we didn’t chase the horse, it would just stand there. And if it was wet and muddy, the horse had a hard time pulling the cable.”

Another problem with the old horse-drawn cable system, he said, is the family depends on horses for all transportation needs and farm work and the barrel could only be filled when a horse was available to do this work.

The Bergen family is among 50 families in Durango Colony that now have easier access to water through this multi-phase water project funded in part by the Canadian International Development Agency.

The project, in its fourth year, assists low income families in the Durango Colony and nearby indigenous Guarani communities with drilling wells, installing 10,000-litre cisterns and pumping systems, and repairing existing water systems.  

A reliable water source also makes possible the growing of more fruits and vegetables. Families will have better food to eat and can sell the excess at local markets for additional income, said MCC worker, Ramont Harder Schrock who is based in Charagua. 

“Things were changing too much in Paraguay,” said Bergen, who owns 17.5 hectares of undeveloped land in the Durango Colony.

Families in the Durango Colony are descendants of a mass migration of 6,000 Old Colony Mennonites who left Canada for Mexico in the 1920s. They migrated in order to preserve their faith, language and culture.

This migration and subsequent moves to new colonies and new countries, like Bolivia, have resulted in hardship and poverty for many families. Shortage of land and disputes within colonies have contributed to families migrating and starting new colonies.

MCC has Low German Mennonite programs in Bolivia, Mexico and Canada. These programs enhance the ability of Mennonite colonies and communities to address issues such as literacy, substance abuse, conflict resolution and the social well-being of women and families.

To learn more about Low German Mennonites and how MCC works with these communities visit mcccanada.ca/lowgerman.

Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada.