Water for San Pedro de Casta

Gainesville women " vacation' in Andean town for a cause

By Evvy Struzynski
Published: Saturday, October 29, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.

The ideal vacation is rarely one where water is a precious commodity. Resort destinations don' t usually advertise vacationers digging a well, educating school children and traveling on a treacherous, one-lane road in the only vehicle in the village. But for some, to sunbathe on a beach just doesn' t cut it.

Three Gainesville women recently returned from a "volunteer vacation" to San Pedro de Casta, Peru, where they worked in rustic conditions for one week helping dig and build a well and teaching children English.

But their work just scratched the surface, and on their return, the women decided to host a fundraiser for the 999 residents of the small village. "Bring Water to San Pedro de Casta" is scheduled from 7 to 10 p.m. Nov. 4 at the United Church of Gainesville.

Beth Karbe, an acupuncturist and herbalist, said she and her friends worked from dawn to dusk and stayed in a hotel with little water and no heat in the Andes Mountains.

"If you could call it a hotel, it was more like a building," she said. "There were no showers and the toilet only flushed every three or four times."

San Pedro de Casta, which is at an elevation of 12,000 feet, is only 50 miles east of Lima, Peru' s capital, but it takes 5 ½ hours to get there due to its remote location.

Karbe said she discovered the volunteer vacation after her first trip to Peru, where she traveled on her own to an orphanage that housed 50 young children. On her second trip in August, she traveled through Globe Aware, a U.S. based non-profit organization that arranges supervised volunteer vacations all over the world to "promote cultural awareness and sustainability," according to its mission statement. This time she traveled with two other Gainesville women, Judy Keathley and Carol Barron.

About 30 percent of San Pedro' s residents are children, and about 80 percent of them are malnourished, according to Karbe. The lack of water means little grass for cows to feed on, which in turn causes the animals to fail to produce milk.

The absence of water creates other difficulties as well, such as sanitation.

Two members on the trip were sick with dysentery, and had to walk a mile to the well to get fresh water, said Barron, the director of construction for Alachua County Habitat for Humanity.

"It was primitive and very intense," she said. "The people there that were 40 looked 65 because they' re so dehydrated."

Barron said that for more than 50 percent of their trip there was no running water, and for the other half of the time the water was freezing.

Karbe said the now dry town was previously a lush plateau, but climate change and global warming has resulted in water becoming scarce.

Karbe said the women were unsatisfied with their progress by the end of the week and wanted to help more.

"As hard as we worked, we didn' t really accomplish that much."

So to compensate, they' ve planned a fundraiser with a goal of raising $22,000 to bring an irrigation and water system to the town.

The "Bring Water to San Pedro" fundraiser includes wine and cheese, a silent auction and live performances of Peruvian music. Tickets cost $35, or for those who are unable to attend the event, a monetary donation can be sent electronically to the Bring Water to San Pedro de Casta Project at the Internet link, Globeaware.org/sponsor-volunteer-vacationer and enter "Bring Water to San Pedro" in the field.

The cost of the trip ' not including airfare to Peru, which the women paid for themselves ' covered food, guides, travel costs within the country, tools and their gift to the area ' a water heater for the local school.

Karbe said there are no volunteers scheduled for travel to Peru for the next year, likely due to the rustic living conditions.

"Every time I turn the water on to brush my teeth, I' m grateful," Karbe said.

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