The 1994 Austintown Fitch grad vows to make the wish for water come true for one tiny village.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- In El Progreso, a little farming village in El Salvador, children as young as 6 carry a heavy load -- all of the water their families will use in a day.
Barefooted and hungry, they walk along rocky dirt roads lugging huge pottery jars. The trip takes 30 minutes, one way.
Once they reach their destination, the children submerge their jars, allowing the murky gray water to run in through a wide opening in the top. The water collects in a pit, runoff from farm fields. It is contaminated with pesticides, herbicides and the larvae of parasites.
Daniel Pappalardo, a 1994 graduate of Austintown Fitch and missionary who's been in El Progreso since last January, hopes to rid the children of the backbreaking job, and the ailments tied to the bad water.
He wants to build a pipeline that will carry clean water from a source five miles away. The project will cost $100,000. To raise the funds, Pappalardo is in the area speaking at churches and schools.
"My goal is not just to raise the money," he said, "I want to share the story."
Difficult life: When those water jars are filled, the children heave them out of the pit and onto their heads. The jars often weigh 30 or 40 pounds, more than half of what many of the children weigh. They then make the trip back to their village following the same route.
The water is used for drinking, cooking and washing. There are no kitchen sinks, showers or flush toilets in El Progreso. Laundry is washed in the river, a 40-minute walk from the village.
A layer of dusty grime covers everything, road dust stirred up by the breeze. Flies blanket kitchen tables and counters where corn tortillas and red beans are prepared. Naked babies, bellies bulging from parasitic infections, ride on the hips of their older siblings. Children are left to fend for themselves while parents work the fields, eking out meager livings.
In recent years, living conditions for the 175 families who live in the village have improved dramatically. Electricity was installed in El Progreso in 1997, providing access to 80 percent of the homes.
A school was built in 1998 and offers hope for a brighter future to children who never had an opportunity to learn to read -- work still keeps children from attending school for more than four hours a day.
Despite the improvements, villagers frequently suffer from illnesses caused by consuming contaminated water or the lack of cleanliness. Diarrhea, herpes, parasites, influenza and head lice are commonplace.
Background: Pappalardo, who earned a degree in physical therapy from Bowling Green State University, became interested in missionary work during his junior year in college and volunteered to spend a year in El Salvador working with the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. Since then, he's signed on to stay in El Salvador at least six more months.
So far, he's raised $13,000, including $4,000 from St. Joseph's Parish in Austintown. One hundred percent of the money raised will go directly toward building the pipeline.
How to donate: Contributions should be sent to Project Wish, c/o St. Joseph's Parish, 4545 New Road, Austintown 44515. Checks should be made payable to Project Wish. For more information, visit www.geocities.com/H2Oishere/index.htm.
How long it will take to raise the funds required for the project is uncertain but, Pappalardo said, "I will work on this until there is water in the village whether it takes one year or 20."
During his visit here, Pappalardo is also hoping to find an engineer who would volunteer services to design the pipeline. He will return to El Salvador on Jan. 22.