Episcopal-affiliated Texas Water Mission continues long-term support for safe drinking water, hygiene education projects in Honduras

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Mar 21, 2024

Since Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras in 1998, Diocese of West Texas-affiliated Texas Water Mission has been helping Hondurans access safe drinking water by funding well drilling projects and providing classes on health, sanitation and water hygiene. Photo: Linda Stone

[Episcopal News Service] Honduras Bishop Lloyd Allen was a dean and a priest in Tegucigalpa, the capital, in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch killed at least 7,000 people in the country. In response to the hurricane, which also triggered deadly landslides, Allen and his diocesan colleagues spent several months tending to 23 shelters around the city and providing hot meals for survivors.

“The devastation was such that people didn’t really know what was going to happen and where their next meal was coming from,” Allen told Episcopal News Service. “And the water situation is still a problem because of the lack of resources and a lack of education.”

Hurricane Mitch left 75% of Hondurans without access to potable water, and Honduras is still dealing with unrepaired infrastructure damage more than 25 years later. As a result, waterborne diseases, including cholera, are still rampant throughout the country, especially in rural areas.

After Hurricane Mitch, members of nonprofit organizations and religious institutions visited Honduras to assess what they could do to help, including Episcopalians sponsored by the San Antonio-based Diocese of West Texas. An initial mission trip and additional follow-up visits led to a partnership with the Diocese of Honduras and the development of the Honduras Water Ministry.

With financial support from Episcopal Relief & Development and Living Water International, the ministry purchased a drilling rig and other tools to dig wells in underserved villages. The first three wells were drilled in 2003, and in 2005 the Honduras Water Ministry became the Texas Water Mission, a ministry of the Diocese of West Texas.

Nearly 100 wells have been drilled since 2003, including 30 that are still operational, according to Linda Stone, executive director of Texas Water Mission. It’s now an independent agency but still has an office at the Diocese of West Texas’s Bishop Jones Center in San Antonio and receives diocesan support. Honduras is divided into 18 jurisdictions, called departments, and most of the wells have been drilled in the country’s southeast El Paraíso department. Allen said Texas Water Mission notifies the Diocese of Honduras whenever volunteers, interns or board members plan to visit, or when a new well drilling project has been established.

“Water is the source of life, and so many people don’t have access to safe drinking water,” Stone told ENS. “It’s shocking how many people, children, die of waterborne diseases every year, and how many people have to walk in excess of a mile every day to get their water. It’s huge.”

About 1.4 million people – some 400,000 children under age 5 – die from waterborne diseases annually, according to a 2023 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund.

In Honduras, a rapidly growing population, a lack of basic health care and climate change have slowed down progress. In 2020, Hurricanes Eta and Iota contaminated most water resources in the country’s northwest Santa Bárbara department. Climate scientists attributed the two hurricanes’ volatility to climate change.

“Global warming has had a major effect here because the rivers are drying and whatever water that is running is polluted,” Allen said. “Therefore, we need to not only knock on the doors of the Diocese of West Texas but any other organization who wants to come in and help us, because this is a major undertaking.”

Today, all drilling and maintenance work is completed locally, with Texas Water Mission providing support to its Honduran partners and staying in touch through regular communication via WhatsApp.

Stone is Texas Water Mission’s only staff person; the organization is run by board members, volunteers and interns. The board members meet at least four times a year to evaluate and approve projects, strategize fundraising and distribute funds. Each well costs between $20,000 and $30,000 to install.

When a new well is drilled, local women trained by Texas Water Mission volunteers teach a weeklong class on health, sanitation and water hygiene for the community. Roxana Menes, a native Spanish speaker who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, has helped facilitate class discussions in person since she started volunteering in 2014. While the classes are in session, Texas Water Mission runs a childcare center so that women in the villages can participate.

“Keeping the water safe helps save a lot of people, and it also helps children not be sick all the time,” Stone said. “Not being sick all the time allows the children to go to school, and it allows their mothers to be able to do something out of the house and earn money.”

Allen said he was pleasantly surprised to learn about Texas Water Mission’s water hygiene education component. As someone with a background in pedagogy, education is important to Allen, who is regularly involved with finding scholarships for students to attend any of the seven grade schools operated by the Diocese of Honduras.

“As an educator, I think that education can change the world. Yes, we can feed the people and give them clean water, but all that means nothing if we don’t provide the sanitary education component,” he said.  

Texas Water Mission has also assisted with home filter distribution, rainwater harvesting, collecting water testing kits, spring conservation and other methods to provide access to safe drinking water in the villages. The organization also has a partnership with the Honduran Coffee Alliance and the San Antonio-based Volunteer Coffee micro roaster to sell coffee, with proceeds supporting Texas Water Mission’s projects in Honduras.

For Menes, helping Hondurans access potable water is “active Christian practice.”

“We need to say prayers for one another and for people who are struggling to get water,” she told ENS. “Those people need prayers, but they need more than that. They also need action.”

Outside of Honduras, Texas Water Mission has also worked with the Charleston, South Carolina-based Water Mission nonprofit to install a solar-powered rainwater catchment system at St. Benoit Episcopal Church and School in Mombin Crochu, Haiti. In 2019, Texas Water Mission began collaborating with the three Episcopal churches in Navajoland to address the region’s ongoing fight for water access.

“In the United States, with the exception of some communities, we don’t think about water scarcity,” Menes said. “Having access to clean water is not shared by most of humankind.”

Allen said he’s grateful for organizations like Texas Water Mission responding to the needs of his fellow Hondurans.

“The Texas Water Mission team is doing a great job, and my heart goes out to them for responding to the needs of my fellow brothers and sisters,” he said. “They’re complying with the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.”

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.