Vassar Today

Wishing Well: Maria Jose Mendez '10

By Vassar Quarterly

According to the World Health Organization, 1.1 billion people — nearly 20 percent of the world’s population — lack access to safe drinking water. This staggering number hits close to home for Maria Méndez ’10, a native of Honduras. After learning of her grandfather’s frustration trying to convince the local government to fund a water project in the community of El Ciruelo, Méndez was struck by an idea.

The Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace fund annually awards students a total of $1 million to create and implement peace-building ideas throughout the world. Determined to make a difference, Méndez submitted a proposal outlining the financial hardship and daily struggles of El Ciruelo’s 500 residents. Thanks to her efforts, Méndez was awarded $10,000 and spent the summer building a new well and water system to deliver clean water to every house in the village.

“It was extremely rewarding to know that the hopes and effort we’d put into designing the project would materialize,” says Méndez, who credits the Vassar course Water and Cities with sparking her interest in water problems. “The course inspired me to propose a project to reduce some of these impacts, at least in one small community in my country.”

Assisted by 16 members of the village council, she spearheaded an effort to build a new 10-meter-deep well, plus install a water pump, piping system, and 10,000-gallon water tank on top of a neighboring hill. She cites this elaborate technical work as “the biggest challenge,” but worked with people who specialize in well construction. The project was also integrated with an educational campaign on water conservation.

“The thought of giving something back to the people who have been so constitutive of my visions and identity really motivates me,” she says. “It’s important to move beyond the simple assertion that there are problems here and to instead take part in the solutions.”

— Beth Trickett

A version of this article originally appeared in the summer 2009 issue of What’s Happening at Vassar?

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maria José Méndez '10
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