by TJ McCloud, Missions Coordinator
“I couldn’t help but notice a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old. I was stunned as she carried a bulky, heavy vase of water on her back all the way up this steep hill. I continued to watch in disbelief as she made her way to the top and around the ridge, an amazing distance for such a little girl, carrying such a load. This is when I began to realize the value of clean, accessible water.” - Jake Morgan (’11)
A few years ago, very few Americans had heard of the Ulpan Valley, in Guatemala. A mountainous area in central Guatemala rarely visited by tourists, much of its population is non Spanish-speaking, and from Mayan indigenous tribal roots. Those few gringos who do know anything about the Ulpan Valley know it as the “Corridor of Death”, named for the distinction of having one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world.
A moniker like that can make people think twice about visiting, but in 2008, when an opportunity surfaced to meet a need for clean water and health care access in the area, a small engineering team from Lipscomb Missions and Otter Creek Church jumped at the chance to see how they could help. Out of this initial survey was born “Project Ulpan”, a ground-breaking partnership between Lipscomb Missions and the Guatemalan non-profit, CAFNIMA. Guided by CAFNIMA and the local Mayan community leaders, Lipscomb Missions began mobilizing half a dozen medical and engineering teams each year to the area, eventually sending Missions Coordinator Kris Hatchell, along with his wife, DeeDee, to serve a two-year post as a field coordinator for the project. Soon after, Otter Creek sent water resources engineer Kevin Colvett, along with his young family, as a one-year representative, advisor and project coordinator.
Over a period of five years, Lipscomb Missions and its partners have provided dozens of clean water sources throughout the Ulpan Valley’s network of villages. From a humble base camp in the first year, to a system of multi-purpose buildings that serve as clinics, training facilities, and community gathering spaces, teams have helped to build an amazing amount of critical infrastructure in this extremely remote area. Where access to roads and medical care was difficult, Lipscomb Engineering students designed and built three dependable, heavy-duty suspension bridges, including a bridge where a local child and father fell from the previous makeshift bridge and drowned in the river below. Lipscomb Engineering professor Kerry Patterson has been instrumental in helping to guide the design and installation process for many of the projects. “The biggest thing for me was getting to see our students giving themselves to Kingdom work, using their professional skills and being captured themselves by God’s plan for serving other people,” he said. “It’s just that whole thing of being an engineer, having skills and being able to use those in Kingdom related endeavors that kind of brings the whole Lipscomb experience together into something really concrete.” Obviously, Lipscomb student’s lives were changed as much or more than any of the Valley’s residents.
Medical and dental care, including health education, is much more accessible in the area, thanks to health promoters and medical teams, led by bible professor and Otter Creek missionary Steve Sherman and his wife, Magda.
Moreover, one of the largest components of Project Ulpan has been sustainability; as the teams are invited, guided, and assisted in each of these projects by the local communites. As a field coordinator, Hatchell spent much of his time training people in the communities to do the jobs necessary to maintain all the infrastructure improvements that had been introduced. Kris describes his feelings as he watched one of his trainees show off his new skills, “I was able to just watch him train other people. I didn’t help. It was an extraordinary moment.”
With 5 years of successful partnership in the Ulpan Valley and thousands of lives directly impacted by the continuing work of Project Ulpan, there are new areas nearby that are being assessed for future projects, as well. These future projects, too, would be opportunities for partnership from multiple angles, and a broad community of talents and skills. As Kevin Colvett thinks about what he has learned from his own involvement, he says “It’s hard to measure, but the communities where people work together on things… they’re just better off. You can just see it - there’s a different atmosphere. A sense of community makes a very big difference in the outcome”.
A brief look at the success of Lipscomb Missions’ work, coordinated with a myriad of partners in and out of the Ulpan Valley, and that becomes beautifully obvious. Venture into the Ulpan Valley with us at DISCOVER on November 4. RSVP today!