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Marguerita Quintana. Behind her one of the toilets beside the community centre, all built by the women of San Elizario.

Marguerita Quintana: on building her own water system

Marguerita Quintana lives in a shanty town, San Elizario, on the outskirts of El Paso, Texas, with her husband and three sons.

She is one of a group of women who have physically built their own community centre.

Together, the women are installing water and sewage systems. As she told BBC World Service before that, everyone in the area was living with a minimal water supply.

Related audio:
Marguerita describes her life with limited water
Source: Politics of Water, programme 1, US/Mexico border, (June 2003)

"In the morning I used to get up and go to my neighbours and borrow a bucket of water so that I could start cooking for my children.

"If I wanted to use the bathroom, I would have to run to the church or maybe to my neighbour to see if they would let me use their bathroom. In the afternoon I would have to do the same for my children and see if I could bathe them.

"Usually I would have two buckets of water. This is how I could cook, and this is the water I would use to wash my clothes."

Eventually the women were so fed up of the water authorities telling them they were going to have water and sewage works installed and never doing anything about it, they decided to take matters into their own hands.

They got together and worked as unpaid volunteers and built the centre themselves.

One of the women’s husbands is a builder. He taught them the skills they needed. They were used to building. They had built their own homes.

Raising the money

When building sewage systems, the women raised money to buy septic tanks for the area, and were taught how to install them.

They raised the money for this project through various fundraising activities with individuals and local companies.

They got free legal help from a local advocate who grew up and still lives in San Elizario. She helped fight for the town's rights to a water system.

A fantastic success

The centre was initially set up to get families water and sewage. The centre has now expanded to include exercise classes, basic health care classes and the women are now constructing a library for their children.

The project has been a fantastic success. Most of the residents of San Elizario now have a water supply and sewage disposal.

People from neighbouring towns have visited the community centre to get ideas about how to set up similar schemes to help their communities.

The community centre and the water and sewage systems have changed Marguerita’s life immeasurably. She now has enough water for the family to wash, cook, and drink.

While this is largely a success story there are some remaining concerns. A drought in the area would limit the supply and increase the cost of water.

There is also a fear that if underground water supplies need to be used during a drought they might be too salty for human consumption. The costs of desalination plants in the area are high.

Listen to the radio series:
The Politics of Water - part 1

BBC World Service Online spoke to Marguerita Quintana in February 2003

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