Have you ever thought about where your water comes from and how many people are involved in bringing it to your faucet?
Recently, out of curiosity, I headed off with Don Omar in his water truck. Don Omar is a pretty successful businessman in Santo Tomas; he owns a small farm and also owns a water delivery service called Transportes Rodriguez. Starting work at 6:20 a.m., we headed to a farm nearby to use its deep well to fill up the 55 barrel truck for the first run of the morning. We then headed to a small colonia (the romanticized word for a small neighborhood on the outskirts of a small town) where “not much water falls”. We drove through the Municipalidad de Magdelana Milpas Altas, heading out one of the only roads leading toward the mountain, across a small bridge and through fields and fields of corn before we finally reached the colonia. Somehow, Don Omar’s Tigo clad water truck made it up the steep hill at the entrance and through a narrow gap between the trees before we began delivering water house by house
As we went along, I learned about the fascinating history of this small colonia of about 700 people. The neighborhood, creatively named “El Once de Augusto” was founded on the eleventh of August. Positioned on the side of a mountain, it is a very impoverished place, with dirt floors and muddy, rut covered streets. This undesirable land was formerly owned by the municipality until, on the eleventh of August following Hurricane Mitch, the government of Santa Lucia Milpas Altas purchased land from neighboring Magdelena for its constituents whose homes were destroyed in a landslide caused by deforestation. Now, the area faces problems because its position is such that no water falls into the local cisterns and the residents must purchase water from Don Omar in order to eat and bathe. Although the mayor of Santa Lucia built a public pila for washing clothes, it is void of water and the residents of the Eleventh of August wash their clothes in a nearby river.
Following our adventure in The Eleventh of August, Don Omar and I headed to San Lucas where we delivered water to a local machine shop business that uses three trucks of water a week to cool its machinery. We then refilled the truck again and headed off to the Escuela Official Rural Mixta de Santa Lucia, where the mayor is constructing a new wing of the school. Because little water falls there, too, the foreman of the project called Transportes Rodriguez to bring the water for the site. This was Don Omar’s third trip to the site in two days. It’s pretty hard to construct concrete buildings when there’s a short water supply. It turns out this was the trip where the truck was needed to wet the base layer of concrete before they laid the flooring layer so it would form a tighter bond. Little did I know that Don Omar kept a fire hose behind the driver’s seat for occasions like that. What I had thought was a residential water truck quickly transformed into construction equipment.
Don Omar makes a pretty good profit on his water truck business and is very close to paying off his “low interest rate” loan of 20%, in just 8 years. Don Omar’s water transportation service turns out to be one of the best cases of entrepreneurship I’ve seen in Guatemala so far. He took out a loan for his first truck and started a water service some fifteen years ago. Following an accident five years ago, he is very close to paying off his second bank loan. He eventually hopes to purchase a second truck so that he can hire a driver to run a similar service in nearby San Lucas.
Don Omar seems to be the perfect example of small scale entrepreneurship. He saw that communities desperately needed water and were willing to pay substantial amounts for it. He found a reliable water source and took out a loan to pay for the truck. He created a business based on his network in Santo Tomas, Santa Lucia, and Magdalena delivering an essential service for a reasonable price. He even diversified his customer base to include construction sites and commercial facilities to provide a more constant and consistent customer base. He has even been developing plans for expanding his business in order to reach more customers and provide more income for his family, while employing more members of his community. Never did I think I would learn so much from riding a water truck all day!