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A Letter from Cobbie Palm in the Philippines

JUNE 2012 (2)
Drink for a Cause:
A Ministry of Water

The principle of sustainable ministries empowering communities in need is not an easy principle to achieve.  Sustainable, implying that the ministry is standing on its own and moving forward with resources generated from within the ministry.  Empowering, implying that historical patterns of paternalism and dependency related to an external benefactor are not the lifeline of the ministry. 

The quest to achieve this principle is a passion of mine and experimenting with a variety of models has consumed my time and attention over the many years I have worked as a mission co-worker of the PC(USA) in the Philippines. 

In this letter I will share a successful model we are implementing in the Philippines.  This model evolved out of the very prevalent clean water ministry embraced by many PC(USA) churches.

The ministry of providing clean drinking water by setting up a clean water-processing unit has become a vigorous ministry rushing into developing countries like the Philippines from generous and well-meaning Presbyterian churches throughout the United States.  The value of the water ministry is of great importance because like many places in the world clean drinking water is a vital source of life.   Where I live in the Province of Negros Oriental in the Visayas, diarrhea is ranked 4th among the leading causes of death according to the Dept. of Health. The cause of this illness is always associated with contaminated drinking water.

In 2008 several variables came together to inspire the Drink for a Cause ministry model.  A water ministry team from Advent Presbyterian Church in Cordova, Tennessee, found me through PC(USA) Mission Connections and indicated that they would like to explore partnering with communities in need of clean drinking water.  Excited about the proposal, I encouraged them to visit Silliman University, where I serve, a school started by Presbyterian Mission in 1901.  The visit was meaningful but challenging as we struggled over the approach of the clean water ministry. 

The model that was initially proposed was to identify a community in need and to establish a clean water facility in the community.  In learning more about the facility and the needed technical and financial expertise, those of us in the Philippines were frightened by the burden a clean water facility will place on a community struggling to survive economically. More important, we were frightened by the idea that the facility condemns their water source as permanently contaminated and places dependency on processed water.  In most of the affected communities, the source of their drinking water was once clean but due to community growth, compounded by the lack of sanitation and wastewater management, their drinking water is now contaminated. 

Sharing fears, concerns and wisdom, together we conceived a new model based on four incremental steps: intervention – education – rehabilitation – restoration.  Rather than setting up a clean water facility in each community of need, we would work on the fundamental principle that contaminated water sources can be restored.

Together we agreed to establish Silliman Water Ministry, a clean water processing and education center on the campus of Silliman University with the College of Engineering providing technical expertise, the College of Business Administration providing management expertise, and the Social Work Department providing community education and organizing.

The clean water processing and education center produces Silliman Water, which it sells to the different departments and dormitories of the Silliman University to generate income.  The income generated by Silliman Water is set aside by Silliman University to support the effort of Silliman Water Ministry to respond to communities affected by contaminated drinking water. 

Working with the Social Work Department, Silliman Water is brought to the community as intervention in the crisis of water-borne diseases where illness has broken out.  As parents and families realize the important of clean drinking water to the improvement of their health, they are organized with education about sanitation and wastewater management with the goal of restoring their source of drinking water to its drinkable state.  The community takes steps in designing their approach to sanitation and wastewater management and as a community works on implementing the design.

The process takes times, but slowly Silliman Water Ministry is seeing both young and old in communities growing more aware and conscientious about caring for their drinking water sources with the reduction of water-borne illnesses brought about by the intervention of Silliman Water.  There has already been success in seeing how an institution by purchasing water can generate the resources to reach out to communities in need. There is also success in seeing how communities have come together realizing the value of clean drinking water and are working to restore the sources of their drinking water.

The ultimate success we are working and praying for is when the source of the community drinking water is restored to a safe level for drinking.  We are patient and have faith that the clean water will come around one day.

Sincerely yours,

Cobbie Palm


The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 203

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