Water, water everywhere, no fresh water to drink

Dean Cormack

The Reverend Dean Cormack, Rector of St. John’s Winona and Chaplain at San Gabriel Hamilton is on a leave of absence (up to six months) to seize an international mission opportunity serving the Bishop and Diocese of Cuba as a volunteer. Dean plans to write regularly from Cuba for the Niagara Anglican.

Dear Niagara Anglican reader:

After arriving in Matanzas, Cuba, it is apparent water is still a huge concern.

I met the neighbourhood paediatrician, around 70 years old, who rides 10 miles daily to a clinic in an outlying neighbourhood in Matanzas.

He knows disease carried by impure drinking water is a huge problem, especially with the young and vulnerable. The doctor confirmed that no fresh water and a diet with little or no nutrition have led to a spike in kidney diseases, thyroid cancers and related conditions.

Through Bishop Griselda’s vision and generous donations from churches, organizations and individuals, the Cuban church has managed to provide UV filtration systems and fresh water to about 25 or half the Episcopal churches.

I hope to see what we in Niagara can do to aid.

During my intern ministry here three years ago, Bishop Griselda and I toured over 20 towns, churches and home sites. Our two-week car ride allowed me to see the need and get a feel for possible equipment needed.

My previous profession gave me a small bit of expertise in hydraulics and filtration. With my connections at home we are using the resources of a friend’s company that deals with hydraulic filtration systems.

Late one night, we stopped by the paediatrician’s house to pick up his empty drinking water containers to take to the church to refill. Some church tourists, including Michael Pollack, were staying at the church. A mechanical and biological engineer from New York, Michael — a volunteer — has been supplying and installing systems here.

Cuba letter Dean C
Dean Cormack (far right) hosted a group from St Mark’s Niagara-on-the- Lake. They toured the Cathedral, were served lunch by the Cathedral kitchen and returned on Sunday to celebrate mass. Dean said, “I told them it was a long way to come for lunch with the priest from Winona.” Photo: Dean Cormack

Our chance meeting in a little room was certainly divine intervention. We discussed system design, hydraulic challenges, procurement, transportation, installation and technical advances in solar power.

We met in Havana the following week for over three hours before Michael returned home with 20 water samples. This sharing of information and technical resources will help Michael continue his marvellous work. In January I hope to accompany his team to install two more systems in a remote part of the country.

Dr. Pepe Bringas, Director General of Resource Allocation and Ministry for the Cuban Diocese, also attended our meeting. We discussed a way to allocate donations made to the water project through Pepe in coordination with Michael, so that every dollar will be strategically used to fund systems in priority of need. This falls under their developing new program ABCD, Asset Based Community Development.

Bishop Griselda’s vision will be further helped by their renewed admission to the US Episcopal Church. Disaster relief assets and water system replacement parts will be warehoused regionally. Discussions to coordinate our diocesan efforts with a national campaign for funding more systems are ongoing.

My first official duty was hosting, on behalf of Bishop Griselda who was out of the country, a group from St. Mark’s Niagara-on-the-Lake. I told them it was a long way to come for lunch with the priest from Winona. I gave them a tour of the Cathedral, with Dean Jose Gutierrez providing historical information.

As I travel today, I see more small private restaurants and Airbnb signs. I was here when President Obama opened talks with Raul Castro. The mood was ecstatic. Talk of relaxation of parts of the embargo sparked thoughts of American visitors, dollars and goods being allowed back to the island.

I was told in preparation for the increase in traffic, the government issued more licences for taxis, restaurants, rooms and tourist related services. Today with the change in US administration, the outlook for relaxing relations is distant and people realize it. Government licenses have stopped, and everyone waits to see what will happen.

If you have ever been here you may complain about first world problems like bland food, but the people will give you everything they have. They will light a spark in you that will make you realize what we need is each other. Each in their own way, they live the gospel outside the Church doors everyday. Jesus said we have all we need to be disciples.

My prayer is to help bring the gift of fresh water to these remote communities.
The need is great, but the impact of clean drinkable water is immediate.

God bless.

P.S: Lots of renovations, painting and reconstruction going on in Havana in preparation for 2019, the 500 year anniversary of the city. Next year would be an excellent time to visit.