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SEAMAY, GUATEMALA -- The beauty of Guatemala hides an unsettling fact. It is a desperately poor country still emerging from 30 years of civil war. In the rugged interior and in the humid highlands, more than 75 percent of the indigenous Maya live in extreme poverty.
"But it will not be that way when we get done," said Elder Don R. Clarke, of the First Quorum of the Seventy in the LDS Church.
Senahu sits high above the Polochic valley in Guatemala and it is where a comprehensive effort is underway to change the lives of the people who live there. In the remote Mayan village life is simple, but it's also hard. Clean water is scarce and most children don't study past the third grade. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is on a humanitarian mission here, working with local charities to bring lasting change to this mountain community.
"We did have a lot of trouble with the water that we had before," said village resident Magdelena Cuz. "It was dirty and made our children sick. I spent almost a year in bed with a stomach ailment from the water that I couldn't get over. Now with the clean water the health of the community is just much better."
The mountain spring is the place where the people of Seamay have come for generations to get their water. It is typically carried by women who get up as early as 4:30 in the morning and hike several miles up a steep and rocky slope to bring water home to their families. But now these same women get can water in their homes from the tap
"Even the water that they had, even if they boiled it, it was still dirty. It still wasn't clean. But now they have good water to drink," said Elder Tayler Larsen of Glenwood Springs Colorado.
"Now that we have water in our homes we are just a much happier people," said Blas Cuz, president of the Seamay Water Committee.
Building the water tank for the village wasn't easy. Villagers had to hike 3 miles up a steep rocky path carrying stacks of cement that weighed as much as one hundred pounds.
"We looked at the problem not as just water," said Elder John F. Curtiss, volunteer humanitarian missionary of the LDS Church. "We looked at health, which was part of water. We looked at education, we looked at economic growth, and we looked at infrastructure growth."
"They're going to do the work. We're going to provide resources to start with. But your investment is going to be more than ours," Clarke said.
"So each family put up some money," said Hermelindo Pop, director of the Seamay Community Development Committee. "Plus, they put up their own labor as well. For some families it was hard. But they did it."
"We're going to see how we make a difference, so that they will never be the same," Clarke said.