Building Coalitions Across Oceans: Helping Bring Clean Water to Over 100,000 People in Guatemala

Daily Point of Light # 7584 Jun 28, 2023

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Bob Swope. Read his story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.  

Bob Swope is the retired owner and operator of a Ford dealership in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. But during retirement, he has found himself in the role of a lifetime: helping bring clean water to communities in Guatemala that have no access to it. 

Since 2007, Bob has led the Living Waters Guatemala Partnership team, a philanthropy that trains, equips and supports volunteers in forming global, clean-water mission partnerships.​  

To date, Bob and his teams have installed over 30 water systems in Guatemala – a record among all of the teams in the organization. It’s estimated that over 100,000 people in western Guatemala now have access to affordable clean water for the first time, just from these 30 systems. 

Bob is responsible for communicating with partners in Guatemala, recruiting and training team members, arranging all trip details, fundraising and much more. 

“I help with partnership development – locating good partners in communities that need access to clean water, site assessments and development of the relationships with our partners. That relationship development is so essential for the sustainability of the project,” Bob shared.

The team with some of the children and volunteers at a waterfall outside a village. The water looks clean, but it is not safe to drink./Courtesy Bob Swope

In fact, Bob and his team make return trips multiple times a year to ensure their partners in Guatemala feel supported, equipped and encouraged. During the COVID travel restrictions, they maintained communication with these partners virtually.   

“We want to make sure these water purification systems we install continue to provide clean water in the community for many, many years. Generations, even,” Bob said. “We go back and visit them as often as possible, continue to provide additional training and any kind of maintenance assistance, and encourage them to keep doing great work!” 

Bob was first moved to this mission a decade before he retired from automobile sales, when the Elizabethtown Rotary Club he was a member of decided to do an international water project. While Bob didn’t know anything about water projects, he was intrigued by the opportunity to travel abroad. Quickly, he became passionate about the cause. Eventually, he moved into the team leader role and has now visited Guatemala somewhere between 30 and 40 times – even he’s lost count! 

The water purification systems are installed in remote villages in Guatemala, places in the Western highlands that had no access to clean water until Bob and his team started arriving. Along with the installation of the systems, the team also teaches the communities health and hygiene practices, as well as how to use the water and keep it from contamination. 

Bob remembers learning on his first trip that the infant mortality rate in Guatemala is one of the highest in the world and that one in five children never see their fifth birthday. This is largely due to contaminated water. “That trip changed my life,” he said. 

The water purification system in El Boquerón, and operators with the first batch of purified water./Courtesy Bob Swope

In addition to the 30 systems already installed, Bob and his team have two more water filtration system installation plans for communities currently in the works. 

“There’s just a tremendous amount of need in the world,” Bob expressed. “Needs of all different kinds. I just happen to be interested in sharing the gift of clean water. We take clean water for granted in this country – we flush our toilets, water our lawns, wash our cars with purified water – while millions of children around the world are getting sick every day because their water is contaminated.” 

Bob is honored to receive the Daily Point of Light Award, but insists that he doesn’t deserve it on his own. “Our team makes all of this happen,” he shared. “We have a very dedicated team of volunteers that travel with me to Guatemala, that do the hard work. I’m just one of the members of the team, but all of the other roles are just as important. The team deserves this award.” 

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Bob? Find local volunteer opportunities 

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