A Dream of Clean Water for El Recreo

“Here I am Lord”

Dennis Henderson has a dream of clean water for El Recreo

By Dena Forret

Dennis Henderson made his first trip to El Salvador three years ago. He will never forget his feelings of helplessness, frustration, sadness and pain after meeting the people of El Recreo. Dennis said, “On the plane, I cried all the way home. It tears your heart out. It is so sad.”


Dennis and his wife, Joanne (below), have made several trips to El Salvador. Dennis said, “At first the helplessness overwhelms you. You ask yourself, are we doing enough?” During that first week, Dennis, overwhelmed with the enormity of what he saw, asked Fr. Vince, “Why do it?” Fr. Vince answered, “We do what we can, one need at a time.” Dennis found a second answer in the eyes of the children. He says, “The children’s eyes tell the story.” The children with their smiles and joyful nature quickly moved into his life. After a few days, Dennis settled into the village and his life began to merge with theirs. Even though there is a language barrier, there is understanding and communication through smiles and touch. Dennis says, “Our compadres generously offer us what little they have and are extremely grateful for our presence in their homeland. The people of El Recreo beg us to come back and would be lost without us. The canton needs the education and the gifts we can provide.”


Do not be mistaken. The El Recreo compadres are a fiercely independent and proud people who do not easily trust new ways of doing things. Dennis’s heart is set on providing clean water for the village. His first idea was to start a tilapia farm as a food source as well as possible income. In January 2015, the water quality was tested. It tested so poorly, that it is not fit for human consumption or fish farming. Yet they drink and cook with this water! Dennis explained, “The water station is fenced and guarded. The water supply is supposed to be treated with chlorine under the direction of salaried directees. A directee is nominated to serve a three year term to oversee the water needs of the canton. The newly nominated directees ceased having the water supply treated. I asked why?” They answered, “It tastes funny. It makes our hair fall out. Our plants turn brown after we pour it on them.” Dennis countered each of these responses with an educated answer to assure them that the chlorine treatment was not harmful.

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Dennis states, “We know people are dying from unsafe water every day in El Salvador. Most affected are children under 5 years old and the elderly. It is so bad; a drop can cause severe illness. We can not even brush our teeth with their water.” He personally saw water stored in the blue water barrels that we have supplied to our compadres, swarming with mosquito larvae. Mosquitoes that have been causing illness in the village. Tilapia farming has been postponed. The emphasis is now on clean water. Dennis has many business associates, including Engineers without Borders, who are willing to help with this effort. He states, “I will work on clean water for El Recreo until I am physically unable to do so.”

On one trip to El Recreo, Dennis accompanied Jerry Burger who was to visit a family in need of one of Jerry’s homes. Matilda and her four children were living in a very small dirt and tin home with only one tree stump for a chair. Melvin, her 21 year-old son, was very ill. Melvin, below, had three siblings, ages 15, 13 and ten years of age. Matilda and her family moved into one of Jerry’s homes. Dennis moved into their lives, providing medical testing and treatment for Melvin. However, Melvin did not live. Dennis said, “The last time I saw him, Melvin’s eyes never left mine. He told Jerry and I thank you for taking care of his mom and gave us huge hugs.”

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Fr. Vince repeatedly tells us, “We are Jesus to others.” There is no mistaking that Dennis and Jerry were that presence to Matilda and her family. Melvin felt Jesus through Dennis’s love and care for him and both lives were richer for it. On that last visit, Melvin’s eyes were showing the deep bond of love and gratitude he felt for Dennis. Dennis says, “To this day, Melvin’s family remains in my heart and is a part of my life.”

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