Gary and Angie Bartholomew could not have known when they adopted a 6-year-old girl orphaned by civil war that so much of their own lives would be invested one day in their daughter’s native land.
It didn’t happen all at once. In fact, it was 12 years after adopting the girl they named Summer before the couple visited Guatemala.
The Spokane couple arrived in 1997 to help make improvements at the orphanage near Poptún that took the girl in, after she was found by an army officer in the burning rubble of her village.
They have been back every year since, doing what they can to improve the lives of people victimized by poverty and social injustice.
“We have a lot to be thankful for in this country,” Gary Bartholomew said. “Why not share?”
The owner of Bartholomew Pump Service, who got his start in business drilling water wells, installs water well pump systems in the Spokane area. Business slows down in the winter months, so he travels each year to Petén province in northern Guatemala.
He has installed electric and sewer lines and built cabinets for the orphanage – a compound of 10 homes housing about 150 children – founded by International Children’s Care, a Seventh-day Adventist organization.
But Bartholomew realized what Los Pinos, a nearby vocational school, and the surrounding villages needed most was clean water. The area is prone to amoebic dysentery and E. coli infection.
Since January 2004, the Bartholomews and as many as 40 family and friends have installed about a dozen wells in the area. Each well provides water for hundreds of people.
The group, which has been receiving donations through the auspices of International Children’s Care, is obtaining its own nonprofit status for the organization that calls itself Water for Life.
They began drilling after receiving a drilling rig, which was donated by a Mennonite family in Oregon. The easily repairable cable drill is mounted on a 1942 GMC 6x6 military vehicle.
But even after Bartholomew’s group paid shipping expenses to bring the rig and a 40-foot container full of supplies into Guatemala for an obvious mission of mercy, it also was required to pay more than $10,000 in customs and permits, according to Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen, a member of the group who recently returned from Los Pinos.
Last year, Rasmussen said, the local mayor pulled some strings to help them get a second rig and container into Guatemala for only $7,000. But with a new mayor-elect to take over soon, it’s anybody’s guess how much customs will cost the group when it returns this January to build another well.
“It’s hard to get a promise you can depend on,” Rasmussen said. “As far as they are concerned anyone from the U.S. is rich.”
Rasmussen and his wife, Annette, became involved in the project though their acquaintance with Gary Bartholomew.
“It’s a source of joy and satisfaction to be involved in helping people in such important and concrete ways,” the prosecutor said.
In the past two years, the Bartholomews and friends have constructed two 40,000-gallon water reservoirs, one at the orphanage and one at the school, mixing concrete on site.
The Bartholomews have sponsored two children raised in the Los Pinos orphanage; one has attended college and returned to teach in the school in Poptún. The other attends seventh grade there. Summer Bartholomew, an Eastern Washington University graduate in social work, is now married with a daughter of her own.