Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Festival Aims To Supply Water To Nicaraguan Poor

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special To The Bulletin | Published September 15, 2011
Last year Amigos for Christ nonprofit set a goal to raise funds through its annual music festival to provide clean running water to the Nicaraguan village of El Chonco, whose families were walking miles to collect agua—water—that was contaminated.

Amigos met its goal and then some, collaborating with Catholic and other mission teams from North Georgia and around the country. Alongside Nicaraguans they mixed cement, dug trenches and laid the last two miles of a six-mile water system that is using solar power to serve nearly 300 families. Residents felt spigots gush and quaffed the clean water for the first time.

Now the Buford-based charity has quadrupled its goal and aims to lay 25 miles of pipe to bring 100 to 200 gallons of water daily to homes in 25 more rural communities of Nicaragua, the hemisphere’s second poorest nation. And that mission compels the Amigos staff and 300 volunteers planning the 2011 Celebrate Service Music Festival, to be held Oct. 1 from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Suwanee Town Center Park.

“Last year we set a goal and it happened, it actually happened, to have a water system in El Chonco. … It worked out beautifully through last year’s festival fundraiser,” said Amigos director John Bland. “We are looking forward to what we can provide over this next year. That’s the thing that keeps us motivated. It’s a big deal for everyone, after spending the year working and going to communities that come to us seeking water systems, and going out and seeing how desperate it is when you see people walking miles with a bucket of water.”

Kicking off with a Lake Lanier golf tournament Friday, Sept. 30, the ninth annual festival that last year drew 10,000 people includes a 5-K race, 30-mile bike ride, cornhole, soccer and ultimate Frisbee tournaments, 20 carnival games and 12 jump houses. Bands will play throughout the day, culminating with the Atlanta Rhythm Section.

To fight hunger locally, festivalgoers are encouraged to bring canned goods to stock six local food banks facing shortages.

They “can have fun and they can do something good for other people. We say it celebrates service for that reason. It’s why Christ calls us into service and he wants us to enjoy it,” said Bland. “There’s a lot of people that need our help and we walk alongside them.”

Festivalgoers and other supporters can purchase stretches of pipeline at a cost of a dollar a foot. And they can write a message on their purchased pipe, which will be hauled down by truck to Nicaragua.

Bland, a former Peace Corps volunteer, said that the biggest thing he’s learned is that “if they don’t have water, nothing else will matter.” After that, Amigos works in other project areas, including education, health and economic development. He said the water need is exigent as 60 percent of rural water is contaminated. And even more problematic, “people will go with a five-gallon bucket and get water and use it for cooking and cleaning, and the last thing they’ll do is drink it. We’re running into a lot of kidney diseases, which is a direct result of not consuming enough water.”

Amigos began aiding the Nicaraguan poor as an outgrowth of a youth mission trip of Prince of Peace Catholic Church, then in Buford and now in Flowery Branch. It held its first mission trip in 1999 and first fundraiser at the church. It has incrementally grown yearly and in 2011 will have led over 40 mission and service trips to the Central American nation. Local Catholic groups serving this year have come from Holy Spirit, St. Jude the Apostle, Prince of Peace, St. Brigid, St. Gabriel, Holy Trinity and St. Thomas the Apostle churches, as well as from the Georgia Tech Catholic Center, Our Lady of Mercy High School and Marist School.

“Definitely the economy is affecting us, but God keeps providing just what we need to do. He’s always making the plans and we’re just following it. People have been really good to us,” Bland said. And a mission trip “plays such a huge role in opening (participants) up to growth. You’re given the gift of not having any other distractions.”

Amigos missionary Maureen Fernandez of Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, experienced that power when she went on her first mission trip ever in 2010, accompanying her niece as a college graduation present. She and other family members have gotten involved and her husband will return in November for the dedication of a school’s feeding center they helped fund.

For her the festival is “ the perfect event for the extended Amigos family to come together.” She will man the face-painting booth and urge people to vote for her “Rene bars” in the bakeoff. And she’ll share experiences from her recent trip where she gave arts and craft lessons to children and learned about the nonprofit’s pig and chicken loan program.

“Spiritually the experience has made me more keenly aware of the interconnected thread of humanity,” she said. “I do not speak Spanish, but the international language of art spoke for itself. One thing about John Bland is that if you have a gift, he will find a way to put it to work in Nicaragua.”

Bland indeed comes alive in engaging people from Georgia to California in Amigos’ humanitarian mission and uplifting lives one village at a time. “I love it. I wouldn’t do anything else.”

Likewise, Amigos program director Kristin Sutton finds an “incredible amount of purpose” in her work and often feels she benefits more than the Nicaraguans. “God seems to bless your life even more when you’re focused on improving someone else’s.”

Sutton lives most of the year in Nicaragua.

“It’s hard for us (Americans) to truly grasp what it’s like to not have access to clean water . . . until you see a Nicaraguan stand under a spigot for the first time in his life. The joy is indescribable. I’ve been blessed to witness this a few times while working for Amigos, and these are the moments that provide the motivation to continue living in a poor country far away from family and friends,” she said. “We’re hoping to do even more through this year’s festival. … The need in rural communities is great, and we can’t wait to provide this basic necessity to thousands more who need it.”

For registration information on Celebrate Service Music Festival 2011, visit