Zaida, from the Floating Uros Islands in Peru, holds a glass of safe water thanks to Operation Blessing.

Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink

Zaida, from the Floating Uros Islands in Peru, holds a glass of safe water thanks to Operation Blessing.

PERU – On a Peruvian plateau surrounded by the Andes Mountains, lies the world’s highest navigable lake. At 12,500 feet, the air is thin and the sun beats down with an intensity belied by the cool temperatures. Along the shores of Lake Titicaca, tortora, an inconspicuous reed, grows thickly.

An aerial view of the floating islands in Peru.

Tortora is the unlikely building material used by the Uros people to construct both the islands they live on and the homes they live in.

A community built on a floating island made of reeds in Peru.

Several thousand Uros live on dozens of islands scattered throughout the lake. The Uros fish Lake Titicaca for food and sell their handicrafts to tourists to make a living. Despite their simple lifestyle and constant struggle against poverty, education for their children is vitally important to these island people.

School children in brightly colored uniforms sit on the ground made of reeds.

In the community of Ccapi Uros, the local school serves as a center of island life. Its buildings are situated in the shallows, and stilts raise the classrooms above the thick mat of tortora reeds that makes up the “ground.” The floating mass of reeds feels something like walking on a mattress as it bounces and compresses underfoot.

The school building for the children of the Floating Uros Islands.

The teachers come all the way from Puno to serve the children of Ccapi Uros. Each morning, they all load up in a tiny boat, wrap themselves in blankets, and settle in for the two-hour journey across the lake. Upon their arrival, 95 students, including 5-year-old Zaida, line up in the reed-covered schoolyard, all wearing their brightly colored traditional school uniforms.

School children arrive for class by boat.

The children live on other small reed-islands clustered around the school. Every morning Zaida gets into a small boat, piloted by an older child, and makes her way to school. After assembling in the schoolyard, Zaida and her schoolmates file into their classrooms for the day’s lessons. While they’re in class, several mothers gather outside to make a lunch of fresh-caught fish and potatoes. The food is good, but, unfortunately, the drinking water is not.

Parents go out into the lake to fetch "cleaner" water for the school children, but it's still not safe water.

The school’s only source of water is the lake itself. In the shallows, the water is murky and full of sediment and other contaminants, including the waste from the school bathrooms. To find cleaner water, the men take a boat a quarter mile or so out into the lake to fill their buckets. Though it’s an improvement, the water still contains dangerous bacteria, and other harmful contaminants, that make it unsafe to drink, putting Zaida, her teachers, and her classmates at risk.

Zaida helps a younger child get safe water from their new Kohler Clarity filter.

With water in abundance, what the school children of Ccapi Uros needed was a way to make it safe to drink. Thankfully, a partnership between Operation Blessing and Kohler provided the perfect solution. The Kohler Clarity water filter can eliminate more than 99 percent of bacteria and protozoa in the water, making it ideal for treating the water from Lake Titicaca. Operation Blessing brought a Clarity filter for each classroom. Now everyone at the school, including Zaida, no longer has to worry about whether the very water they drink is making them sick! The Clarity filters will provide safe drinking water every day for the children of this impoverished island community.

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