Michele Howard calls it the best Christmas gift she ever received.

But first she had to give it.

In early December, Howard, a 26-year-employee at West Virginia University and her husband, Garrett, took a week off work to travel to a small village in Guatemala where they drilled a well that will provide clean drinking water for years to come.

“There’s millions of people across the whole world that don’t have clean water,” Howard said. “You’re going down and you’re on a mission to help them, but they change your whole perspective on everything. So you’re really changed and blessed when you come back.”

The Howards went as part of Living Water International, a Christian service organization that builds wells in areas without access to clean water.

“Michele is a wonderful example of how the simple gift of a person’s time can help transform the lives of those who are less fortunate than we are,” said Dan Durbin, senior associate vice president of Finance at WVU. “We are quite proud to have her as a member of our team and hope that her selfless efforts will serve as an inspiration for all of us to follow.”

Once in Guatemala, Howard and her team worked in a village known only as Linea 12 Sis for its location along the Sis river. She didn’t speak Spanish and she didn’t know how to drill, but once there she learned how to use an LS300 drill rig to bore through clay, gravel, rock and pumice.

Before reaching 100 feet, the team found two aquifers with fresh water. Until the well was put in, the village drank from a contaminated pump.

“The women of the village every day—when we would go out to drill on the well— would prepare food for us,” Howard said. “They gave their all. They gave everything they had.

“The last day that we were there to do the ceremony and the dedication for the well, they didn’t have enough money to prepare a meal, which they wanted to do, so the mayor there within the village helped give them money to provide us Coke and some little snack cookies. And the smile was on their faces.”

Aside from building the well, Howard said she built relationships with the people who lived there, through sharing meals, smiles and photos.

Howard, a grants resource specialist in the Department of Financial Services at WVU, was prompted to go on the trip by her faith and her wish to serve those who don’t have their needs met. About six years ago, Howard made her first mission trip to Mexico where she volunteered at an orphanage.

“That one was life changing to see what we have here and to see what they have,” she said.

That trip stayed in her mind and helped her decide to go when an opportunity through her church came up to work with Living Water. Giving is a part of her life whether it’s working with low-income children who live near her Uniontown, Pa., home or in Central America.

She says volunteering is a good use of her time off. And if spots on next year’s trip aren’t filled by first-timers, she intends to go again.

“If you feel that you’re called to serve, don’t miss out on the opportunity,” she said.



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