Lemoore's 'water angels' bring hope and clean water to struggling villages

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Jesus Garcia speaks about his travels to Cuba and Ecuador from the confines of his studio in Lemoore
Jesus Garcia speaks about his travels to Cuba and Ecuador from the confines of his studio in Lemoore

Lemoore’s Jesus Garcia has been spending a lot of time on airplanes lately. Garcia, and his wife Mary, recently took advantage of a much-improved rapprochement with Cuba, hopped on a jet and found themselves on Raul and Fidel Castro’s front door step, and of course a country where, for the past 56 years, few American tourists have ventured.

A photo taken in Ecuador.
A photo taken in Ecuador.

And just weeks after returning from Cuba, Garcia – minus Mary – took off for a seven-day excursion to the South American country of Ecuador, just weeks after a major earthquake devastated huge swaths of the country.

But the affable, outgoing Garcia, who since opening his photography studio in 1999, and has become one of Lemoore’s top businessmen, said he isn’t making these trips just to see the sights, but rather Garcia, a native of Mexico, a 20-year Marine Corps’ veteran, and the owner, along with wife Mary, of Newman Garcia Photographic Studio and Gallery in Lemoore, is doing it because they were needed.

See Photos of Ecuador and Cuba

In Cuba, he didn’t spend his idle hours lighting up a Cuban cigar, or wasting away the long Cuban days lounging by the pool with a bottle of Cuban rum, and during his stay in Ecuador there simply wasn’t time to visit its friendly, clear-blue beaches.

Jesus and his friends had work to do.

There were certainly other things on his mind that week: like building water systems so people who live in the small, and mostly poor, villages of Ecuador can have clean water, something Americans don’t usually have to worry about – that is unless you’re a resident of Flint, Michigan. Jesus Garcia, Mary and their many friends – for nearly 10 years now – have managed to deliver clean, healthy water to people in Guatemala, Cuba and Ecuador via simple water systems guaranteed to provide clean water.

And in the case of Ecuador – where Jesus and Mary may as well have a second home – because they’ve been there so many times – they were needed to build a pair of water systems for an Ecuadorian town devastated by a recent earthquake. A 7.8 magnitude quake struck Ecuador in April, killing upwards of 600 persons and destroying nearly 7,000 buildings and affecting 560 schools, many suffering medium to severe damage.

Mary didn’t join Jesus on his latest sojourn to Ecuador. It was a rough trip.

Jesus, who is a member of the Lemoore Rotary Club, was part of a team from Living Waters World Mission, headed by Mark Vanciel of Visalia. The two spoke shortly after hearing about the quake, and the pair quickly put an Ecuador Rapid Response Team together for a mission to the devastated country. “I contacted him and within an hour he already put together a team of volunteers to go to Ecuador,” said Garcia.

Their objective this time was Pedernales, a seaside community of approximately 50,000 residents, popular for its beaches, restaurants and hotels. The town was devastated by the quake, suffering at least 500 deaths.

The team quickly installed two water systems, one in Pedernales and a second system in neighboring La Chorrera, a small fishing village nearby where every building was significantly affected or destroyed by the earthquake. They were in Ecuador a total of seven days, amidst the rubble and death of the once beautiful city.

The installation of the water systems, in both Pedernales and La Chorrera, each took a day. La Chorrera was so devastated that the Ecuadorian government is rebuilding the entire town a short distance away.

Building these water systems, and providing the financial backing so that these groups can travel to such places as Guatemala and Ecuador, doesn’t come cheap. While the Garcias spend plenty of their own money on these ventures, they’ve received financial backing from the Rotary Clubs of Lemoore, Monterey, Hanford, Tulcán, Ecuador, as well as the First Presbyterian Church in Monterey, the Lemoore Odd Fellows, and many private donors.

“There is lot of struggle in these countries. There is poverty, I mean everywhere you look, there is poverty,” said Garcia. “We are blessed that we live in this country and we take a lot of things for granted, and one of them is to just have a simple glass of clean water to drink. A lot of those people we visit don’t have that, so we try to make it a little easier for them.”

The trip to Cuba was also organized by Vanciel. The group put together a water system in a church in Santiago. Mary went along for this trip, where her job, as on other trips, is to provide hygiene and health instructions to water users. “She teaches them the proper way on how to use the clean water,” said Garcia.

It has been quite a journey for Garcia, from his native Mexico City to the beaches of Pedernales, Ecuador. The 55-year-old former Marine Corps aircraft mechanic, who during his 20-years in the Corps served in the first Gulf War where he helped fix Marine jets and managed to avoid Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles, has spent much of his career in Lemoore, but has also served in El Toro, Hawaii and two years in Japan.

During his service he developed a passion for photography and turned it into a profession. He purchased Tom Newman’s Photography Studio in 1999, and with Mary’s help, turned it into a thriving business. The two have two children: Christopher, 27 and Tatiana, 26.

“The same day I retired from the Marine Corps I bought the studio,” said Garcia. “I was still in my uniform cutting the grand opening ribbon.”

The studio was originally located on D Street, but thanks to an expanding business, he’s since moved to a new shop at 323 Heinlen Street.

While building his business, Garcia got involved in the community. He was appointed to the Lemoore Planning Commission - where he served for four years - and then a friend introduced him to the local Rotary Club. It was while a member of the Rotary Club that he learned about Living Waters for the World from guest speaker Katy Bedunnah.

“That’s how we got involved and started working with her in Guatemala,” he said. “I really found camaraderie and the desire to help others in Rotary, and I got interested in this water project.”

He wasn’t alone. Joining Jesus on his first trip to Guatemala were fellow Rotarians Jay Salyer and Presbyterian Minister Sandy Brown. Garcia and Brown attended a training session in Mississippi where they learned how to install the simple water systems.

Since then Jay’s wife Sandy, and others from Lemoore, have joined the Living Waters excursions.

Their first trip was to Xela, Guatemala, where working with Living Waters, the group installed its first water system, a simple system of three filters, one ozonator and a pump, certainly not a system to quench the thirsts of thousands, but a reliable simple system intended to bring clean water to a small village or school.

Since then, Jesus has taken 10 trips to South America. Mary has joined him on eight of those trips.

Garcia invited a pair of local electricians, Tim Reed and Roger Starrett, to join him on one trip to Guatemala where the two electricians helped to supply much-needed electricity to a school so that students could use donated computers that had gone unused due to the lack of power.

Why does he do it? Why does anybody give of him or herself to help others?

“When I have gone to see all these places where we’ve done (water) installations, I see those kids living in those conditions, and I see myself, when I lived in Mexico, in the village that we lived in – I see myself in those kids,” said Jesus. “That was me when I was a kid. Doing this now is really dear to my heart. You know, I had the opportunity to get out of there (Mexico) and make something of myself, and I try to do something now to help them out.

“I think for myself the most satisfying is when you see parents, especially mothers come to you and thank you for providing their kids with clean drinking water. It’s really satisfying when you see that, knowing that those kids, they’re not going to miss school now because they’re sick from drinking bad water.  They know they’re going to be healthier, knowing they’re going to have clean drinking water. I think that’s the thing – to me – you know has been the most satisfying.”

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