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MC Woman Spends Vacation Digging

Relaxing is one of the last things Karen Byrne of Mason City expects out of her travels. In fact, this 56-year old spent her last vacation digging ditches in the rugged hills of Honduras. Story by Stephanie Scholl.|Story by Stephanie Scholl

If you look in the dictionary, the word ‘vacation’ comes from the root ‘vac’, meaning ‘to empty’. For many of us, that’s exactly what we long for in a vacation. It’s a time to let go of our daily burdens and relax. But relaxing is one of the last things Karen Byrne of Mason City expects out of her travels. In fact, this 56-year old spent her last vacation digging ditches in the rugged hills of Honduras.

“I love to travel. But I have to be out of my comfort zone,” said Byrne, a Pastoral Associate at St. Josephs Catholic Church. “I have to expect to experience something and change.”

Byrne rolled up her sleeves with 19 other volunteers from the United States and worked alongside Honduran families who are digging long, 3-foot deep trenches to bring clean water to their homes.

“It was hard work,” said Byrne, “The locals did the most difficult digging. But we used shovels, pick axes and steel poles right along with them. ”

One of Byrne’s favorite pictures shows a boulder that some of the men pried out of the ground. It’s the size of a typical ottoman.
In Honduras, it’s estimated 80-percent of all illness is caused by impure water. Approximately 50-thousand children die each year because of water-related illnesses. Plus, studies are underway to see if the water quality may be related to high rates of stomach cancer in Western Honduras.

In an effort to change this reality, Byrne hooked up with The Sister Water Project, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque. The project involves bringing fresh water 18 miles from the mountains to 800 homes in small villages. While the sisters bring volunteers to help with labor and funds to purchase the piping, each Honduran family is responsible for digging 19 trenches that are 14 feet long. These will carry PVC pipes to their individual homes.

“The water goes to a large ‘pila’ outside the home. It’s a small concrete area that collects water from a faucet,” said Byrne. “It’s fresh water that makes it so much easier to cook and clean. They don’t have to walk long distances.”
Byrne says she expects to be influenced from her journeys. This time, Honduras did not disappoint. She hopes her next trip will take her to Africa.

“We are all the same, no matter where we go. We all love our children; we want what’s best for them. We all face our own trials and tribulations of family life. But we’re a community all the same.”|

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