Fifield and Berget finish the well as eager members of the community line up ready to collect fresh water.
By Tyler Whitney
The mechanics shop behind Homesteaders hosts two enormous drills and an unassuming façade guarded by two friendly dogs just wanting some love. Inside, Tony Berget and Owen Fifield work on a large truck under the small comfort of an electric heater holding back the chilling March morning. It’s business as usual in Libby, though not long ago, both Berget and Fifield were a world away building wells in Guatemala with the nonprofit Water for Life.
This story does not start with Libby’s own, however, but rather with the Q’eqchi’ (pronounced Kek-chi) people of central Guatemala. Descendants of the Mayans and resistant to Spanish culture, hundreds of the Q’eqchi’ have been imprisoned without charges, assassinated in public, and evicted in the current government’s recent illegal land grabs. The United Nations, in several reports identifying the continual human rights abuses in the area, have documented the forceful privatization of the federal land, stripping many Q’eqchi’ of their homes and farms, leaving nearly 80% of their people in poverty.
Shoved to the edges of society and abandoned by many in their own country, Washington state-based organization, Water for Life, saw an opportunity to both help the most in need and fulfill their personal mission to spread the love of God. Since their start in 2005, they have built over 130 still-functioning wells with their volunteers. When the drilling season this year finishes next month, there will be over 20 new wells built in central Guatemala.
For those receiving wells, it is not just fresh water that is coming to the village, but a promise of new life. Christianity Today reported in 2013 that a new water pump can, on average, cut the infant mortality rate in half in the region. The Government Health Ministry of Guatemala has even reported that some villages where Water for Life constructed wells saw no infant deaths related to water this last year.
This is where Berget and Fifield enter the story. Fifield felt the call to go help first with six weeks before Water for Life would ship out of Seattle, but it wasn’t long before he convinced Berget to join. When asked why the sudden and unplanned trip to help people in Guatemala, the resounding sentiment from both was a clear, why not?
The duo stayed with a small group of other volunteers, engineers and drillers, who had also traveled from the United States under the same convictions. They all stayed in a converted school in Poptún (pronounced pope-tune), sharing small bedrooms with two bunks and a bathroom. Morning came early with the sun rising at 6 a.m. everyday above the olive-green canopy of Palm trees and Ceiba: giant, white, spiked trunked trees with roots and branches snaking out in every direction. Breakfast was served outside in the sound of the tropics awakening before each crew would jump into a small diesel truck and disappear into the jungle. Many would drive for hours before reaching a village in need of a water pump.
When Berget and Fifield first arrived at their well site, the local Q’eqchi’ people were timid of outsiders coming in; they didn’t know what to expect from the two white guys smiling and waving constantly and their cable tool rig, a massive machine that would not-so-gracefully bludgeon the ground for a 120 ft. until water came out. The unfamiliarity was quickly dispersed, however, over shared lunches of chicken and rice every day and smiles that could shine through the language barrier.
It took nearly three weeks for the two drillers to finally finish the well on the last day. There had been problems with the soil, violent deluge of rain, and equipment which caused delays and slowed down the timetable for success. At one point, a group of local men had to dig down by hand 20 feet to secure a piece of broken machinery, a dangerous undertaking that has killed many times before. Without their quick overnight work, the well would not have been done in time, a reality that some villages are forced to live with until a new crew comes to finish the work started a year before.
To some of us here in Montana, a new water pump in town might not seem all that impressive, but for those who finally have clean water and can relax a bit knowing their child has a better chance of growing up, a simple pump means a lot. And ultimately, that is why Berget and Fifield did it all, because they knew that this is where they could make an impact and where they could change lives. If you would like to volunteer and help in Guatemala, Water for Life offers plenty of opportunities that expand beyond drilling wells. They can be contacted online at www.h2oforlife.org.
Berget and Fifield stand in front of their drilling rig in a village outside of Poptun, Guatemala. Photos courtesy of Tony Berget.
LHS grad speaks to welding students
By Mckenzie Williams
On Friday March 13, Melissa Vandeberg, a 2018 Libby High School (LHS) graduate, presented to the welding classes at Libby High School and at the Flathead Valley Community College’s (FVCC) welding program offered at their Libby Campus.
While in High School, Vandeberg participated in a duel enrollment welding program offered by LHS through FVCC. The program gives students an opportunity to test for certification in two positions as a G1 (imposition or flat welder) and a G3 (vertical welder). When students enroll in the class, they automatically receive dual credits. With the test provided by FVCC they can receive a certification from the American Welding Society if they pass. Vandeberg passed both and graduated high school as a dual certified welder.
LHS welding teacher, Mr. Curtiss said to his students during the presentation, “It’s a pretty intense job, it doesn’t matter how good of a welder you are, if you don’t have a certificate, it doesn’t mean anything.”
Shortly after high school, Vandeberg started as a welder’s helper. She is now working for ADF Group Inc. as a Structural Steel Welder.
ADF was founded in a blacksmith shop in 1956. They are one of the largest leaders in North America for design, engineering, fabrication, installation of complex steel structures, heavy steel build-ups, and miscellaneous architectural metal work. The Corporation operates two modern fabrication plants, one in British Columbia, Canada and one in Great Falls, Mont.
Vandeberg currently works at the Great Falls fabrication center. At ADF, she has had the opportunity to work on complex large projects including the Raider’s and Falcon’s football stadiums.
Vandeberg told The Montanian, “Currently, I am certified in Metal Core Arc Welding (MCAW) and Flux Core Arc Welding (FCAW). We are also asked to test for CWB (Canadian welding bureau).”
During the presentations given by Vandeberg and Curtiss, the importance of a welder’s position was stressed.
“There is going to be a lot of opportunity in this field. Our country needs a lot of infrastructure,” said Curtiss.
While we don’t always notice every weld behind the walls or under the bridge, welding plays an integral role in keeping people safe and advancing our quality of life.
Vandeberg told The Montanian, “We actually just got deemed essential for infrastructure, so while everything is closed right now, we get to remain open and working. It’s really awesome to get to be a part of something that is so much bigger than yourself and will be around for generations. Whether it’s monuments, stadiums, bridges, or small in house projects, you always leave your mark.”
Presently LHS has around 65 welding students, all with the opportunity to pursue different career paths in welding.
Melissa and Mort Curtiss pose for a photo after one of Melissa’s presentations to the LHS welding students. Photo by McKenzie Williams, The Montanain
Libby Cenex gives free gas to health-care workers
By Tracy McNew
On Saturday morning, March 28, a regular customer at the Cenex station on the corner of California Ave. and Highway 2 in downtown Libby decided to pay it forward. He posted a sign on the pole in front of the gas station and gave the cashier just under $500. He didn’t ask to be credited for his donation; he just asked that the cashier use his donated money to pay for gas for healthcare workers.
His donation provided free gas for many, said weekend manager, Pat Hickman, and the station was very busy throughout his shift.
In addition, three others donated smaller amounts including David Nadolny, Sharon Kawasaki, and Joe Hansen. Then, the Cenex station’s owner, Travis Tommaro from Trout Creek also contributed $500 to the cause.
All in all, the Cenex was able to give away $1,040.42 in free gas on Saturday said Hickman. “It’s definitely unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I think it’s really awesome.
This act of kindness and thanks was appreciated by healthcare workers communitywide and it helped remind many of the powerful support in our local community.