Posted by: iainjhunt | August 7, 2012

Transition to ADIS Part 1 – Waslala History Lesson

Beginning June 1st, 2012, Water for Waslala signed agreement with the recently established local Waslala NGO Asociación de Desarrollo Integral y Sostenible (ADIS) to manage WfW’s on-the-ground operations, including water system construction, filters projects, health and environmental education, community organization, etc, etc. As friends and followers of WfW’s work likely know, WfW since its inception had partnered with Waslala’s Catholic parish, Parroquia La Inmaculada. Briefly stated, the agreement with ADIS marks the continuation of a relationship with the same partners we’ve always worked with. But to better explain how we’re coming to work with ADIS requires a brief Waslala history lesson, as well as a brief WfW history lesson…

A friend of mine in Waslala recently asked me how WfW first got involved building water systems here. I told her the story of the Villanova students who first came here nearly a decade ago, who returned not only impacted by the injustices they witnessed here, but also having fallen in love with Waslala and the Waslalan people. My friend smiled and added “and in love with Padre Nelson, I imagine”. Padre Nelson was one of the first of a series of remarkable Brazilian priests who have worked in Waslala since the war-torn 1980s to build up little by little the social initiatives that have made a huge impact in bringing about a form of dignified human development in this remote municipality.

Left to right: Padre Nelson, WfW President Matt Nespoli, Padre Vanderlei- 2005

But this history goes even further back, back to a time before there was a parish in Waslala, back when Waslala wasn’t so much of a town as a frontier outpost, with a few houses, one store, and a military installation that remains to this day. In the late 1970s, a group of Brazilian nuns first established a mission in Waslala, and it was they who began the community health initiative that would later become the parish’s Pastoral de Salud (Health Ministry), and now, ADIS. They began forming a network of community health leaders, promoters, and midwives that now numbers over 150, and training people in the cultivation and use of natural medicines. Our own Virginia Leiva worked with the Pastoral de Salud for 18 years, first as a volunteer in the network of community health leaders, and later as an outreach employee, traveling to all of Waslala’s 90 villages. During the war years, the parish was one of few institutions that was able enter conflict-affected areas to provide much needed resources. And even after peace was officially reached in 1990, the violence only continued in Waslala, where armed groups remained armed. Leading up to the present, the Pastoral de Salud has continued its work, remaining the umbrella for the ever expanding and strengthening of community health leaders, and amplifying its efforts to also focus on HIV/AIDS education and nutrition among other areas. Anticipating that the scope Pastoral’s might one day exceed the capacity of the parish to keep it under its umbrella, some 4 years ago, project collaborators began to make moves to establish an independent NGO, to be named the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral y Sostenible, translating to Association for Integral and Sustainable Development, known by its acronym, ADIS.


Virginia on one of her community tours, pictured with a school teacher in the community of El Varillal

It was also the Pastoral de Salud that began constructing small water systems, in an effort to provide piped water to rural schools in Waslala (many of which were also built through the parish’s education initiative, the Pastoral Educativa). But it was until the involvement of Villanova and Water for Waslala beginning in 2004 that the parish had access to engineering expertise and to a consistent source of funding. In 2009, under Padre Vanderlei, the formal Pastoral del Agua (water ministry) was established, and Virginia and Meaghan Gruber hired, strengthening our health and environmental education, community organization, and monitoring and evaluation efforts. Throughout WfW’s history, our work would not have become the success it has without the support of this series of Brazilian priests: Padre Nelson, Padre Cleto, Padre Vanderlei, Padre Danilo, Padre Anelio, and Padre Adir, with all tirelessly promoting our efforts during their grueling giras misioneras, or missionary tours of Waslala’s expansive geography. During these years another Brazilian, Junior Gasparini, served as WfW’s project administrator, as a volunteer. Things are easier now than they used to be, when you literally had to walk uphill both ways in the rain and mud to get anywhere in Waslala, back before roads were opened to most parts of the municipality. And as Waslala’s grown from a frontier village to a bustling town, the parish under the leadership of the Brazilian missionaries has played no small part in ensuring that development has the human at its center.

Junior and Nora- 2005

With this long-standing friendship, we were saddened to learn at the end of last year that the Brazilian mission in Waslala would soon come to an end. And with the change in management, the parish in Waslala is taking a different trajectory, with the social pastorales having to become independent of the parish. By good fortune, as these changes were taking place, the formation of ADIS was passing through its final legal processes, allowing the Pastoral de Salud to smoothly transfer its operations to an independent organization. In the midst of these changes, we at WfW opted to continue working with some of the same partners we always have, joining with ADIS, and ADIS has graciously accepted us under their umbrella.

In Part 2 of this blog, we’ll introduce you to ADIS, its people, and how we’re turning these changes into an opportunity to improve the structure of our work here on the ground.



  1. […] facilitated our transition to work with ADIS (local NGO in […]

  2. […] organizer, and an accountant (all Waslalans). We work under a local public health organization, the Associacion de Desarrollo Integral y Sostenible (ADIS). Our local team and partners do not just help us in implementing our work- they drive and […]

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