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Reluctant Hero Follows His Passion

Bob Swope might have earned Cooperative Hero recognition for any number of Hardin County community projects in which he and his family have been involved in recent years.

Yet among his most rewarding is an ongoing effort to bring clean drinking water to villages in the mountains of Guatemala.

“I am no hero,” insists the semiretired Elizabethtown Ford dealer. “I’m just a guy following a passion that captured me later in life.”

Swope, 61, is a team leader for Living Waters for the World, a Presbyterian Church USA mission outreach. It trains and equips volunteer teams to install water purification systems in underdeveloped countries where many communities have no access to clean water.

Swope is a member of the Elizabethtown Noon Rotary and First Presbyterian Church, which are partners in the Living Waters initiative, and of Nolin RECC, one of its corporate sponsors. The local Lions Club and several other churches have pitched in to help.

After being trained at “Clean Water U” in Mississippi, Swope’s eight-member water purification team made its first visit to a small village in Guatemala in January 2008. They were met by a marimba band and smiling villagers with balloons.

“The expressions on their faces and their questions of us just really touched my heart,” Swope says.

The Hardin County group has made four trips to Guatemala and installed four clean water systems.

With assistance from villagers and Ajb’ee Jiminez—a Mayan descendant and social anthropologist who last year became the eighth Mayan in Guatemala’s history to earn his Ph.D.—Swope’s team has developed a network of suppliers through which most of the components of their clean water systems can be obtained in Guatemala.

“In their culture, water is much more than just a necessity of life, it is the central element in their relationship with all of creation,” Swope says.

He is concerned that strip-mining for gold, silver, and nickel has dried up many mountain springs and left others contaminated.

“Our Living Waters team can’t do much about the strip mines, but the water filtration systems do a great job of cleaning up the contaminated water, little by little,” he says.

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