Twin Cities Episcopalians brought clean water to Cuba this week

Hector Bruce (THOR) sat on his heels in the living room of his Burnsville townhouse and popped a brass plumbing fitting out of its packaging. He carefully added it to the puzzle of tubes, elbows, pipes and filters slowly taking shape on the white carpet.

“I’m putting everything together here first to make sure I have everything I need,” he explained. “Because we know we can’t buy parts in Cuba.”

On Thursday, Bruce and seven other Minnesotans affiliated with the Episcopal Church flew to Cuba with two large plastic bins containing parts to install water purification systems in two churches in the southeastern part of the island. It’s the group’s second trip in two years and their small contribution toward easing the Cuban water crisis

Cuba’s public water system is in disrepair and the water often is not safe to drink. The Cuban government is making an effort to replace pipes in Havana, the capital, with a multimillion-dollar line of credit from Kuwait. Meanwhile, Cuban churches have come up with a clever decentralized fix.

Working with churches in the United States, they are installing point-of-access water purification systems with filters and ultraviolet lights that enable them to simply turn on a spigot and provide clean water free of charge to the neighborhood.

“Ordinary people can’t afford bottled water, so they need to boil it before they drink or they put iodine in the water,” said Bruce, who was born in Ghana, west Africa, came to the United States to attend college in Iowa and who has worked for decades as a project manager for construction firms in the Twin Cities.

“Some friends have asked me, ‘You could be doing this for Ghana, why are you doing this for Cuba?’ I tell them, Cuba has done so much for Ghana. Cuba sent doctors to Ghana. And during the Ebola outbreak, Cuba was the first country to send doctors to Sierra Leone and Liberia. So, with me it’s a way of giving back to a people who have given so much but who don’t have much.”


The group’s visit comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s historic visit this month when he declared, “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” A week ago, the Rolling Stones rocked Havana. The Minnesotans’ quiet entrance won’t get that kind of  attention, but it will change lives.

It turns out that Minnesota Episcopalians have an historic link to Cuba. In 1871, Minnesota’s first Episcopal bishop, Henry Benjamin Whipple, was heading to the West Indies and stopped in Havana. Finding no Protestant clergy on the predominantly Roman Catholic island, he arranged for an Episcopal priest from New York to be sent down; his first service was held in a hotel saloon…

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