NAME: Jason Gehrig
YEAR JOINED MKLM: 1999
CITY: El Alto
FOCUS: Economic Development and Civil and Human Rights
PROJECT: Bolivian Rural Water Drinking Project
PEOPLE SERVED: Accompanies local NGO “Suma Jayma” since its birth in 2001. Since then, over 8500 people in more than 40 Altiplano communities have obtained access to safe water in their homes.
PROJECT GOAL: Provide access to safe drinking water in impoverished, marginalized areas of the Bolivian Altiplano (highlands).
Jason was raised in the German-Catholic town of Muenster, Texas, where he was influenced by Benedictine educators in his hometown school of Sacred Heart and later at Subiaco. He and Felicia joined MKLM in 1999 and have been in El Alto, Bolivia, since 2000. Since their arrival to Bolivia they have had three children—Jessica born in 2001, Nicholas in 2004, and Anthony in 2005. Nicholas and Anthony were born in Bolivia. Jason graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Civil Engineering. Before becoming a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, he worked for five years as a civil engineer with a consulting firm in Ft. Worth, TX, designing municipal infrastructure.
Jason and Felicia live in El Alto, Bolivia, among the Aymara indigenous of the Andean Altiplano. El Alto is one of the world’s highest cities and one of the most impoverished in South America. Jason’s ministry is working with indigenous groups to install drinking water systems in dozens of rural communities in the northern Bolivian Altiplano. He works with neighborhood groups in El Alto (just above the capital city of La Paz) on water rights issues, including the politically charged issue of water privatization (the privatization of El Alto’s water utility in the 1990s left nearly one quarter of El Alto without access to potable water).
Some of the results of Jason’s efforts include community organizing by the village members, empowerment of local Bolivians throughout the ministry, reduced incidence of illness and discomfort due to access to safe drinking water (as compared with remote access to water of questionable or poor quality). This improved reality, combined with conversations regarding health and hygiene, have resulted in overall improved health and lower children mortality rates.
Jason is also active with many diocesan initiatives, including a diocesan justice and peace group and pastoral social outreach activities in the San Francisco de Asís parish serving Senkata, the community where Jason and his family live. Jason’s skills as a civil engineer have contributed significantly to improving the quality of life for the most marginalized in the Bolivian Altiplano.
Jason and his family returned to the states in 2007 and live in Ft. Worth, TX with their three high school and junior high children. Jason is an engineer in the water systems department of Ft. Worth and Felicia teaches at their parish school at St. George’s Parish. Together they are active in their parish and pillars of the Texas Catholic Mission Conference.