Marina MacKinnon, now 16, watched the young schoolchildren in Tierra Colorada Alta, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, line up and brush their teeth with unfiltered water during a visit to the country last year. Just days before, she had witnessed medical volunteers give the children and their families antibiotics to treat intestinal worms and parasites from unclean water that had sickened them. 

The future pediatrician wondered aloud to her mother, Patty MacKinnon, about the efficacy of the medication if the children went straight back to using dirty water.

“I was like, ‘You’re brilliant,'” Patty MacKinnon said. “Not only are they going to get sick, but they’re going to build a resistance to the antibiotic and it’s not going to work anymore.”

The Brunswick mother and daughter returned from their trip, still thinking about the water quality in that tiny village in Guatemala, which had no electricity or running water. The two had been traveling to that area of Guatemala for years, making five trips to the country over the past seven years to visit family, to study Spanish and to volunteer as English teachers in the schools.

But they couldn’t get the clean water problem out of their heads.

“It bothered us and we kept talking about it,” Patty MacKinnon said. “Like, why are we teaching them English? They don’t need English — they need clean water!” 


The MacKinnons did some research, and with the help of the all-female, non-government organization Herencia Viva, located water filters for $50 each that would last up to two years.

MacKinnon teaches ninth- and 10th-grade English and English language learning at Lewiston High School. She wanted to take the concept of clean water into the schools at Tierra Colorada Alta.

Marina came up with the idea of a Safe Water Doll.

The dolls will be handmade by students at Lewiston and Brunswick high schools, with handsewn raindrop pockets that will hold doll-sized toothbrushes, to be made by the children who receive the dolls in Guatemala.

“When we were there last year, we worked with them in the classrooms and we made paper dolls and they loved it,” MacKinnon said. “We used them to teach colors, legs, arms — you know, vocabulary. Everyone thought they were the greatest thing in the world.”

When the two go back to Guatemala in August, they will take the dolls — along with donated toothbrushes — to use as an instructional piece on the importance of clean water and how to use the filter. They hope it will lead to lifestyle changes by the time the children are adults.

“It’s very difficult to change the mentality of people,” MacKinnon said. “They’re always like, ‘We’ve been doing this for generations, so why do we need to use this filter?’ We want the children to be a part of it by making the doll toothbrushes and to have a commitment to using safe water.”

MacKinnon has applied for a $1,000 community grant from Rotary 7780. Even if she receives the grant, they will have to raise more money to help as many of the 160 families in Tierra Colorada Alta as possible.

To help, visit, or mail a donation to the Brunswick Coastal Rotatry c/o MacKinnon.

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