By Carol L. Bowman
Gerardo Martinez MiLian
We all know that the proper functioning of public services like water, electricity and internet can make the difference between a good day and a miserable one. Here in Mexico, as is anywhere in the world, there are times when a break-down occurs, and we get on the phone to report, “No hay luz.” or “No hay agua.” or “No hay internet.” Several months ago, we were having daily frustrations with our water service from the local SIMAPA (Sistema Municipal de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado). I hate to admit it, but I was one of those consumers, who called the office personnel so many times that our voices became familiar to one another.
But that all changed when the administrative staff sent Gerardo Martinez MiLiań, the top boss of the San Antonio Tlayacapan SIMAPA workers to the rescue. Gerardo, who has worked for SIMAPA for 30 years came to our house, evaluated the problem, concluded correctly that the valve regulating the water flow to the residential houses on our street was rusted, clogged with debris and roots and needed replacement. He supervised the entire job and returned to our home several times to check and recheck that the flow to our aljibe had been restored. The biggest shock was when Gerardo said he would come at 8:00 at night to check it again and he did! My attitude about SIMAPA changed to the positive because of Gerardo. I trusted him to examine a problem until he found a resolution and remain committed to a complete repair.
For his diligence and persistence, I consider Gerardo Martinez MiLiań one of Lakeside’s Unsung Heroes and I wanted to know more about this man. We met one day and I heard his remarkable story. Born in the Lake Chapala community, Gerardo moved to Oakland, California with his parents when he was 14. He started painting houses at that young age and continued doing this until he was 20, when he returned to the Lake Chapala area. After a short stint of painting houses locally, he was offered the opportunity to go to work for SIMAPA in San Antonio Tlayacapan. Gerardo saw this as a chance to learn everything about the public water system.
Gerardo started at the bottom, working as an apprentice, carrying buckets, fixing leaks in water hoses and other lower level tasks. All the while he was concentrating on learning everything about the pumps, the water table, the valves, and the navigation of the water lines throughout the neighborhoods. Every year he moved up a level, until he became the most experienced, the most knowledgeable and the supervisor of all the field employees at the San Antonio Office. “I needed to know everything about the water system,” said Gerardo.
Gerardo’s work was never done, and he responded to ‘on call’ emergencies seven days a week, from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. His commitment to his job caused him to miss out on many family gatherings and events with his wife and two sons. But his job to maintain the public trust in the water system remained paramount.
“My goal was to make people content and happy and to help them when a problem with their water occurred,” said Gerardo. “I have many Americans and Canadians customers, and most of them are very good people. But they are used to quick results and sometimes I must think and think about what exactly the problem is and what can be the solution. Working for a public utility is very difficult”
I asked Gerardo to reveal the best and worst aspects of his job. The best is the constant learning about the system and the feeling of gratitude from customers whose water flow he has been able to restore. He also gives eternal thanks to the girls who work in the office. “They have made my job so much easier, because they must deal with angry consumers who have water service interruption.” The worst is the reality that every three years when the people elect a new governing administration in Chapala, Gerardo must respect the changes and learn how he can best meet the expectations of the chosen officials.
After 30 years of service to our community, Gerardo retired from the job one month ago. He finds retirement challenging, because he is so used to ‘living his job.’ I want to thank Gerardo for taking the time to reassure us that he would fix our problem and then fix it. I want to thank him for remaining committed to serving a public utility of Chapala. I want to thank him for being an Unsung Hero of our community. He tells me that one of his sons is now working for SIMAPA. Next time I have a problem, I will feel comfortable, knowing that Carlos Umberto Martinez might be the person who comes up with a solution, just like his father.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com