I first heard about the global water crisis in 2013 on CNN. I had been feeling a pull to dive back into mission if I could find the right opportunity, and one evening my husband, Brian told me he’d recorded something on CNN he thought I’d like. A passionate guy from North Carolina with a humble heart and a Harley-riding look came on the screen, talking about a small organization he’d started called Wine To Water. I watched it with interest and connected with the story: Doc Hendley, a bartender from Raleigh, North Carolina, felt a call to bring clean water to those in need. He began his work in Darfur, Sudan, installing water systems for victims of the government-supported genocide, and his efforts later formalized into the organization Wine To Water. Could this be my opportunity? I prayed and contacted the organization, and I soon found myself applying for a trip to the Dominican Republic. Among other things I learned on that first trip was that 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water scarcity.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself in Ethiopia on my third international trip with Wine To Water, and the subject of this blog. This time, I’d be traveling with just four other experienced volunteers, and I’d learn more about the extent of the water crisis and how it seeps into every aspect of life.
We arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, jet-lagged after our long flight from DC and started with a tourist day. Addis is a busy and well-developed city, with tall glass and stone buildings, good roads, and lots of construction. On our first night, over a huge meal of injera, spiced meats and vegetables, we met members of the Ethiopian ground team. (Wine to Water always works with nationals within the country they are serving.) We learned a few things about Ethiopia’s particular water crisis:
- 1% of Ethiopians lack access to improved water sources (35,000,000 people)
- 2% lack access to improved sanitation
- 5% travel 30 minutes or longer to get water
- 3% do not treat their water
The next day, we departed in a van for our work location further south, near Lake Awassa. Once we arrived, we checked into a local hotel and walked down to the lakeside market. Hot pans of fish were frying over open flames, with people gathered around in the colorful plastic chairs I saw everywhere in the country. Kids sold armloads of trinkets, necklaces, boxes of tissues, and bottled water. We bought a couple of pans for our lunch, pulled up some chairs, and picked at the hot, tasty fish, and then munched on the salty tails as if they were corn chips. It was fun to bond with the team and look forward to the week ahead.
We then toured some wells that had already been installed in the villages, talking to the beneficiaries and hearing how access to water had affected them. Kids ran up to us and wanted to see our phones and play games. Everywhere we went, kids wanted to interact! Get out your journal to write in a quiet spot, and five seconds later you’re playing tic-tac-toe in your notebook with a group of fifteen kids.
Mamay, a woman with an extensive garden, showed us how she had created it from the runoff from a local well. We enjoyed hearing how she was so forward-thinking, asking us if we had ideas of new seeds she could plant. This woman, who once had very little, used education and water availability to improve life for herself and her family. It was amazing to see.
After our tour, we spent time working alongside the local well crew to complete two new wells: Afro-Dev hand pump wells that were robust and not prone to breaking down.
Kids gathering water.
We learned that sustainable living teams (SLTs) and water use committees are both a part of the community development that happens alongside the well installations. We met with an SLT team and enjoyed hearing about their lives and telling them a bit about ours. The number of children one has at home is a source of pride and the members enjoyed sharing about their large families!
Sustainable living teams are essentially a voluntary but formal fathering of 10-20 people, mostly women, from the lowest socio-economic groups. The members cannot qualify for small loans from microfinance institutions or banks, so they learn how to increase household income through the discipline of saving their own money for micro-business loans and then paying the group back with interest. The increase in income means that SLT members can afford to pay water use fees to the Water Use Committee.
A Water Use Committee is nominated by the community and is charged with making decisions about how much to charge for the use of the well. This small fee helps create an income to manage any repair and maintenance costs.
One day, we walked with one of the well recipients (before their well was completed) down to her usual water source. It was about a 20-30 minute walk, and of course the same distance back home, but carrying a heavy jerrycan. When Sean, a tough ex-Marine slung the jerrycan onto his shoulders and began to walk, the small crowd gathering nearby seemed shocked, and Sean found that people were pointing at him. We realized how unusual is was for a man to carry water, and the extent to which this time-consuming works falls to women and girls.
Later, as this project was completed, I watched clear water come out of the new well next to the house. Having carried the jerrycan myself a short distance, and hearing Mamay’s story about her garden, it struck me how possibility can open up once you have abundant water. Formerly, she walked a long distance, presently, water comes out of the ground in her yard, and she starts a garden…and it’s a small step to life-changing dignity to be able to provide for yourself.
Each evening as the sun set on Lake Awassa, we’d sit on the hotel rooftop or down by the water and debrief the day. Wine To Water leads us through a curriculum to learn more about poverty and ourselves. We wrestled with questions such as what does it mean to be poor? In what ways am I poor? How do I define poverty, and how does someone materially poor define it? What does dignity mean to us?
Some things about water that I internalized on this trip: That when basic needs are met or easily accessible, it frees you up to pursue your passions, serve your family, and that autonomy and resources help create a sense of dignity and equality.
I have really been impacted during this trip with what water means. The abundance or shortage of it, and how presence or lack of it seeps into every aspect of your life: time, health, family, and opportunity. I felt that more tangibly this trip than ever before.
In August of 2019, I hope to travel back to Nepal, to an area supported by the SPC Missions team to continue learning and working alongside local people to create more sources of clean water.