We often hear how something as simple as clean water is so important in many areas of our world. It’s hard for us to realize how lucky we are. We fuss about having enough hot water for a shower or about having to buy a new hot water heater or we curse at the dripping faucet that keeps us up at night.
When I was teaching at Parkview a few years ago, we participated in the “shoe man” shoe drive. You’ve heard him on the radio. He uses second hand shoes to fund a program in which companies install water systems for impoverished villages all over the world.
During the assembly in which the “shoe man” staff came to thank our school for the enormous amount of shoes donated, students were shown a short video. In the video we saw a small village when their new water system was turned on. It brought tears to the eyes of many students and many could not believe how important getting a water system was for this village.
The expressions on the faces of the villagers looked like it was Christmas morning. The “shoe man” representative told of an elderly grandmother who walked up to the spigot and put her entire head under it, laughing and dancing as if she’d won the lottery. Humbling, joyful and yet heart-rendering at the same time.
Just last week, my fifth graders heard a story of Virginia, a 16-year-old girl in Port-au-Prince who had an amazing story to tell. As you remember, Virginia’s country was hit by a terrible earthquake not long ago. Yes, clean water is a valuable thing there.
Virginia, who lives in a remote corner of the city, is forced to walk and fetch water each day. The water source, a small stream used to irrigate crops, is 30 minutes away.
That’s right; every day, Virginia takes a large bucket with a lid from her front yard and heads down the dirt road. After an hour, she returns from the stream with enough water for the morning. She makes another trip later in the day.
You can imagine Virginia’s trip. It must be done under any conditions. Virginia carries the full water bucket on her head. She experiences neck and back pain on a daily basis. She once passed out from the strain.
Regularly, she must take pain medication for her head. I wondered aloud if she’d ever spilled this precious cargo. Can you imagine?
And it’s not just water, but clean water that is the issue.
Many deaths occur in Haiti, indeed around the world, due to contaminated water. There are other water sources very near to Virginia’s home, but they are all risky and there is the threat of sickness. This is why she walks so far each day. Two hours of walking each day; for clean water.
As we watched, we were all thinking the same thing; how we wanted to help. What if we could give Virginia a wagon?
How about a little motorized scooter? What if she had a large vehicle in which many villagers could ride along and fetch enough water for the entire week? What if? Still better, how wonderful if a water system of some kind could be installed close to her village? My students were full of ideas. They were full of compassion and they were ready for action.
There is certainly something to be said for focusing our attention on the lives of others.
It makes me think twice when I walk up to my fancy refrigerator to get a glass of fresh water. Anytime. Thirsty or not.