Water can make grown men cry.
Many years ago, on one of my trips into Bolivia’s rural areas, I met with a group of leaders of a village. Food for the Hungry (FH) and the community were new in their relationship with each other. We gathered in a cement block, school classroom and sat on low school benches. On a warm day, the dusty air magnified the sweaty smells of men who made their living digging in dirt.
We asked the men what they would like to see happen, if they partnered with FH. Usually that question turns the conversation to money very quickly…please pay for this, please buy that for us. Often, the requests are for things that benefit only a few in the community, and not necessarily the most needy in the village.
Instead, one of the men stood up and in a quiet, yet intense voice, told us about water. This is a culture where men don’t show emotion easily. Even in an argument, a mature leader won’t necessarily raise his voice. But while he talked, I could see that his fists were clenched as if he were mentally fighting an enemy.
And in reality, he was in a battle – with dirty water. He told of the betrayal they felt when another agency came in years ago and started installing a water system. But the agency didn’t finish, for some reason. I’d seen evidence of some of the pipes and pumps around the community, but they were dry. The leader told us that they weren’t sure they could trust FH, because so many people had let them down.
“We’re tired of our children being sick. We’re tired of our children dying,” he said.
The classroom had only small windows, so the faces were obscured in half-darkness. But I could see glistening eyes of the fathers in the room. They quietly wept as their leader begged us to bring them clean water. Nothing else. Just water.
When I walked away from that village, back to my city apartment with tap water, I could purify the water by boiling it. For these folks, boiling wouldn’t take care of the problem. The river that ran nearby was fouled with human and industrial waste.
They needed water from a protected system, from deep in the ground or from one of the natural springs that came out of the mountains. They needed latrines to keep their own human waste out of their well water.
Later that day, I walked alongside the river. I saw more industrial leftovers of a failed dam project. Somehow, I managed to cut my hand pretty badly while rooting around inside my day pack. Instinctively, I bent down to wash the blood off my hand in the river. Out of the corner of my eye, my colleague Teofilo began waving his arms and yelling,”No!”
And I realized in a flash, he was trying to keep me healthy. If I even so much as washed off a cut in that river, myriad nasty microbes and pollutants could enter my bloodstream. I’m constantly reminded by that memory how valuable it is, to have clean water for washing.
In the end, Food for the Hungry did help that community improve the water system. Today, those fathers no longer see their children die of unclean water.
As Easter nears, and we talk about the life Christ has given us through the resurrection, we can consider how to give life as well. Though our gift catalog, you can help FH provide a water pump in the Congo, or a tippy-tap for hand washing.
By giving, you can literally save a the life of a child and wipe away the tears of mothers and fathers.