The Joy of Clean Water, In Their Own Words

IMG_1052In most of the impoverished places where World Concern works, meeting needs starts with water. Why? Because when a mom is trying to keep her child alive, nothing else matters.

Through your gifts to provide clean water, you are the hands and feet of Jesus to these moms, meeting this critical need and opening the way for lasting transformation to take place. As you read the stories below, I hope you know how much your gift matters!

One Mom’s Story of Survival

War War knows her children are alive today because of the water you provided. For the first few years of her babies’ lives, War War did what all the moms in her village did – she retrieved water by the bucketful from the mucky, still water that sat in the pond in their village.

3 - Dirty Ponds, Hunger - Yaw Won Lay, Chaung Tar Yar (306 of 391) - low resThe water made them sick. At the same time her younger son became ill with severe diarrhea, War War herself got sick. With the help of friends and family, they eventually made the four-hour boat ride to the nearest hospital where they were treated for water-borne diseases.

In and out of consciousness, alone and fearful for her son’s life, War War learned it was the dirty water she had been giving her son that caused his sickness. She was devastated.
Thankfully, both survived. Because of you, the village now has clean water, and families like War War’s have learned the importance of good hygiene and sanitation to stay healthy.

War War’s son is now happy and healthy!

Clean Water Changed Mohamad’s Life and Future

Clean water is changing the lives of students like 14-year-old Mohamad – helping him stay healthy and focused in school. Mohamad’s school in Somaliland (Northern Somalia) now has a tank that captures rainwater, providing plenty of fresh, clean drinking water for the students.

“Before, we didn’t have any water to drink while we were at school. We would feel thirsty, but we could not get anything to drink until we went home,” explained Mohamad.

The school now has a 6,600-gallon tank that captures rainwater through a gutter system on the roof, providing abundant clean water for students to drink and wash their hands with at school.
“Now it’s easier to learn because we have water,” said the grateful teen. “Now we are healthy.”

The Life-Changing Impact of Berkads

Many families in Somaliland now have clean water from berkads. Berkads are large concrete tanks that channel and store rainwater. With a berkad, one day of heavy rain can provide enough clean, fresh drinking water for an entire community for months. Here’s what a few people have to say about the impact of these berkads:

“Before the berkad was built, there was not enough water. We were going so far to gather water. Now that World Concern rehabilitated this berkad, it is good. When it rains, the berkad fills up and we save it for use when our water supply is low.” Asha, 48, mom of three

 

“Before the berkad was built, there was not enough water. We were going so far to gather water. Now that World Concern rehabilitated this berkad, it is good. When it rains, the berkad fills up and we save it for use when our water supply is low.”
– Asha, 48, mom of three

 

“In school we learned about hygiene—to wash our hands before we eat and to wear shoes when going to the toilets. It is good to do these things because if you don’t wash your hands and then you eat something, you will probably get a disease.” - Sahra, 12, student in grade 2

 

“In school we learned about hygiene—to wash our hands before we eat and to wear shoes when going to the toilets. It is good to do these things because if you don’t wash your hands and then you eat something, you will probably get a disease.”
– Sahra, 12, student in grade 2

 

“Before these berkads, we did not have enough water in our village. When the water ran out, we would have to travel three hours by foot to the mountains in order to gather water. These berkads provide us enough water. They also benefit us as we earn income to help build them. We very much appreciate the berkads because we now have enough water to cover our needs.”
– Sahra, 30, mom of three

The stories above show just how much your gifts matter. Clean water not only saves and transforms lives, but also brings immeasurable joy to families in need.

 

Pondering home in Somaliland

Recently I’ve been thinking about home. This happens every time I travel, and I know I’ve been on the road too long when I hear Michael Bublé in my head, “Paris and Rome, but I wanna go home…”

But my recent trip to Somaliland made me think of home in a different way. As a self-proclaimed “global nomad,” I like to say that I can be at home anywhere, but honestly that’s not true. I can survive anywhere for a period of time, but changing beds every two nights for three weeks is not enjoyable, and coming home to an empty room is lonely. (Queue the Bublé…)

Somaliland nomads
A nomadic family on the move in Somaliland.

In Somaliland, I spent time with real nomads. Not only do they move with their herds of camels and goats from place to place in search of water, they often do this away from all other social contact for weeks, maybe months at a time. My wife and I may not see our family very often, but at least we have church, colleagues, and neighbors. True nomads just keep moving, but in Somaliland that is changing.

Years of drought and desertification, coupled with conflict, are making the nomadic way of life much more risky. Rains are fewer and far between. I’ve visited places that get rain two or three days per year. Ironically, so much rain falls that day that it causes walls of water 15 feet high to roar down dry river beds, washing away whole families. Between the constant wind and these flash floods, soil is eroded away and the high central plains are mostly bare rock, with a few inedible shrubs.

Driving across this expanse of desert, not passing a vehicle for days, it is easy to see the comfort of the nomadic life, as well as the struggle for existence. It’s very peaceful—just a few wild animals, the sky, vast stretches of land, quietly grazing herds. But the daily trek for water can be 30 or 40 miles, and there is no health care, no education, no places of worship. You live alone, and you will likely die alone. Why then does this way of life persist? Why is it so heartbreaking to see nomadic families lose everything, and be forced to live in villages, where they make less than 50 cents a day?

It’s about home. Home is not your living quarters, whether a hotel room, a grand palace, or a bundle of sticks and a tarpaulin. Home is not who you’re with, but who you miss. Home is about a sense of purpose, a feeling of well-being, regardless of services and amenities that are available. Home truly is “where the heart is.” But what does this have to do with me and Somaliland?

Donkey in Somaliland carrying firewood
Donkeys carry firewood and jerry cans in Somaliland.

In disaster recovery theory, we do not accept that we can enable a return to pre-event conditions. This is especially true in slow-onset disasters like droughts, where it is difficult to even set a time and place which is accepted as normal. Rather, there is a move towards building a new normal—a safer, more resilient, and more risk-adverse normal. In Somaliland, this means smaller herds, diverse income sources, and improved rangeland and water management. Technically sound, but for the old man who just wishes he could die the way he was born, on an open plain to the sound of camel bells and the blowing wind, it’s hooey. Recovery must be something you can believe in.

In my mind, recovering from a disaster is about accepting a new sense of the word normal, and embracing a future that is quite different from the past. It’s about acknowledging the inevitable march of progress, and anticipating the opportunity for previously unknown joys. It’s about coming home to a new home.

Serving the most vulnerable

I confess I’ve avoided writing about the families in this post for weeks. I doubt I’ll ever get to the point where photos like these don’t disturb me, but I will say there are fewer that shake me up inside – mostly because I know we’re doing something to help.

This set of photos and stories, sent by our staff in Somaliland (northern Somalia), really affected me. They were taken during an assessment of drought-affected communities to determine the needs of people there. One of World Concern’s priorities is to reach the most vulnerable first, so the families we help are often headed by females, have sick or disabled members, or are among the poorest of the poor; in this case, in the fifth poorest country in the world.

These are some of the families we met. I wanted to share their stories and photos so that others know their circumstances. To give them a voice, in a way.

Mother in Somaliland with sick husband
Khadra feels she has no alternative than to tie her mentally ill husband to their hut.

Khadra

It took me a moment to figure out what was going on in this photo to the right. It shows Khadra, a young mother of three from the Sanaag region outside her small hut fashioned from sticks, plastic and pieces of fabric. The family had 200 sheep and goats before the drought. They lost them all.

While talking with Khadra, our staff learned her husband is mentally ill, suffering from psychosis. Khadra said that she feels she has no alternative other than to tie him to their hut so he won’t wander away.

I can assure you, there aren’t any social services in this part of Somalia. Definitely no mental health counseling.

Imagine being in Khadra’s position and not knowing what else to do. My heart aches for her.

A father with his children outside their home in Somaliland.
Salah is thin and ill with respiratory problems. He and his children live in this makeshift home in a drought-affected region of Somaliland.

Salah

The part of Salah’s family photo (left) that troubles me most is their home. You can see they’ve tried to use scraps of trash, or whatever they can find to create some sort of shelter, but it’s no match for the searing daytime sun or cold desert nights.

I’m assuming this father has lost his wife. I’m told he has chronic respiratory problems and is very sick. He and his children survive off of food provided by neighbors and relatives.

Arale

Arale (below, right) is a disabled father of four who migrated to Garadag after losing his herds to drought. Their only source of income is to send their children to look for animals owned by other families, for which the children earn a small daily wage.

World Concern is helping these families, and thousands of others, initially by trucking water into drought-affected communities in this region and distributing emergency food. Families also receive plastic tarps for shelter, jerrycans, mosquito nets and cooking pots.

A disabled man with his family in Somaliland.
Arale's children earn money for food by rounding up other people's animals.

Long-term, we’re building berkads (semi-underground water reservoirs) and digging new wells – 36 of them in the coming months! Another way we’re helping is providing people with the tools and knowledge to grow vegetables and improve nutrition through kitchen gardens.

There is hope for these families.

Somaliland is slightly more politically stable and has experienced more peace than the rest of Somalia, having declared its independence in 1991. This is one reason we’ve been able to make progress there. Time is another factor. We’ve worked there for 30 years, enabling us to respond quickly when disasters like drought, war or famine strike.

We’re hoping to reach more families like these throughout Somalia.

“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.  Speak out, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  Proverbs 31:8-9