Heather Nelson is World Concern’s One Village Transformed Communications Coordinator. She visited the Samburu region of Kenya in April, and shares her journey to collect water with a Samburu woman named Lolmodooni.
I walk to get water every day. From the living room to the kitchen. From the bedroom to the refrigerator. From the backyard to the little nook in my garage where I keep a case of water bottles. We all walk to get water.
But we don’t all walk like this.
People in countries where there is drought spend hours walking for a drink of water. Lolmodooni is one of these people.
One morning, she let me come along.
Back in April, during a dry and rainless rainy season, Lolmodooni and I walked together from her hut in the middle of Northern Kenya to a dry riverbed three hours away (you read that right: we walked for three hours one way).
Meeting just after sunrise, she told me how important it was to get an early start, before the sun got too high and hot.
She tied what looked like a scarf around her waist, attached an empty 10-litre water container, and headed out.
She was stoic. Resolute. And, slightly bewildered this foreigner was coming along.
I can’t blame her. I’m certain she looked at me and knew I had no reason to be there with her. No reason to walk for hours to get water. No reason to weave through spiky bushes and non-existent shade. Without asking, she knew water was easily in reach for me.
And yet, Lolmodooni welcomed me to walk alongside her.
Walking for Water
As we walked, Lolmodooni expertly navigated the way.
To me, the dry ground seemed to stretch forever in all directions, but she knew exactly where to go. And why wouldn’t she? Her life and her children’s lives depended on her knowing the way.
Lolmodooni wore paper-thin sandals, narrowly missing thorns and jagged rocks. I, on the other hand, got blisters on my Achilles from trying to keep up. I couldn’t get Band-Aids to stick (thanks sunscreen!), so I had to dip into the First Aid kit and wrap my feet in gauze.
I made this walk once and needed medical assistance. Lolmodooni makes it every day.
We didn’t talk much because time was of the essence. The more we lagged, the longer we’d need to walk under the day’s sun. But as we walked, I found myself sneaking peaks of her.
Lolmodooni’s strength and resilience moved me. And yet, there was a pain on her face I couldn’t let go of.
In a way, I understand the pain on Lolmodooni’s face. It was the pain of putting in extremely hard work for minimal reward.
Because the water Lolmodooni and I walked toward, while quenching, wasn’t clean.
Lolmodooni walks hours to sustain herself and her children, but she knows the water she works so hard isn’t clean. She knows it can still make her children sick. And yet, she keeps going. She doesn’t have a choice.
Reaching the Riverbed
When we finally reached the riverbed, I was shocked by how lifeless it felt. I couldn’t imagine water being anywhere near here.
Lolmodooni untied her scarf and water jug, and she looked for right spot. She stopped, dug a little, didn’t see what she was looking for, and moved over about 10 yards. She tried again, but, no luck. She looked around, surveying her options. Lolmodooni walked a bit, dipped her hands into the dirt, and dug one more time. A little water puddled from the hole she made, so she sat down and got to work.
Lolmodooni scooped the sand from the hole, allowing the ground water to pool. As best she could, she let the sand filter the dirty water until it was a little less brown and seemingly clean (but still full of invisible bacteria and parasites).
As she filled her container (and the extras I brought along), I started worrying about the return trip. It took us a long time to reach the riverbed, and the sun was high and scorching. More than that, the water jugs were full now. Full and heavy.
I tried to lift a jug on my own, and I immediately knew I was in trouble. There was no way I’d be able to get this back home. I couldn’t carry it three seconds, let alone three hours.
And that’s when it hit me. Lolmodooni does this every day. Every. Day. She does it because she has to. And, in that moment, I realized having to and wanting to are very different things.
Giving the Gift of Time (and Clean Water)
Lolmodooni doesn’t want to walk six hours a day for water. She doesn’t want to tie that scarf and full water container around her waist and trek back home in the harsh heat. She doesn’t want to offer her children dirty water.
Lolmodonni has to walk six hours a day for dirty water. But she doesn’t want to, and she shouldn’t have to.
I never had to make the return trip that day. The timing was off and Lolmodooni needed to get back to sell goods at the weekly market. She didn’t have time to wait for me, and I admit I was relieved.
As Lolmodooni and I wrapped up our time together, I thanked her for letting me walk in her steps for a day. I let her know I considered her a friend, and was leaving with respect for the perseverance and determination she shows each day.
But in my mind, I was also leaving with a mission.
A mission to give Lolmodooni hours of her life back. Hours of walking for water, hours of worrying about her sick children, and hours of lost time she could use to pull her family out of the most extreme poverty I’ve ever seen.
The look I saw on Lolmodooni’s face that day was that of a mother terrified for her children. Terrified and hopeless. Drinking unclean water can kill her children, but this is all she has to offer. There’s got to be a way to change this.
Do you want to join me in giving Lolmodooni’s life back to her?
The water Lolmodooni brings home makes her children sick and spreads disease. But she has no other choice. There’s no skirting around it – Lolmodooni needs your help.
I’m giving, and I hope you’ll consider giving your best gift today, too.
We can change Lolmodooni’s life, and other mothers just like her. They walk for water to survive, but, together, we can provide clean water that will allow them to thrive.
Visit worldconcern.org/cleanwater and bring clean water to Lolmodooni. Every little bit helps.