As I see report after report of the destruction caused by hurricanes, earthquakes, and flooding, my thoughts turn to the crisis in South Sudan.
The images are chillingly similar. A woman stands amid the wreckage of her home in Houston, knee deep in water. A child in South Sudan stands beside a tarp upheld by a few sticks, wading in muddy water.
You’ll hear this idiom more than anything else at my house. But I heard something this week that has convicted me of many things; most notably the way we speak.
But first let me assure you, I do feed my children … and they’re not starving.
I’m sure if they think hard enough, they’ll remember that they ate today. Many times. Their bellies are full, their eyes are bright and they’re able to move … not crippled over in pain from not having food in days … or weeks. They aren’t drinking fetid water from a hole in the ground that’s teeming with insects. Or pulling dry leaves from a nearby tree to stay alive.
No, they aren’t starving.
“You want to know how sick and hungry we are? Then let me show you the tombs of my two children.”
I quite literally gasped when I heard this.
My hand then covered my mouth … I felt sick … I couldn’t speak … tears filled my eyes.
The dad that uttered these horrifying words lives in a South Sudanese village. His name is Martin, and he has such a grieved stare in his eyes that I could barely stand to look at. His children were hungry. And he’d lost them because of it.
And when I think of these little ones … their tiny graves … and this father’s despair … I can’t help but feel completely distressed about it. And so I should.
I could have kept his children alive. But if only I knew …
If you’ve read this far I now have to tell you the rest of this story—his village is full of hungry children.
After wrestling with the guilt that I probably threw away enough food to have kept this man’s children alive, I realized something greater. That I owe him so much more than just my feelings.
I have to tell his story … and honor his children.
South Sudan is a mess right now. A young country that should still be bathing in the celebration of independence is instead caught in a web of raging violence … economic disaster … and dire food shortages. Poverty is tightening its grip and the poorest people can barely breathe.
In 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.
The 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.
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
“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.
There are some places in this world that are difficult places to live. The desert of Northern Somalia (Somaliland) is one of those places. The only thing interrupting the endless view of sand, rocks, and tumbleweeds is an occasional range of low mountains along the horizon. In the middle of the desert, clusters of homes comprise tiny villages. Once a week, the women from these towns walk for an entire day to the hills to get water—the only source of clean water for miles.
“It is so far,” explained Shamse, a young mom who lives here in the desert. “I walk from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and still only return with a few jerry cans – whatever I can manage to carry.”
The water she manages to bring home last only a few days. When the jerry cans run out, Shamse and her children are forced to drink salty, contaminated water from a nearby hole in the ground. “It makes us sick,” she said.
Many children in this community have died from diarrhea and other water-borne diseases. “As a mother, I feel so sad,” she said. “But there is no doctor here when the children get sick.”
Shamse’s conflict depicts the life-or-death dilemma that many others in the community face every day. The nearest access to clean water is a long and arduous day’s journey away, but local water sources are contaminated and unsuitable for human consumption. It’s a threat that fills Shamse with dread and exhausts her even before she rises from her sleeping mat.
But there is a solution, and it starts with a gift from above — rainwater.
In this region, it rains as little as two or three days a year. But when it does, it rains hard—often causing flooding, as the dry desert ground cannot absorb so much water all at once. Check out this video clip of a flash flood in Somaliland.
We help communities build large underground water storage tanks called berkads. These berkads collect, channel, and filter torrents of rainwater, capturing it for use between rains. The result of just one day of rain: enough clean, fresh drinking water for an entire community for months. In fact, one berkad can hold up to 80,000 gallons of water – that’s enough water not just for drinking, but also for growing crops and keeping livestock healthy and alive.
With berkads, moms like Shamse have access to clean drinking water that is safe for their children and close to home. Some women are even able to earn income from selling the water if a berkad is built near their home.
Along with this life-saving source of water, we provide hygiene training and improved sanitation (latrines and toilets), leading to better health for families in need.
We’ve seen this system work in other communities in the region, but there are many more families waiting for clean water. You can be a part of this and help needy communities build berkads and other sources of water — bringing help and hope to Shamse and others.
Providing clean water for families is the first step to move beyond barely surviving, and toward lasting change. Your gift saves lives and transforms communities long-term. In addition, your year-end gift by Dec. 31 will be matched, dollar for dollar, providing clean, life-saving water to twice as many children and families.
“I am 40-years-old and above,” shares a poised Canab (pronounced Ah-nahb), “and I have lived in Balanbal my entire life.”
Snuggling up next to her without-a-doubt adorable daughter who is wrapped in a pink burka and wearing a coy smile, Canab tells me, “My children are healthy and they go to school. Some people think the school here is not good, but this is where all of my children have gone.”
We’re sitting on the dirt floor of Canab’s thatch hut – located on the main, and only, road in the very rural village of Balanbal, Somaliland. After meeting each other at one of the village’s recently rehabilitated berkads (a local water catchment system), Canab has invited me into her home to impart on me a bit more of her story.
“This land is difficult. We have suffered many droughts and famines,” Canab says, peering out of her doorway. “In the past, there have been times when we have gone seven days without water.”
I ask her how this makes her feel. The only question my dumbfounded mind is able to conjure up in response.
“My children are my heart, so when there is now water, I worry about them,” she pragmatically answers.
Due to its semi-arid climate, Canab’s village is afflicted by persistent floods and droughts.
“The water is not always enough because we all are sharing, and currently we are experiencing a drought,” says Khadar, a 45-year-old father and lifetime resident of Balanbal.
Due to the area’s extreme weather, water devices such as berkads are necessary in order to catch and hygienically store rainwater – sustaining communities through the seemingly endless dry seasons.
Unfortunately, when a berkad has not been well maintained, it serves as more of a community monument – either inefficiently or un-hygienically storing the water.
“Our berkads used to be dry so we had to get our water from Burao, a faraway town,” explains Canab, reflecting on the past. “We would have to buy the water, but often times we had no money to do so.”
Canab continues, “Additionally, when we suffer, our animals also suffer. For a period of time I only had three goats.”
“The berkads containing water are far away. The nearer berkads have dirty water or are empty,” says Muna, an 18-year-old mother and community member.
Recently, World Concern rehabilitated berkads in Balanbal, also offering hygiene and sanitation community trainings, contributing to a more holistic transformation.
According to Khadar, “Previously, the berkad’s water would only last for ten days. Now the water is enough for three months.”
“The World Concern trainings have taught us how to manage, distribute, and clean the water,” expresses a joyful Canab. “We are also learning about caring for the environment, including planting trees!”
World Concern is partnering with communities across Somaliland to improve their current water situations as well as prevent future disasters from occurring.
“Our eyes have been very opened by the trainings. We are healthier and so are our animals. We have learned many tangible things. As a community, we are helping each other and giving to those in need.”
Clearly, Balanbal’s berkads are now more than rusted tin meeting points – they are tangible symbols of health, income, disaster risk reduction, and community cooperation.
This week, I’ve been traveling in Kenya with ExOfficio, a generous company that has outfitted our field staff with new shirts.
Yesterday, we visited two villages in Kenya that have been dramatically changed by access to water.
In the first village, Naroomoru, Maasai boys danced for us, singing a special song about how World Concern and their water pump has changed their village. Incredible. Before the pump, villagers were drinking out of a disease-filled lagoon. The kids in the village were sick all of the time. Typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea…
The teacher in Naroomoru was telling me he once had to call for a medic because a child was having uncontrollable diarrhea and needed to be rushed to the hospital. No more. With clean water, hygiene and sanitation, this plague of diseases has ended.
School performance has also increased, as the children are not sick. The school’s rating in the area has increased from about 160 out of 180 schools in the area, to about the 30th best performing school out of the 180 schools. Huge.
The second village, Mpiro, now has a water pan—a protected man-made pond for providing water for livestock. Before the water pan, the villagers had to walk their animals for three hours, round trip, to get water at the base of a mountain. This area is filled with dangerous animals. One man told me about his nephew being trampled to death by an elephant. Now, the access to water is 5 minutes away.
In Mpiro, we and our clothing partners from ExOfficio had the opportunity to work with the villagers as they planted sisal, a drought-resistant plant, along the edges of the water pan. This planting helps protect the berms of the water pan from degradation, and reduces the amount of crud that blows into the pond.
An incredible day—to reflect on how blessed I am to have unlimited, clean water—and a reminder of the dramatic ways life can change for the better by partnering with villages to tackle these problems head-on.