How a Samburu Mom’s Unexpected Questions Changed Me
Written by Heather Nelson, One Village Transformed Communications Coordinator.
I stepped off the plane and immediately felt the crisp air telling all my senses I was back home. After a week in the dry, scorching climate of Kenya, breathing in the Seattle air reminded me of drinking a tall glass of water after feeling uncomfortably parched the last seven days.
Still, there were two things I thirsted for more than the familiar scenery and drinkable air: seeing (and squeezing!) my two sweet boys I’d left behind while I flew across the world for my first trip to the field with World Concern.
I have the privilege of working as the One Village Transformed Communications Coordinator with World Concern, a vocation that lets me deep dive into the incredible transformational development happening in more than 30 villages in Asia, Africa, and Haiti.
The thing is, my job mostly takes place at a desk. I read technical reports emailed from the field, and I write from the comfort of my office chair. I share exciting updates with One Village Transformed supporters so they can see and feel the impact their gifts are having. It’s blessed work that I care about deeply. But until a few weeks ago, I mostly did this job from my head.
So dry that moms and their children walk up to six hours a day to find water. The riverbeds are bare and dusty, but if they dig deep enough small pools of water gradually appear. It’s this water, brown and murky, they scoop into containers that are so heavy when filled they must use a strap against their foreheads to carry the weight.
It’s a physical burden that represents not only the hardships they face, but the weight of understanding that this is not what it means to live a full, abundant life.
There are places in the world where the road ends and help stops.
These places are desolate, isolated, and dangerous. The problems there—both natural and man-made—have gone on for too long to make the headlines. They are places where humanitarian aid has fallen short.
When 7-year-old Nina Tomlinson heard that fire had destroyed most of the homes and crops in the remote village of Maramara, Chad, she was heartbroken for the families who lost everything. Nina’s church partners with the village of Maramara through World Concern’s One Village Transformed project. Nina had also just learned about habitats in school, so she understood how bad this disaster was.
“I know that you need food, water, and shelter to survive and Maramara lost two of those things,” the concerned first-grader told her mom. “I want to help!”
Nina’s birthday was coming up and she decided to ask friends and family to donate to help the people of Maramara instead of giving her gifts. Her mom, Brie, created a Facebook event to tell others about Nina’s cause, and the donations started pouring in.
“It was awesome to show her other peoples’ generous hearts,” said Brie.
At her birthday party, an excited Nina revealed the total her friends had given. After it was all over, “She ended up raising just about $1,500,” said Brie.
Nina said she feels pretty awesome about being able to help other children and families facing devastating circumstances. Her birthday donation, along with additional support from her church, will enable people in Maramara to rebuild their homes, have enough food to eat until their crops can be restored, and most importantly, have hope for the future, knowing people like Nina care enough to help.
For the first time ever in its 40-year existence, the village of Maramara has clean water.
Life in Eastern Chad has been a constant struggle. Water is scarce in the parched Sahel desert. Most of the region was destroyed during the Darfur conflict, causing communities like Maramara to have to fight even harder to survive.
Up until last month, the nearest source of clean water is a three-hour walk—each way. Mothers often abandoned this burden and gathered dirty, contaminated water from a closer source. As a result, children were sick with diarrhea and diseases like dysentery.
With the support of World Concern through a One Village Transformed partnership with Northridge Church, the community was empowered to contribute to the construction of their new well. Village members provided 500 bricks, sand, gravel and their own human resources. A drilling rig was brought in, and the result is fresh, safe drinking water, better health … and joy in the hearts of Maramara residents.
We invite you to share in the excitement of what clean water means to this community through their own words:
“To God who exposed water to dust! Now, I make as many trips as needed and plenty of water. Enough time to look for food for my children. Children take a bath every day. I now can make supplies of hay in good quantity for my cattle. May God reward love towards us.” – Amkhallah Souleymane
“Since I started drinking clean water from the pump, I wake up each morning energized. Kids have shining faces and clean clothes. There are no more worries about women delaying when fetching water. Thank you very much and may God bless you.” – Ahmat Abbo Dahab
“The taste makes me want to drink without stopping! Pains that I often used to feel at certain times of the day have begun to disappear. The water well we use to drink from is now used by many to make bricks for housing. From the bottom of your heart you decided that we get water and I see the commitment you have to help us. May the Almighty bless you.” – Mustapha Mahamat
“When I see how clean the water is in a container, I laugh. My body and clothes are clean since I started using this water. The millet I wash is clean. The food is well prepared because I have water and time. I am grateful to God and ask Him to protect and bless you in your activities.” – Hassani Moussa
“I follow my mom with a small container. It makes me happy to see mom jump when pumping water. Thank you.” – Fatimé Zakaria
“I feel less pain in my body. I don’t have to borrow a donkey to fetch water. Invitations to fetch water are over. I’m thankful for the rest you allow me to have.” – Achta bireme
I’m reminded at times like this that the places where World Concern works are remote. It’s day three of “getting there” and we have at least another day to go.
I’m in Lamam, Laos, now with my wife Kathryn and a team to document what donors equip us to do in these very poor and remote villages. It’s 6:30 a.m., but the roosters began crowing long ago, and people have already begun to work as day breaks.
The villages where we are working all start with the word “Dak.” Dak Din, Dak Noi, Dak Euy. Dak means water. Even though a stream runs nearby these villages, which I expect to be the source of the names, access to clean drinking water remains one of the most significant challenges in these communities.
You may have heard of Dak Din before. We’ve profiled it in our One Village Transformed campaign, and have begun work there with the villagers to bring new life to the community. With the villagers, we have identified clean water, education and income generation as some areas of urgent need.
Now that Dak Din (forest water) is underway, we’re checking in to see how things are going there – one year since our campaign began. We’re also visiting Dak Noi (small water) and Dak Euy (big water), neighboring communities that share similar challenges.
Last time I was here, one year ago, I met little girls who were about four years old, the age of my daughter, Violet. Their days are filled with labor, including pounding rice and fetching water – dirty water at that. Not all of them will have the chance to get medical care, or go to school. The supporters of One Village Transformed aim to change that.
I hope my heart breaks again. I don’t mean to be touchy-feely here, but I seem to forget how the majority of the world lives as I go about my day-t0-day regular-life job. It’s easy to forget this alternate reality, as my wife and I laugh at our daughter playing princess or ballerina, and we mind how much Violet watches the iPad, or if she’s eaten most of her dinner (most of which gets thrown away).
The fact is – our abundance blinds us to the rest of the world. And we will continue to stay blind to it until we decide to make the intentional choice to see it, and respond.
I believe that God loves people equally, regardless of where they happened to be born. As I read scripture, the call to the rich is a steep one, to give up what keeps us from seeing Him, and serving Him. Christ’s compassion for the poor is consistent. He takes sides, and expects us to also.
This is a week of renewed enlightenment, I pray – and I am reminded that we are not heroes here – going in to fix the problems and deliver the “poor” from their misery.
The reality is, God is already at work here. And the villagers here probably know more about life and joy than I ever will. They certainly know more about hardship. I believe the purpose of this work we do is to be with the poor – walking with them, learning with them – and arriving at a better place, in time, where the love and truth of God is fully realized.