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.
Driving east out of Jacmel in south east Haiti, the paved road hugs the coast offering stunning views of the blue water beyond. The view inland is equally impressive as rugged, green covered mountains look down on you.
This region is one of my favorites in Haiti and it was nice to be back. On this particular day we were heading to the village of Figue to see firsthand how this community took the lead in a recent project.
Figue is located high up in these formidable mountains and several kilometers from the paved road along the coast. To get there we followed a gravel road that steadily narrowed as we climbed. The journey alone to some of the rural areas World Concern works is an adventure in itself.
Eventually the gravel disappeared and the road’s surface became rocky and soggy from the rain that falls each afternoon this time of year.
At one point Robert, our driver on the trip, stopped the truck and got out to lock the differentials and turn on the four wheel drive.
“Okay now we are ready,” he said.
Looking ahead I could see what he was referring to. There was a particularly steep section that was incredibly narrow (can the truck even fit through that?) and the road dramatically dropped off on the passenger side (which is where I was sitting).
With my heart pounding in my chest, Robert expertly navigated the difficult section, as he has many times before, and then laughed out loud as a way to lighten the situation and celebrate his small victory. At this point all of us couldn’t help but laugh too.
We continued on and soon reached the village of Figue which is surrounded by dense vegetation and rugged terrain. There are 125 families in Figue with “five people per family minimum” as one man said.
In 2012 Figue suffered tremendously due to a harsh hurricane season. In addition to crop loss, the village’s only church was completely destroyed.
“The wind was so strong during Hurricane Sandy,” explained Pastor Samuel Bonnet. “The church was flattened.”
Pastor Bonnet has pastored the church in Figue for 32 years and his father pastored before him. Although no one knew exactly when the church began, it’s obvious it has been serving Figue for some time and World Concern wanted to see that legacy continue.
While World Concern provided the materials and some technical support, it was the community of Figue who rebuilt their church.
“We built it!” They chimed in unison when asked about their church. It was clear that the community possessed a high level of ownership which is a beautiful thing to witness.
The new church building is an eye-catcher. Not because it is flashy; in fact it is quite simple. However it is the obvious strength of the structure that grabs your attention. The old church was made of rock and dirt. The new church is built with cement, ensuring it will serve its’ 200+ members well for years to come.
In addition to a new church, Figue now has access to consistent potable water thanks to the construction of a new water system. Similar to the construction of the church, World Concern provided materials and technical support but the system was entirely built and managed by the community.
The primary water source is a spring a steep 10 minute walk from the main road passing through Figue. Once the source was capped, piping was installed to carry the water down the hill to a reservoir. This reservoir holds the water and once it reaches capacity, the water is piped further down the hill to a fountain on the main road.
64-year-old Amedene Tibo, a widow and mother of seven, has lived in Figue her entire life. “Although the source was only a 10 minute walk from the road the path was bad and if you are carrying water you will fall,” she said.
She is not joking. After scrambling to reach the reservoir a few of us continued further up the hill to the actual source. Even for a young person such as me, it was no easy trek. The path itself is not clear and I was constantly slipping on the wet rocks that littered the ground (even though I was wearing low top hiking shoes with good traction).
Thankfully that difficult walk is not needed anymore.
As I sat listening to different people share about the water system and what a blessing it is I thought to myself, “What if it breaks?” All too often systems such as this one end up rusting away as soon as something breaks if there is not a pre-determined plan established beforehand.
When there was a break in the chatter I asked that very question.
“If there is a problem with the system each family has agreed to give a little money so we can repair it,” explained Frednel Rimny, president of the local water management committee.
It was encouraging to hear that the committee understood the importance of creating a plan and had put one in place.
The progress in Figue and the community’s hard work should be celebrated. A safe place to worship for the village’s church goers and a new water system are wonderful contributions that will certainly bless the people of Figue for quite some time.
This doesn’t mean Figue and other rural communities don’t face more challenges. Poverty is complex and multi-dimensional. This theme came up often in our discussions with our travel companions. We’re learning that not everything can be “fixed” or perfected; and that’s okay. Instead it’s about walking with people and helping them move forward one step at a time. This is a slow process but one that World Concern is committed to living out.
It’s noon, the least ideal time of day for interviewing and taking pictures. Stomachs are rumbling, the brisk morning air has been swallowed up by the afternoon heat, and the sun is positioned directly over our heads.
Ilova Kokoto and I move into the shade of Ilova’s meager brick home. She lives here with her daughter and granddaughter. Natural light streams through the doorway and frames Ilova’s face – exposing her wisdom-induced wrinkles and deep brown eyes. “I’m not able to know my age,” Ilova shares, but it is apparent that she has lived to see a thing or two.
We are in Basuba, a rural village in Lamu county – a detour off of the journey up Kenya’s coast, the road toward Somalia.
“Life in Basuba is difficult. For many years, we have suffered from famine due to numerous droughts,” Ilova explains in perfect Kiswahili, an infamous attribute of Kenya’s coastal region.
Resting her chin on her weathered hands, the mother of four continues, “Until two years ago, we had no clean water. We traveled far to collect dirty water, and many people died from cholera.”
Though proud of Basuba’s recent clean water improvement, Ilova further informs me about the village’s ongoing challenges – many of which will soon be considered a shida (Kiswahili for trouble) of the past.
Take hygiene, for example. When World Concern first visited Basuba, the community was living naively in hygiene indifference. Having never been educated about the importance of drinking clean water, relieving oneself in a contained area, and washing one’s hands, preventable diseases were rampant among local residents.
Ilova laughs recalling her defecation memories of the past. “When we would relieve ourselves, we would have to go deep in the bush. Even at night. Sometimes I would encounter snakes and buffalo and have to run for my life. It was very hectic.”
It did not require much consideration for the Basuba community to insert latrine use into their daily routines. Ilova explains, “The toilets are nice, we are using them often. We now don’t have to go where there is a lot of danger.”
Sitting on the dirt in Ilova’s doorway, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the glaring simplicity that is such an immense issue – an issue that is lessening both the quality and length of human life all over the world. Simply put, many survive without available, clean water and hygiene education. These should be a basic human rights, yes?
Though the people of Basuba still suffer from poor farming conditions, World Concern’s partnership has transformed a significant part of their daily life. According to Ilova, “Because of the toilets, we don’t feel the sicknesses we used to have. We used to complain of stomach issues but we no longer do because the conditions are clean.”
Peter Okongi, a Basuba primary school teacher who has been translating for me throughout the interview, proceeds to chime in (though I will toot my own horn a little here – I could understand about half of Ilova’s sentences. Mimi nimefahamu!), “When I first moved here, there was no clean water and no latrines. Clean water was very difficult to find. People could travel between 4 – 5 km to collect unhygienic water. My students would often complain of stomach ache. Even me, I was often sick.”
A Nairobi native, 36-year-old Peter was assigned to teach in Basuba three years prior – just before World Concern installed the djabia. Frustrated that his students frequently missed school as a result of their poor health and the distance of the remote water locations, Peter is particularly jovial about the community’s recent improvements, “Even school attendance has increased. Students used to travel so far that they sometimes had to stay a night away. But now that the water is available, more are able to attend school, where we are also teaching about hygiene.”
Ilova’s gorgeous daughter and granddaughter step into the home, plopping themselves into plastic chairs. Looking at her loved ones, Ilova warmly expresses, “Now that the toilets are built, we are no longer afraid. We feel supported.”
Snakes, buffalo, and cholera be gone. “We feel supported.”
Support empowers people live with dignity – to live a quality of life that is deserved by all human beings. Empowered with clean water and education, in partnership with World Concern, the people of Basuba are jumping across stepping stones toward holistic transformation.
Here’s the most beautiful part: with education, training, and proper equipment, on their own, the people of Basuba are going to be able to maintain a lifestyle that includes clean water and hygiene for years to come.
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.
In my travels, I experience all kinds of environments, from tropical jungles to barren deserts. Yet no other place has left such a deep impact on me as northern Somalia (also known as Somaliland).
We traversed an elevated plateau, ringed by mountains, known locally as the Ogo. Were it not for the intense heat, I would have believed we were on the moon. Wind whipped up the sand, filling my teeth with constant grit. The air sucked all moisture from my body. My throat was sore and my tongue was swollen.
There are no roads, and the landscape is littered with rocks and small shrubs. We drove for hours hardly passing anyone, only seeing a few people leading a herd of camels into the horizon. It’s a lonely place.
Most people in Somaliland are nomads. Livestock (camels, goats and sheep) are the only way of life in a place with so little water. These animals walk hundreds of miles each week across the Ogo, traveling from one waterhole to the next, and whole families move with them, carrying their homes on their backs. The last few years have been especially hard, as rains have come less and less frequently, and wells dry up.
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 in one 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.
In Huluul, we met a widowed mother. The scar on her face and the weariness in her eyes are deceiving. She is not even 25, her four children under 7. After her husband died, she couldn’t manage raising her young children and taking care of his herds. As the animals died off, one by one, all hope of a future for her children died with them.
Like so many others, she moved to towns like Huluul to start over. Unfortunately, this has put a heavy burden on the meagre water supply in town, and threatens the health and lives of many more.
Since 2008, World Concern has been crisscrossing the Ogo plateau, working in small villages and towns to turn the tide on water shortages. Through introducing rainwater tanks in schools, clinics and public buildings, repairing and protecting wells, and teaching schoolchildren about public health, a crisis is being averted.
In Huluul, increased water supply has meant economic growth. The town social committee is providing food, shelter and water to this young mother and many others. Her children have access to food and water at school, and the health clinic has fresh water as well. For one woman—and many more with your support—water means life, and new hope.
What if your family spent less money on Christmas gifts this year?
What if you focused more on giving and helping others instead?
What if you did something amazing, like bringing clean water to a desperately poor village?
That’s exactly what Rod Robison’s family did last Christmas – and they’re doing it again this year. Instead of spending hours in crowded shopping malls, spending loads of money on “stuff,” Rod’s entire extended family pooled their money and raised enough to pay for a well for needy families in Somalia.
He said the idea came after his son Jordan, a freshman in high school, did a report how the lack of clean water impacts poor communities – causing sickness, loss of productivity and income, and perpetuating poverty.
Rod, who had given gifts to family members for years from World Concern’s Global Gift Guide, sent a letter to all of his extended family members who gather in Dallas for Christmas each year. Here’s part of that letter:
“In a real sense, the lack of clean water is drowning people in a cycle of extreme poverty that continues from generation to generation. That is, until someone steps in to help break that cycle.
That’s what I’m suggesting the Robisons, Herringtons, Hansons, and Lambs do this Christmas. Break the cycle for one village.
During Jordan’s presentation he held up a catalog from World Concern. He showed the kids in his class how they could buy ducks, chickens, pigs, or goats for a family caught in the grip of extreme poverty. Or even a well for an entire village in desperate need of clean water.
He challenged his fellow classmates and their families to spend some of their Christmas money this year on someone else. Someone in desperate need.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate God’s grace this Christmas than to share some of that grace with someone who needs it badly. Can you?”
Rod’s family members were thrilled with the idea. His daughter, Jennifer, a mom of twin one-year-old boys, said she and her husband had asked for only gifts that helped others, like those in the Global Gift Guide.
“My parents did a great job of teaching us there are lots of people who had less than us,” said Jennifer. “We have enough stuff. We really wanted to do something for someone else. At Christmas, we’re celebrating Christ’s birth, but what are we really giving to Christ on his birthday? He says, ‘Whatever you’ve done for the least of these, you’ve done for me.’”
The family raised most of the $3,000 for a shallow well in Somalia, but they also had others join their efforts. Rod shared the story on a radio station and one of the hosts asked afterwards if she could donate to their project. They ended up raising several hundred dollars extra and were able to give some animal gifts as well.
“It was very exciting to see it come together,” said Donna Lamb, Rod’s sister. “We were thrilled to be a part of it.”
Rod, who is the host of a radio program called “Radical Stewardship” on the Family Life Radio Network, said he hopes others will consider changing their mindset from one of ownership to one of stewardship.
“We were put on this earth for a greater purpose than heaping stuff on our laps – to use what God has blessed us with to help others,” he said.
Rod suggests families start by taking 10 to 20 percent of what they would normally spend on Christmas and putting it toward helping others. “That’s going to buy a lot of good,” he said. “The stuff you could have bought with that money doesn’t mean a lot, but it means the world to someone else in need.”
Kelly Ranck is moving to east Africa to serve with World Concern as a communication liaison. Here’s a report about the impact of latrines and hygiene from her recent trip there.
We roll VIP.
You heard me. World Concern rolls VIP style. I’m talkin’ Ventilated Improved Pit latrines. And this is changing lives.
Clean water and basic hygiene are concepts that we take for granted. In the villages of Kenya and South Sudan, such information is foreign. Though they often live happy (still difficult) lives, many people here have never been exposed to the idea that their lives could be prolonged, and less difficult, if they were to practice good hygiene.
Here is where the VIPs come in. As a part of our One Village Transformed campaign, World Concern educates communities about preventing diarrhea, cholera, and other water-borne/hygiene-related diseases.
World Concern trained the community of Benane, Kenya to build this beautiful VIP. They are now educated as to the basics of:
A. Using the VIP latrines and their importance in preventing diseases
B. How to practice good hygiene to protect and improve their health
Another reason I love VIPs (besides the fact that they spared me from a handful of moments of doing my business in public) is that they enable more children to attend school. Here’s how they relate: healthy children can effectively travel to and attentively engage in school. Clean water and sanitation are significant factors in increasing opportunities for education.
Because World Concern has empowered locals to build a Treadle pump, more students are attending class. Instead of spending the large portion of their day walking to water sources in order to gather unsanitary water, children now have access to clean, safe water and more time to attend class. And with latrines at the school, the underground water sources will remain unpolluted and safe to drink.
I look forward to checking back in with the people of Benane and getting some VIP access when I move to Africa!