Pond scum mustaches

Kenyan boys at pond.
Young boys drink from a murky pond in Kenya.

I will always think of the little boys with the pond scum mustaches when I consider the developing world’s water crisis. I met them in Kenya this week as the World Concern team was surveying an extremely remote village where we are planning further development.

We drove to a water pan – essentially a man-made pond for water collection. Water pans are usually reserved for livestock, but in this case, a couple of water pans were the community’s source of drinking water. After slipping through a fence made of gnarled branches and walking toward the muddy pond, I saw the water. It was green with algae, and moving with life. Over the surface of the water was a film of muck, essentially – pond scum.

As I was getting video and photos of this water pan, reality set in, as a group of five friends – thin and quiet little boys around 10 years old – came with filthy jugs, out to get a drink. They lined up alongside the pond, dipped their jugs in the water, brought the water to their mouths, and tipped the jugs back.

I knew at that moment that the boys were being infected, as they had been many times before, with parasites and bacteria that would make them sick. We scooped up some of this water in a clean, clear bottle – and with the naked eye could see worms and other creatures flex and swim through the opaque mess.

Dirty water from a pond in Kenya.
Filthy water is all that's available to drink in this Kenyan village. It doesn't have to be this way.

I could not believe the heartbreaking scene that I was witnessing. But for these little boys, there is no other source of water nearby. As they drank I noticed that around their small mouths was green pond scum.

In many cultures where World Concern works, there is a sense of fatalism. The tragic circumstances dealt to people are their fate, and they just need to accept them. Part of it is religious, part of it is cultural, part of it is just the fact that they haven’t seen anything better. Why would they hope for something they had not seen or heard about?

Here is the truth: God aches for these boys, as do we. What we know that the little boys don’t is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Working together, we are can bring the love of Christ in tangible ways to relieve the suffering that families have endured for generations. It just doesn’t have to be this way.

In communities where we have worked in a more significant way – communities that have seen the benefits of clean water, of sanitation, of education for children, of opportunities to work and save money – we have seen something happen. A spark of realization in the minds of hopeless people that the misery they’ve endured is not the final word. When they get it, mountains move. Children grow. Goals are set. Communities change – long term.

Water is one of the most important ways we can begin the process of this transformation, to show the light of Christ to people who have suffered for so long.

To learn more about World Concern’s water programs, or to help bring clean water to communities like this, visit www.worldconcern.org/water

Water: It's not just for drinking

Reading the riveting accounts of the Chilean miners’ ordeal this week, I came across a story that described how they survived the first 17 days before contact was established with the world above ground. Not only did they have to ration tiny amounts of food, but they drank water that trickled through the mine from an underground spring. The water, they said, was oily and had a foul taste. But they knew they had to drink it to survive.

Dirty water in Chad.
Dirty water in Chad.

People around the world are forced to make this same decision every day: Drink the dirty water that’s available, or die from dehydration. Unfortunately, when they do this, people often become sick from the water, contracting diarrheal disease or parasites, which also result in dehydration and even malnutrition. The cycle worsens when their fragile immune systems make them more vulnerable to other diseases.

When I think of water as it relates to health, I think mostly of thirst and dehydration. But having clean water to drink is only one aspect of how water contributes to health. Being able to wash your body, your clothes, and go to the bathroom someplace other than a field or stream, are vital to good health.

When I used to bathe my children when they were young, I thought of it more as a comfort than a necessity for health. Sure, a mother knows keeping her child clean is important, but bath time was usually more about making sure they smelled and looked decent after a day of being toddlers. I’ve always appreciated being able to wash away the day in the shower or bath, and start the next day fresh and clean.

women in Kenya gather water
Women in Kenya gather water.

For many moms around the world, this luxury is not available. Dirty children are often sick children. In poor villages in Africa, touching a contaminated surface or the face of an infected person, then touching your eye can actually lead to blindness as diseases like trachoma are spread this way.

In crowded conditions (i.e. most homes around the world), skin diseases like scabies spread easily from sharing unwashed clothing and bedding. The incessant itching can lead to open sores and dangerous infection. Kids are not allowed to attend school for being too dirty, or displaying the symptoms of scabies. This creates another huge problem—kids not being educated—all because of lack of water.

When I first learned about World Concern distributing bars of soap to refugees living in crowded camps in Chad, I thought, oh that’s nice. Now they won’t smell bad. But running water and a bar of soap are much more than that; they are the solution to stopping the spread of many communicable diseases. The people there use the bars of soap to wash clothes and bathe with. And their overall health is improved. We also teach them the basics of hygiene, like hand washing and using a latrine. It’s amazing how many of them don’t know why this is important.

Since I started working at World Concern, I have become acutely aware of the blessing of taking a shower. I never take that warm, running water for granted, and I want so much to ensure that moms like me around the world have a way to bathe their children at night, making them smell good, and protecting their lives.

To learn more about World Concern’s water programs and get involved, visit www.worldconcern.org/water.

World Water Day – A Critical Humanitarian Need

High tension as communities in Haiti need clean water in the days after the 2010 earthquake. A reminder of the humanitarian aid needed for World Water Day.
High tension as communities in Haiti need clean water in the days after the 2010 earthquake. A reminder of the humanitarian aid needed for World Water Day.

In the hours after the Haiti earthquake, World Concern took an inventory of the basic needs facing people who had lost everything. Food, water and shelter were the top three. But when it came right down to it, water was the single greatest need. Within a few days, people would be fighting for their lives – desperate for a drink.

When I visited Port-au-Prince a week after the quake, one of the most tense moments I encountered was a fight about water. People wanted it, and we were trying to meet the need as best we can. But the need was too great. Water truly equals life and survival.

Today is World Water Day. If you have the opportunity to run the tap and receive clean water today, consider yourself privileged. One in six humans have to live using an unclean source for drinking water. It means they walk miles to get a drink, and waterborne diseases like typhoid and intestinal parasites become a part of their lives.

In post-earthquake Haiti, broken sewage lines intermingled with water lines, making the water dangerous to drink. In places where we work in Africa, poor sanitation leads to contaminated water sources. This contaminated water leads to disease and parasites, which slows learning, stunts growth and prematurely kills millions of people.

Only though community hygiene education and improved water sources are we able to change the equation. At first, it may be through an emergency supply of bottled water, like in Haiti after the earthquake. Longer-term, our humanitarian aid may include improving water systems, or even inventing them entirely, as we do in dozens of poor communities throughout the world.

For this World Water Day, you can change the life of someone in desperate need, by digging a hand-dug well for $300, to benefit several families, or investing in a machine-drilled well. A share is $100, the entire well is $3,000. It will will transform an entire village. (And with grants we get a 5:1 match on machine drilled wells in Kenya!)

So here’s to good health, and safe water – even to families in Haiti and in other hurting places around the world.

Water wells in Kenya installed by humanitarian organization World Concern provide hope to communities in Kenya suffering from water-borne disases. World Water Day brings awareness to the problem.
Water wells in Kenya installed by humanitarian organization World Concern provide hope to communities in Kenya suffering from water-borne disases. World Water Day brings awareness to the problem.