Water Tour Reflections by Jennie Sikorski, Water 1st staff memberPosted on March 5, 2012 by Kirk
Ethiopia field visit day 1- After spending the past day in Addis, I was very excited to head out to the rural parts of Ethiopia to see Water 1st’s projects first-hand. After a debriefing at the Water Action field office, we headed off to Bishikiltu, a community that has been enjoying access to safe water since the completion of their water project two years ago. The first water point we saw was located steps away from the Bishikiltu school. It warmed my heart to see the children, in their assorted green school uniforms, going over their English homework with fellow Water Tour participant and school principal, Karen Nilson, knowing that these children will not have to grow up with the same hardships their parents did. They will have the opportunity to grow up healthy and achieve far more than they ever would have before. In the 30 min we spent at the water point we saw many women show up with their water cans to fill them with clean water. The women we talked to lived only minutes from the water point, a far cry from the hours they were spending walking to the Mara River to collect dirty water only 2 short years ago. The people we saw that day were welcoming, happy, appreciative, and most importantly, healthy! I left that first day feeling energized having witnessed the profound impact this water project has made on the lives of the people living in this community.
Ethiopia field visit day 2- Day two of our field visit was spent in the community of Gonbisa Kussaye where our arrival was met with singing, chanting and dancing! After initial celebrations came to an end, we moved down the steep banks of the river to see where the women and young girls of the community collect their water. I have to say, I have seen it in videos and pictures but to see it in person, up close, squatting down next to the women as they try and brush the filthy scum off the top of the water to fill up their water cans made this issue so undeniably real for me. This disgusting dirty water is what they drink, it is what they cook with and what they bathe in; it is all they have. It is great to see people with access to clean water but it is hard to understand just how amazing it really is until you have witnessed the horrible conditions they were faced with before. To say I was moved in an understatement.
I too filled up my water can with help from one of the women and then began the steep trek up the banks to her home. The walk was not easy. Once you have negotiated the steep river banks (they are too steep for even donkeys to get down) the incline up to the homes is steady and long. Luckily for me, the woman’s house was one of the first and I was able to take off my heavy load after only a kilometer. Most women walk much further and make the trip multiple times a day.
After carrying water we met with the water committee. We were encouraged to see that the committee consisted of a 4 to 3 ratio of women to men. I was even more impressed to hear one of the men explain that this was done intentionally because they understand the burden of fetching water is felt most heavily by the women. They know that it is important that the women’s voices are heard. One of the hardest parts of this meeting was realizing that these people are still skeptical and unsure whether this project is going to happen. One woman in the meeting even offered up her cattle, undoubtedly the majority of her net worth, if it would help ensure the project was completed. It was a very bittersweet feeling, knowing how badly these people want this project and how many times they have been let down while also feeling happy that they will soon know that the project is in fact a reality.