I have said on several occasions that I don’t do serious topics on this blog, but every now and then I make an exception for something really important. This is one of those times. Today is Blog Action Day. I got involved with this project last year on another blog, and had decided if I was still writing this year, I’d do it again. I won’t go into a lot of detail about it here; you can take this link to find out more about it or to become involved. I’ll just say that today bloggers all over the world are writing about the same topic: Clean Water.
Let me start with a few facts:
- Almost one billion—BILLION—people do not have access to safe, clean water.
- Each week almost 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from dangerous water and living conditions.
- Every day over 2,000,000 TONS of human waste is pumped into water sources.
- 40% of rivers in the US are too polluted to fish in or to sustain life.
- 443 million school days are lost by students in developing countries due to lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene.
- Water covers 70% of the earth, but less than 1% of it is available for human use.
Overwhelming numbers, aren’t they? The numbers get so overwhelming they start not to mean anything, and that is dangerous.
I knew from the time I heard this year’s topic that I wanted you to know about Memphians who are getting clean water to those most in need. It was a no-brainer for me to tell the story of my family’s church, Idlewild Presbyterian (PCUSA) in Memphis, and its involvement in the Synod of Living Waters and its global mission project Living Waters for the World. Living Waters trains members of churches (all denominations) and civic groups to go into communities and—with local partners—identify schools, orphanages, hospitals, and other locations with contaminated water supplies. The local partners are trained to install, operate, and sustain clean water systems.
Still doesn’t mean a whole lot, does it? I asked Idlewild member Buddy Nix to help me talk about Living Waters. Here’s what he told me:
My involvement came about because of Wil Howie (Wil is Director of Living Waters for the World) giving a talk at our Presbytery camp, Pinecrest, about the project to provide clean water to people who need it. I am a member of Idlewild Presbyterian Church and the church decided to set up a committee to become involved in this project. We first decided that Mexico and Ghana would be the two countries we would work in.
Then I attended the training session at Clean Water U, Camp Hopewell, Oxford, MS, to learn about the systems we were to install.
I became involved with Ghana and made a trip with some members of Advent Presbyterian Church in Memphis who were already installing clean water projects in Ghana. They introduced us to the Presbyterian Church of Ghana leaders who told us of places that needed our systems.
Our lives were immediately changed as we saw very young children walking long distances to draw water from a well and put it in containers on their heads to carry it home. This is the way they have to obtain their water for drinking, cooking, and bathing every day. How easy it is for us to turn on the faucet and get all the water we need. Our water is clean, and the well water they get is contaminated. This causes sick days for them and shortens their lives. Many suffer bad backs as adults because of all the heavy loads of water they had to carry as children.
Our systems need a source of water (rain water, sump pump, or municipal water), electricity, and a security system. This virtually limits the places where we can install systems to hospitals, clinics, schools, churches, and conference centers.
We had to meet with the administrators of potential places for installations, test their water to find out if our system could help, and begin work on a covenant to agree on who would provide what. We want them to feel like it is their system, and they need to operate it, maintain it, and protect it.
On our second trip to Ghana we installed a system and looked for new places to make installations. Follow-up trips will keep the same pattern. We check on systems we have installed, look for new potential sites, and complete covenants in preparation for the next trip. It has to be organized for sustainability, to keep the systems working and to continue into the future.
We experience the challenge of trying to purchase the equipment we need in Ghana and train the people there to handle their own installations and maintenance.
Buddy told me I might want to contact another Idlewild member, Jim Levernier. Jim was also gracious enough to share the story of his involvement with Living Waters. Here is Jim’s story:
After 20 years of general and 10 years of developmental pediatric practice I knew that I still wanted to focus on helping children achieve their potential. They are indeed the future. When I learned of Living Waters for the World (LWW), a mission project of the Synod of the Living Waters, Presbyterian Church, USA, I saw a way of helping thousands instead of just one at a time.
Often the statistic of children dying of contaminated food and water is quoted as the reason we need to help bring clean water and hygiene education to all peoples of the world. More than 30,000 die each week. It is a noble reason. But what about the children who manage to survive one after the other episode of dehydration from contaminated water? They grow up far below their potential in physical stature and mental ability. And what of the country that is deprived of so many bright energetic citizens and is instead burdened by many poorly productive hard to educate youth? And what of the world that is deprived of so many productive inventive countries and is instead burdened by those countries that threaten peace because of their inability to take part in a global society? Well now, THAT is a reason to spread clean water and hygiene education to all corners of the world!
LWW has always been about building relationships, providing systems and training to produce safe water and teaching health and hygiene practices in the spirit of keeping all that God made “good” as good as He intended. As LWW has grown and matured in its mission, our focus is more and more on listening to “local solutions”, considering economic independence for systems and planning for sustainability of clean water and continuation of education in each locality. Individual systems are now being grouped into “networks” to support one another and to allow individual mission groups to contribute to growth without the fear that their work not be sustained. LWW network coordinating teams will lend support and direct new mission teams where and when needed.
This is the sort of mission that truly fulfills my grandiose desire to “save the world”. I am not crazy enough to think that I can do this alone or that LWW is the only mission that can do it. This is a humbling task. However, if all of us who can will build sustainable systems of education and health to insure that most every child born in this world can develop to their full brilliant potential, then we just might save our world for those precious ones that live on after us.
Guys, if you know me, you know I can be a little—let’s call it cynical. But I have to tell you what keeps going through my mind after hearing those stories:
What if the next child to suffer diminished mental capacity from lack of clean water was the boy who had the cure for cancer?
What if the next child to die from lack of clean water was the one to lead her country to peace?
What if I had been the child to walk 20 kilometers a day to find clean water for my family rather than attend school?
Look, I know that not everyone has the opportunity to go to Ghana and install a water system. That’s okay. There’s plenty to be done here at home. The average American family of four uses about 400 gallons of water a day. According to the EPA, 36 states are looking at local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013. And let me tell you, if you think you can’t do anything about that, you are so wrong. So. Wrong. The fix at home isn’t a huge undertaking. Not keeping the water running when you brush your teeth can save eight gallons of water a day. I’ll tell you, that’s my habit to break right there. I am the worst offender. Household leaks can account for 10,000 gallons of wasted water a year. That’s a swimming pool by the way. Now, as my husband can tell you after fixing a leak in our bathroom last weekend, there may be a lot of cussing involved in the fix, but that’s not a reason not to do it. A leaky showerhead alone can account for a loss of 500 gallons of water a year, and most of the time it can be fixed with a twist of a wrench. These are not difficult, expensive, or time consuming projects. I mean, I’m pretty lazy and all, but I think I can train myself to turn off the water when I brush my teeth.
The availability of safe, clean, accessible water is a basic human right. It doesn’t matter if we’re Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or atheist. It doesn’t matter if we live in a city or a desert. It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor. The need for potable water unites us. As Jim, Buddy, and all those involved with Living Waters of the World have shown, just a few people can make a huge impact. I thank you both for sharing your stories.