April 28, 2013

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I just returned from a trip to Ethiopia with charity: water and Soma. As I sit down to recap my experience I realize I’m still processing my journey in Africa. I’ve humbly accepted that the processing portion of the experience will be just as intense as the actual experience itself. At times, it was difficult to absorb what I was witnessing first-hand and I felt numb to the emotion. In my 33 years, I’d never seen anything even close to this.

To set the stage a bit, it’s important to know that 80% of diseases across the world are caused by unclean water. More than 800 million people on this planet don’t have clean water, that’s 1 in 9 of us. After spending time with the villages that had new charity water wells, and with the villages who were soon going to get the charity water wells, the divide between the haves and the have-nots quickly became crystal clear.

The people in the villages that had clean water were visibly healthier, happier and more alive. A 76-year old village elder who had just gotten clean water in his village told us he never felt younger. This was a man who has lived 76 years with unclean water and competed with animals for the unclean water. He also said the children had much more energy now that they had access to clean water. As if they had a new lease on life. The villages were grateful beyond belief, they wanted to celebrate, give us gifts and share their precious food to show their gratitude toward charity: water.

The thing that I couldn’t get out of my mind was that this problem is solvable. I witnessed the solution being implemented and charity: water is proving this can be overcome. Why is this still such a huge issue? One village that we visited had gathered around a charity: water rig, which was drilling a well. As we sat there with the villagers the rig struck water and water proceeded to spray into the air. It was quite a moment. Another day, we witnessed the well diggers using dynamite, creating explosions in effort to get down to the clean water.

When you see a grown woman carrying her baby on the front of her and a heavy clay pot on her back to fetch unclean water from miles away, twice a day, you gain instant perspective and inertia. Powerful inertia to help. Imagine what those women could do with those hours of time if they had clean water nearby from a well. Imagine how everyone in the village would feel if they weren’t sick from the unclean water. I wish more people could experience what I did. I will continue to share stories so others can snag my lesson and inertia.

The children. The children were incredible and they were definitely a highlight. Many of these kids were quite unhealthy due to the lack of clean water yet they still managed to smile, laugh and carry on as kids do. As I played volleyball with the Ethiopian kids I now realize they gave me a distinct moment of clarity. Clean water and a ball to play with was more than enough. They didn’t have soft, comfortable beds, air conditioning, soda or video games but that didn’t matter.  They had enough and they taught me that as soon as we realize what enough looks like, we become rich. Their rich, resilient spirit is contagious and I hope to help them spread their way of leading a rich life.

One day, my group and I celebrated a new well at a school in Tigray. Ethiopia. We brought the kids a soccer (football) ball as a gift and it was decided that the teachers and my group would face off in a game of soccer. I was the only woman on the soccer field and from a soccer-skill standpoint I had no business being out there. I tried to defend the local Ethiopian soccer rock stars only because I wanted the hundreds of kids on the sideline to see a female on the field playing with the boys.

One of my favorite things to do was take a photo of the kids and then show them the photo on my iPhone screen. Eventually we worked our way up to the art of the Selfie. After showing the kids their own reflection in the camera I realized many of them had never seen their own reflection before. I wonder what our lives would look like if we weren’t overexposed to our own reflection.

Long story short, the world appears quite differently through my new lens. A drink of clean water has never tasted so good and I appreciate being able to brush my teeth using water from the facet. The gain of this perspective is contagious and I’ll work daily to not lose sight of what enough looks like.

“As soon as we realize what enough looks like, we instantly become rich.” – Andy Middleton


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