The large banner hanging over the street was a familiar: “Merry Christmas.” But I was surprised, because I was in a small town in the Dominican Republic – in October! I saw a similar banner a couple weeks later in early November in Nairobi, Kenya. “Merry Christmas” is a greeting and a sentiment being shared all over the world from now until December 25th.
When I think of people in the communities where Healing Waters International works my response is “The More the Merrier!” The more people and more communities that can experience the health, economic, educational, social and spiritual benefits of access to safe water, the merrier their lives will be, not just their Christmas.
To be sure, not even the lack of clean water will keep millions from celebrating the birth of Jesus, the light of the world this Christmas. But, celebrating Christmas in a state of good health, not suffering in misery from water-borne diseases, makes life a lot merrier.
I had the privilege a few days ago to visit one of these communities. Nyakera is a small fishing village of 600 people located on the banks of Lake George in rural western Uganda. It’s a 2 hour ride from the nearest paved road on steep, bumpy, rutted one lane dirt roads to get to the village. People there make their living through subsistence fishing and farming. There is no electricity and no running water. In fact, there were no safe water sources ever before 2015. People had no choice but to cope with the low level of health and frequent illness that comes from drinking, washing their hands and food and cooking with contaminated water they fetched from the lake, which also serves as the local watering hole for cattle.
As part of the water project, the community formed a water committee and established a water co-op to manage the water purification system and water store. Women were trained to teach good health and hygiene practices in the community so the benefits of having safe water could be realized. For the first time ever in Nyakera, there is now affordable access to safe water for drinking, cooking and other daily needs. Almost from day 1 the project was supplying the community with seventy 5-gallon jugs of safe water every day, ensuring new levels of health and vitality!
But, all this wonderful progress was temporarily interrupted when a drought hit the region, causing the lake levels to recede. The problem wasn’t the lack of water, it was a lack of fish. The abundant fishing holes dried up and the economy of Nyakera dried up with it. Most of the community could no longer afford to pay their dues to remain a member of the water co-op. Many had to revert to using contaminated water for their families.
Due to the harsh, new economic reality, the water committee is trying a new pricing model for the co-op. Water is never free but the water committee is doing whatever it can to help the community. Thankfully, the rains are returning and fishing populations seem to be making a comeback which could quickly improve the incomes of families in Nyakera.
Nyakera’s story reminds us all of just how fragile life is when a community is trying to develop from a place of deep poverty. Poor or wealthy, safe water is life, safe water is health, but nowhere is safe water free. Water infrastructure must be in place to preserve this invaluable basic necessity of life and to make it accessible to everyone, everywhere. In fact, I just read that my hometown of Portland, Oregon has the highest tariffs on water in the USA. Imagine, in the place that has a seemingly endless supply of water, people pay the most to access safe water!
By contrast, in places like Nyakera we get to help communities implement low cost, creative, reliable, and locally sustainable approaches to make safe water accessible to everyone in the community. The more communities that obtain safe water, the merrier!
Help us give the gift of safe water to another village like Nyakera this Christmas.
More is better. More is merrier. More is needed until there are no more without safe water.