Pumping clean water and hope to children in Malawi
By Kari Costanza and Elissa Webster
You could be the reason a girl is healthy, can stay in school, and for the first time in her life, looking into her future with confidence – and all because of a water pump.
Just last year, nine-year-old Ireen in Malawi’s Rift Valley looked set to follow in her mother’s footsteps – trapped in a cycle of poverty and hard work revolving around the relentless journey to collect water.
Like a cruel insult added to an old injury, COVID-19 made the dangers of water shortages, poor sanitation and illness in Irene’s village even more severe – and the threat to her future, more palpable.
But with no other source of water but the distant, dirty stream, Ireen had no choice. Every day, she would rise before dawn to fetch water that made her sick, returning again and again throughout the day because her family needed it. All the while, Ireen was missing out on so much school that dropping out early to work on a farm and marrying very young - just like her mother - felt inevitable.
Ireen started carrying water with her mother, Happiness, when she was just seven years old, balancing a 10kg bucket of water on her head. She would make the trip three or four times a day, walking a total of six kilometres from sunrise to sunset.
Even though she said it hurt her neck, Ireen insisted on doing the chore anyway, to help her mother.
“These kids have a heart to work on their own,” explains Happiness. “Getting their own water shows independence — that they don’t need their mother to do it.”
But the hard work takes its toll on girls like Ireen, and so does the water they collect.
Every day, 6,000 children just like Ireen die of water-borne disease worldwide – and so every drink of water is a roll of the dice. “It makes me afraid,” says Ireen. “I’m afraid of the water because I know that worms are going into my body.”
Ireen is a bright student, ninth in her class of 157 students. It’s a big achievement, especially when she regularly had to miss half or entire days of school every week because she was collecting water or it had made her sick.
But Ireen doesn’t miss school anymore, because she is part of World Vision’s child sponsorship programme.
Right when COVID-19 had cast yet another shadow over Ireen’s future, sponsors opened the windows to a whole new world of possibilities. Because in 2020, thanks to Ireen’s sponsor, and others who support kids just like her in the community, World Vision drilled for water - and it feels like a miracle because now Ireen has all the clean water she needs at the turn of a tap, right there in her community.
FOURTH TIME LUCKY
It wasn’t easy. With 150 villagers watching on, the drillers tried three different places over several days and didn’t find water. But on their fourth attempt, drilling 45 metres underground, clean water erupted from the dry earth.
“God has fought for us,” says lead driller, Golden Bhikha. “God has helped us and now we have water! I am very happy in my heart … it is going to be very helpful, especially when you think about the coronavirus.”
The new borehole has a pump and handwashing taps, and it is so close that Ireen can see it from her house.
“I was so happy, like I’ve never been in my life,” says Ireen. “My prayers have been answered!”
For Happiness, the clean water is life changing, too. As a young student, she was also the top of her class, before her parent’s poverty forced her to drop out of school and fall into the same hopeless cycle. But now, she is a member of the water committee and has been appointed to take care of the borehole for the entire community.
“We were taught how to fix this thing, so we know what we are supposed to do,” Happiness says proudly.
“I am so happy that God has answered my prayer for water. I will continue praying that He can take care of us and He will take care of our borehole.”
Right now, children like Ireen are hoping for a miracle as 2021 turns into a humanitarian crisis for children.
Your sponsorship could be the answer to the prayers of a family like Ireen’s – what better reason is there to sponsor a child today?
Make this a year of hope. A year of empowering children to break free from poverty, for good.