Featured Stories, National Lutheran News

In Ethiopia, wells are a source of life

Shirley Flachman’s watercolor “Precious Water” depicts “ an Ethiopian woman pouring water she has dipped out of a hole she had dug in a dry riverbed.” Flachman continues, “The hours of ‘sitting with’ this woman during those weeks of painting profoundly affected me. I shall never look in the same way at the water available to us at the slightest twist of a faucet.” After she finished the painting, artist Flachman researched water distribution issues on the Internet and discovered Water to Thrive, a group that supports the indigenous building of wells in Ethiopia. Art provided by Shirley Flachman

The residents of Awelo, a village in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, used to arise at 4 a.m. to take a familiar daily journey to a watering hole. Then, possibly after needing to wait in line for the opportunity to dip the water into jerrycans, they made the same trek back with the weighty cargo. Much of their day was simply spent in pursuit of an adequate supply of water.

Then Water to Thrive, an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit with strong Lutheran connections, helped dig a well closer to the village. When Dick Moeller, the founder of Water to Thrive, made a recent trip to Aweto, he asked village resident and member of the community’s water council Tekle Zerearey how long it now took her to get her water, she replied, looking somewhat embarrassed, by lifting up one finger. “One minute,” she said. She lives next to the new well.

What has this meant for Zerearey and her family? Children can now attend school to a later age because their day isn’t dominated by obtaining water.

“In the past, about 60 percent of the children in this area were registered for school,” explained Moeller. “The village elders have informed me with pride that 100 percent of the village children are now attending school.”

Such a lived experience of water as the source of life certainly deepens one’s perspective on the meaning of baptism as the water of life.

Congregations can educate and have impact

According to Moeller, the average American uses 70 gallons of water for personal usage each day. This includes showering, washing dishes, and laundry. Water can have less meaning when in such easy supply.

Before Water to Thrive’s well was built, people shared an open watering hole with livestock and other animals. Photo provided by Dick Moeller

The average American uses 70 gallons of water for personal usage each day.

But Water to Thrive is raising awareness of just what clean, accessible water means in the daily lives of people in poorer countries, as well as finding practical means to make it happen.

Water to Thrive builds relationships with local elders to identify potential sites for well construction. Then Moeller works with congregations in the U.S. to provide funding to build one or several wells.

“We have completed 170 projects, providing clean water for almost 100,000 people,” said Moeller. “The average cost per beneficiary is only about $10.” Each project costs about $5,000, providing water for 500 people for 20 years.

Shirley Flachman, an artist who captures images of the lives of people around the globe, was so moved by one woman’s image (see above), that she researched organizations working on water issues. “I am so impressed with Water to Thrive’s impact,” she told Metro Lutheran.

For more information about Water to Thrive, visit its Web site: www.watertothrive.org.

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