When water makes you angry

World Vision's Kari Costanza visited a community in Ethiopia whose residents are experiencing a very pronounced -- and understandable -- emotion over their struggle with a lack of access to clean water: anger.

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As a reporter for World Vision, I like to interview people one-on-one and in private. People feel safer and open up more when they’re not surrounded by a crowd.

So imagine my dismay when I arrived to do a story about water in an Ethiopian village, and it appeared that the entire town had turned out to be interviewed.

I sighed inwardly. This was not going to be easy.

The town lined up and I asked them four questions: What is your name, what do you do, why do you need water, and what about your life will change when clean water is found?

Their answers surprised me and helped me understand what having no water means to a village -- in an entirely new way.

Their town was called Tsigereda, which means “rose.”

Ironically, roses have never been able to grow here, because there is absolutely no water.

But that’s not the worst of this town’s woes.

Mekdes Abera, age 24 and a nurse, described a vividly horrible scene at the health clinic where she works.

“The most dangerous thing about having no water -- after delivery, there’s nothing to wash my hands with,” she said. “We worry for those women who give birth. They might be contaminated. We are required to wash after each patient, but we can’t. It is not practical.”

The health center is completely unsanitary, she said. “We can’t clean instruments because of a lack of water.”

And they can’t clean up the blood.

“Pregnant women come with blood gushing out of them,” said Mekdes. “There is no water to wash the floor.”

Nurse Kefele Getaneh, 26, who works with Mekdes at the clinic, said, “We catch rain water from iron sheets. We keep it in reservoirs. We run out. Most community members get diarrhea, especially the children. We lose children.”

Aselef Dereje, 13, a student in the town, became absolutely livid when talking about water. She practically stomped her foot when she answered my questions.

“Parents demand that their daughters fetch water. When I am on morning shift, I walk for hours. Then I am late for class. When we go to school late, we can’t get into class.”

I asked how clean water would change her life. She told me that she’s second in a class of 57 and added, “But I could be number 1.”

If Rose had water.

“The problem is colossal,” says Assefa Alemu, 25, a local administrator. “People fight with one another in the queues. Mothers who get vaccinations can’t even wash.”

He described how blood from vaccinations would run down a woman’s arm, with no way to clean afterward. It would just dry there in a bright red stain.

“When we get water, the mother of all our problems will be gone,” he said.

Standing there among the villagers, I had never felt so much anger expressed because of a lack of clean water. Sadness and fear, I’d seen. I’d seen hopelessness. But never so much anger.

And, I thought:

Why couldn’t Nurse Mekdes wash her hands after delivering a baby?

Why couldn’t Aselef be at the top of her class?

Why couldn’t Assefa plant roses to commemorate his town’s name?

The worst kind of interview had turned into the best possible way for me to understand the frustration of a community that doesn’t have water.

I left the town called Rose with a surprising emotion planted in my heart: rage.

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Hope is not lost. World Vision continues to look for options to bring clean water to the people of Rose. Robel Lambisso, our geophysical expert in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, tells us that Rose does not have water at shallow depths, which is unfortunate.

But Ethiopia has many water sources to choose from, which is good news for the people of Rose. Water engineers are looking into the possibility of drilling a deep well, a more expensive solution that requires further analysis. Please pray for the people of Rose.

World Vision's holistic approach to community development means that your monthly sponsorship contributions work to improve the lives of children by strengthening their communities around them. Through this approach, children and their families receive sustainable access to life-giving basics like clean water.

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