As we work to build wells and #ChangeLives, Water to Thrive is fortunate to employ Gashaw Semeneh, our Ethiopia Project Manager. For the last two years, Gashaw has brought a wealth of experience and a compassionate heart to our in-country work, and has played an instrumental role in the progress we’ve seen in identifying and completing water projects.
Here Gashaw introduces himself in his own words:
I was born and raised in Addis Ababa. My father was a famous photographer and had a chance to serve both Emperor Haile Selassie I and later the socialist regime, taking wonderful shots for four decades. Being raised in this kind of family, taking photo shots and recording video using professional cameras were my hobbies while I was in secondary school and even in University.
After I studied Geology and joined a private water well drilling firm in 2002, a life-changing moment happened in my life. I started to realize the scarcity and unavailability of safe drinking water in rural Ethiopia. Furthermore, it was vivid that the burden was more on the women who travel in some places a half-day or more to fetch water from an unprotected water source, exposed to rape and abduction. In addition, schoolgirls miss class for fetching water and helping their mothers, and so are found to be poor in school performance.
From that time on, for more than 10 years, I have had chances to work for many private water construction companies and local and International NGOs. Then another life-changing moment happened in my life in Spring 2014, which was joining Water to Thrive.
I am now the W2T project manager based in Ethiopia, to oversee site selections and the design and construction qualities of spring development, hand-dug wells, shallow boreholes, and pipeline expansion projects built by W2T local implementing partners in East Africa. Furthermore, to ensure the sustainability of the projects, I give trainings to the local partner staffs, community members, and local leaders.
Currently, I am managing the huge project in Ambo, 126 kilometers west of Addis Ababa. When it is finished, it will have the capacity to provide nearly 500 hundred school children with safe water, with gender-sensitive and disability-inclusive pit latrines, and 1100-plus rural communities will have safe water with CLTS and operation and maintenance issue trainings.
“The difference between a facility that has clean water and one that does not is like night and day,” he said.
“It makes it much easier for me and my nurses to do our jobs. Even the diseases we see are completely different.”
On the wall of the Lundamatwe Dispensary where Dr. Mwaikuju is currently working is a list of the Top Ten Diseases. Water-related illnesses are prominent of the list.
“Unfortunately, because we treat people from such a wide area, not all of them have access to safe water,” he said. “But, if you were to visit a dispensary where there was no clean water, you would see water-related illnesses dominate the list.”
“There would also be higher numbers of people suffering from those diseases,” he added.
According to Dr. Mwaikuju, it is only at facilities that have clean water that a water-related condition such as diarrhea does not occupy the top spot. In Lundamatwe, that position is consistently taken by upper respiratory infections which are most often caused by cooking with charcoal inside unventilated huts.
In addition to the impact it has on illness in the areas surrounding the dispensary, the facility’s Water to Thrive-funded well also improves treatment in several ways.
Facilities without clean water are forced to purchase bottled cleaning supplies which is cost prohibitive and can even place treatment out of the reach of many patients.
“All of the cleaning supplies have to been purchased in bottles and brought in by vehicle,” Dr. Mwaikuju said. “In those situations, even the materials we use for basic cleaning have to be brought in. It’s expensive and if a shipment doesn’t arrive on time, the doctor is forced to ask the patient to bring their own cleaning supplies.”
In many cases, this is beyond the financial reach of the patient and they end up going untreated.
In recent months, Dr. Mwaikuju has noticed a slight surge in the number of people seeking treatment for water-related conditions. He attributes this increase to the rapid population growth of the nearby city of Iringa.
“The area serviced by this dispensary has had more than 8,000 people move into it during the past few years,” he said. “It makes things harder but at least we have clean water. I hate to think where we’d be if we didn’t have that.”
The dispensary is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dr. Mwaikuju and his staff of three nurses average 250 consultations a month.
If you want to be apart of helping transform a community with the gift of water, consider donating now!
Because of a severe leg injury, he requires a cane to walk so Jacob needs to leave his hut by 6am to open the well on time at 7am. More than 400 people from six small villages are counting on him and he’s not about to let them down.
“They all voted for me to be the caretaker and I am determined to do a good job and help the well last for a long time,” Jacob said. “I can’t be late. People need their water.”
Mornings are a busy time in the Menya home as Jacob must help get his three youngest children get ready for school before he can start the one-mile walk to the borehole.
The daily walk to the borehole is bittersweet. In 2007, Jacob lost his wife of 35 years to a water-related illness.
“I am very, very happy that we now have this clean water and that my friends and neighbors will not have to suffer like my family did,” he said. “But, I’m sad it didn’t come in time to save my wife.”
The villages’ old source of drinking water was a lake in the middle of a swamp about two miles away. Diarrhea, worms, typhoid and other water-related were a part of everyday life. Deaths were not uncommon.
“It was disgusting but it was all we had,” Jacob said.
His job requires him to unlock the pump at 7am and lock it up again at 6pm. He is also responsible for keeping the area around the well clean and offering hygiene and sanitation tips to users.
For this, he receives a monthly stipend of 20,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $10) which comes out of the maintenance fees collected from people using the well. On average, families contribute 1,200 shillings a month (about 50 cents).
He also gets all the clean water he can drink which is a perk of the job as far as Jacob is concerned.
“This water tastes great!”
Funded by Water to Thrive and constructed by International Lifeline fund, the Baroromo Borehole opened in October 2014. It is located in Uganda’s Apac District.
With only a few weeks left in lent, consider donating now to provide wells in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania and to make an impact in a life like Jacob's.
From the time she was born, she regularly suffered from water-related diseases contracted by drinking water collected from the stream that borders Akuweini, her village in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region.
With the nearest health post over an hour’s walk away, getting treatment for these conditions was time consuming and costly. She almost died several times from diarrhea simply because it was too challenging to seek treatment.
Then, about 10 years ago, a neighboring village installed a hand-dug well, meaning Abraha and her family would not have to drink from the unprotected stream any more. But this new source of health would exact a toll on Abraha in other ways.
In spite of the fact the well was only half an hour away, it was not unusual for Abraha to spend eight hours a day collecting her water.
“We weren’t the only two villages getting our water from the well and the line to fill our jerry cans was always very long,” Abraha said. “It was very common to wait for six hour or more to get to the front of the line.”
During the dry season, the flow of water was so reduced that each household was limited to a single five gallon jerry can per day.
“It was never enough. I have a husband and five children and we were always thirsty,” Abraha said. “It was better than being sick all the time but it was still very hard.”
Thankfully, since December 2014, all of Abraha’s water problems disappeared in one foul swoop when a Water to Thrive-funded hand-dug well was installed in her village five minutes from her house.
According to Abraha, she’s healthier and happier than she’s ever been. She’s also come up with a unique way to spend her newfound time by rural Ethiopian standards.
“I’m going to spend that time looking after my first grandchild,” she said. “I never really had the opportunity to do this with my children and I love it.”
Thirteen-year-old Derek Ngura just moved to Anyige from another village in the Apac District; his father is a builder and there are more work opportunities for him there.
We were excited about finding Derek as we assumed he was going to be able to give us a detailed first-hand account of how much his life had been impacted by clean water. It turned out we were right but not for a reason that any of us would ever have guessed.
Here’s a transcript of the interview. Spoiler Alert: The jaw-dropper comes all the way at the end:
Water to Thrive: “So Derek, how often did you get sick drinking the water at your old village and how much school did you miss as a result?”
Derek: “I never got sick.”
Water to Thrive: “What about school?”
Derek: “I never missed school.”
Water to Thrive: “What about the other members of your family?”
Water to Thrive: “What about your other relatives?”
Water to Thrive: “Classmates?”
Water to Thrive: “Anyone?”
Water to Thrive: “Derek. Are you saying you didn’t have any water-related diseases at your old village?”
Water to Thrive: “Why do you think that was?”
Derek: “We had a borehole.”
Water to Thrive: [Internally] There goes that storyline. Better quickly ask him a few wrap-up questions we don’t want him to think he did anything wrong.
Water to Thrive: “So Derek, what are your favorite subjects at school?’’
Derek: “Math and science.”
Water to Thrive: “Good for you. Are you hoping to use them to earn a living one day?”
Water to Thrive: “Doing what?”
Derek: “I want to be a water engineer and do projects like these in all the communities that don’t have access to clean water. I know how lucky I’ve been to have had clean water to drink my whole life and I want to do what I can to help everybody have the same opportunity.”
Water to Thrive: “Huh?”
And just like that, the tables had completed turned. Derek had morphed into a chatterbox spouting water statistics and talking about all the people he was going to help while we had been stunned into silence. Nobody in the group had ever heard a response like this before.
Derek was now in full flight talking about his favorite subject which gave us a chance to regain our composure. We thanked him for his time, congratulated him on his career choice and wished him well in the future.
It wasn’t until later on that day that it dawned on us what we had witnessed. Derek’s desire to help people less fortunate than himself was a bi-product of the work Water to Thrive and organizations like it have been doing in Africa for generations.
We learned that day that the example we set may be just as important – if not, more so – than the physical work we are doing.
It’s like the old proverb says:
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
The relationship between hydration and cognitive function is well documented. Even mild dehydration can affect our moods, increase fatigue and decrease our ability to concentrate. These symptoms are particularly pronounced in children who don’t get enough water to drink.
Moody, tired, cranky and inattentive kids? Sounds like every teacher’s dream.
So spare a thought for Michael Msigwa. He’s been teaching at country schools in Tanzania for 24 years, the last 12 of which have been at the Kiponzero Primary School in Tanzania.
“I don’t think I ever really considered how difficult things were until the well was installed at the school,” he said. “There was a noticeable change in the children’s behavior after they started getting enough water to drink. In addition to all the health benefits, this well has made my job a lot easier.”
Michael teaches math, science and geography to all 600 of the school’s Year 1-7 students.
“To be honest, I never really gave it much thought,” he said. “I just thought ‘this is how children behave’ so I had a low expectation for how children should behave and what was an acceptable level of achievement.”
“It’s been quite remarkable to see how much they have changed now that they have ready access to all the clean water they can drink,” he added.
In addition to an improved classroom environment, Michael said he has noticed other changes as well.
“Attendance has improved significantly as the children are not getting sick as often,” he said. “Also, there’s been a noticeable improvement in test scores. I don’t have any firm numbers yet but I don’t think there was a child who didn’t see their grades go up.”
“It’s made my job so much easier,” he repeated. “I feel sorry for all the teachers that don’t have a well at their schools.”
If you would like to join us in helping schools and communities give up dirty water for Lent, donate here today. Children and families are waiting.
With all the major benefits clean water brings to a community such as improved health and economic growth, something as elemental as taste almost never makes it into the conversation.
Not so for Agnes Akullo.
Agnes has lived in the village of Adula in northern Uganda for her whole life. Previously, she would walk half a mile to a hole in a swamp to gather water for her family. When asked about the impact of the new borehole, taste is the first thing she mentions.
“Swamp water does not taste good,” she said. “It tastes very bad. It smells very bad. It makes our clothes smell bad. It’s disgusting, in fact.”
“This water we are now getting from this borehole tastes much better. It tastes better, it doesn’t smell and it is very safe. My children used to get diarrhea all the time so this water is saving us a lot of time, money and suffering.”
Agnes is 29-years-old and has eight children between the ages of three and 16. All of them are in school except for the youngest.
“This water is also very safe,” she said. “My children used to get diarrhea all the time so the well is saving us a lot of time, money and suffering. It’s also much closer so collection times are shorter.”
All of this saved time has given Agnes an opportunity to supplement her family’s income by baking bread that she sells at the local market. Her husband is a subsistence farmer.
“The borehole has given me the time to do a lot of things I never got to do properly before,” Agnes said. “For example, I’m able to bath the children and do laundry more regularly. Of course, the extra money I’m bringing in is nice, too.”
In addition to a water user committee, Agnes’ village also has a community health club. Both organizations are active in maintaining the borehole as a resource for the 38 households that depend on it.
“It’s great to see them taking such good care of the site,” she added. “No-one around here wants to go back to the way things were.”
When Martta Ogwang was 15-years-old, she packed up her meager belongings and walked to the village of Ayera in northern Uganda’s Apac District. She was about to be married and local tradition dictated that she move into her husband’s home after the ceremony.
Everybody has those days were you need a little inspiration to keep on doing what you’re doing. It could be a busy job, staying at home with the kids, or just facing the daily challenges life throws at you can be hard to handle. To keep you going, here is a list of great quotes via W2T’s Pinterest!
1. “You don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward.”
2. “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
3. “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
4. “Be the change you wish to see.”
5. “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.”
Hope these inspired you, for more check out W2T’s Pinterest! https://www.pinterest.com/watertothrive/inspiration/
Our communities may be thousands of miles away, from Ethiopia to Uganda we love the people! To express how much we care, a hand written letter traveling across the ocean is a small but deeply personal way to keep in touch with the people that have benefitted from the hundreds of wells W2T has built in the past years. Think of it as a well wish, anything you wish to bless them with. Pick up the pencil and write away!
One of the main languages in Ethiopia is Amharic, a close relative to Arabic! From a simple greeting to a word or two in your Well Wish card, the language barrier narrows just a sliver. Other languages spoken in the countries Water to Thrive reaches out are in Tanzania and Uganda where Swahili is regionally spoken. As said perfectly by the great African peace maker, Nelson Mandela:
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
― Nelson Mandela
What is Well Wishes?
Well Wishes are letters our donors, supporters and well campaign participants write to the communities we serve. Many W2T campaigns write letters to the community they are funding a well for, and Water to Thrive’s implementing partners will deliver Well Wishes to your community…sometimes snapping pictures of them receiving their letters! You can also go on a mission trip with W2T and possibly deliver your Well Wishes in person!
How do I Participate?
Go to our resource page and print out Well Wishes postcards. Once you have your postcards written, send them to our W2T office, and we will deliver them to:
**the community you are funding a well for
**a community who needs your Well Wishes
W2T office address:
Water to Thrive
8701 North Mopac Expressway #105
Austin, TX 78759
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for questions https://www.watertothrive.org/resources