I returned yesterday from a trip with some of the team here at One, from central Malawi. Having not yet been to visit the water projects in Africa that the sale of our bottled water funds, I was looking forward to getting out there and seeing the end result of our work here at One. I wanted to see the projects in action and speak to those affected by them because, like most people here in Britain and the developed world, I’ve consumed endless media about water shortages and poverty across Africa and the rest of the world for the duration of my adult life but witnessing it first-hand however, has compounded the full extent of how dire the situation truly is.
Somewhat disturbingly, the lack of access to drinking water is considered the ‘norm’ to those without it as it’s all they’ve ever known. The severity of water scarcity, health and poverty varies by community but children, men and women without access to safe, drinking water are consistently drinking from nearby and dirty water sources that play host to a catalogue of additional activities conducive to breeding disease, including cattle drinking, defecating and swimming in them. We visited two communities we’re about to build boreholes and water pumps in next month and found people drinking water from rivers on the outskirts of the villages that were coated in a petroleum-type film from the soap they were using to bathe in and wash their clothes. I was horrified but what choice did they have? People, many of whom are children and babies, are drinking it and contracting serious diseases such as cholera, malaria (dirty, stagnant water is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos) and diarrhea, which coincidentally is the number 1 killer of African children.
I had never experienced 40 degree heat before and it made the simplest of things difficult. Walking short distances, and even standing still for any period of time, was exhausting. Imagining walking 4 to 5 miles to collect water, which is the average distance undertaken by (mainly) women to collect it and returning with a jerrycan weighing 25 litres on my head, was unthinkable. It’s also worth mentioning here that around 80% of locals in the communities we visited don’t have a worldly possession to their name and are not lucky enough to own a pair of shoes, meaning that they often walk for long distances on burning hot ground, stopping only to remove sharp pieces of wood etc. that lodge themselves into their feet.
We entered into countless communities in every one, were met by people eternally grateful for the gift of water and of life. They told us that having clean, drinking water was stopping them from getting sick and saving their children, perpetuating a positive cycle of good health and children consequently being able to go to school and be educated, thus increasing their chance of securing future employment. Knowing that, within a month or so, these people being faced with such daily hardship would have access to clean, safe, drinking water was a wonderful feeling.
A poignant moment for me was on the last evening of the trip when we were sharing our experiences of the trip because, like myself, a few of the team had never before visited our projects or seen, first-hand, the water shortages in Africa. Someone referenced the notion that “charity starts at home” and pointed out that surely, being charitable is a behaviour, whether that’s about supporting a local charity or one that transforms the lives of people in Africa. I thought it was a valid and insightful thing to say.
“The warm heart of Africa” – this is how Malawians are known and isn’t it the truth! We visited numerous small villages and communities across central, rural Malawi and were greeted with open hearts and arms. They are wonderful people in terrible situations and the team has returned from Africa with a very real understanding of how the work we do here in the UK affects others that, by chance, happen to be born into great hardship elsewhere in the world.
To see the photos of the trip you can visit our Facebook page.