As a reminder, our group splitt up yesterday. Carol and Cayce went to Blantyre to meet with Malawi United Methodist Church officials. Greg and Kevin traveled with Stanley of the Malawi UMC and our driver, Ernest, to visit potential drilling sites. We would make a few observations.
First, the need for clean water is almost beyond the comprehension of most Americans. We could put a new well practically anywhere in the rural parts of Malawi we saw and it would be well utilized.
Second, the time women spend getting water borders on unbelievable. In extreme cases women will walk 20 kilometers to wells and car
ry 40 liters (that’s nearly 10 gallons) back those same 20 kilometers. They often arrive at the wells around 3:00 am to avoid long queues and to be home when their children arise. Some days they make the trip more than once. In rural areas we heard that 60+% of girls do not attend school as they have to collect water or watch younger siblings while their mothers collect water. Safety is another huge concern for the women and girls.
Third, the water quality of many sites we toured today is not fit for human consumption. The water is often visibly muddy and usually filled with serious diseases that can cause diarrhea, dysentery and worse.
Fourth, charity can be grossly mishandled – especially if not properly coordinated with local officials. We visited a site today where a group thoug
ht drilling in a low area would mean a shorter distance to drill and thus cheaper. That’s an ok idea during the dry season. However, when the rainy season arrives the well is often buried chest deep in water, so any water drawn then becomes immediately contaminated with flood water.
Fifth, we should never underestimate the power of human emotion. At one site we met with the Treasurer of the local United Methodist Church (among many others) to understand the challenges they face in collecting water. As we were leaving, this young man hugged Greg and a single tear rolled down his cheek. We did not promise water wells and stressed that we were strictly doing
research, but this single tear told us how desperately water is needed.
At another site members of the local Methodist church greeted us with songs and cheering (which we’ve learned is quite common). We stressed we were only here to do research. They said they’ve been trying for years and years to get new wells but they were too remote to garner any attention (they were 55 kilometers off the closest paved road and the last 10 kilometers looked more like a rough hiking trail than a road – kudos to our driver, Ernest, for navigating this!). Even the smallest glimmer of hope that our research effort might lead to a new well, brought out most of the local church.
Finally, we were very late to our last stop of the day, but a large group of people still waited for us to plead their case for a new well. It was pitch black in the area and, of course, they have no electricity so we couldn’t visit the river (now dry) where they gather water or from a distant bore hole that is overused and takes hours to refill. Despite the darkness, a large group stayed meeting by the glow of our cellphones.