It’s only 2:00 a.m., but 11-year-old Yelekal is awake. He rubs sleep from his eyes and slips into his sandals before grabbing two empty jerry cans and quietly heading out the door. Yelekal unties the family’s donkey and straps the jerry cans to his saddle so they’re balanced on either side of the donkey. Then he heads out in the darkness for the three-hour trek to the nearest watering hole—a hand-dug pond in the rainy season and a well or the river in the dry season. He’s joined by his neighbours and friends along the way. The 27-kilometre round-trip journey for water is one they make every day, leaving early to avoid the midday heat and get back in time for school.
After children like Yelekal fill their jars with unclean water, they start the three-hour journey back home to get ready for school.
Rasa Goba, Ethiopia, is a rural city, over 250 kilometres away from the capital of Addis Ababa. Yelekal lives 34 kilometres outside Rasa Goba’s borders, in an outlying town that’s home to about 3,000 people and lacks basic infrastructure, education and medical care. Compassion partnered with the local church in Rasa Goba in 2009 and helps 246 children to succeed in school, develop emotionally and, most importantly, develop spiritually. But the lack of access to clean water in the community makes it difficult for the staff to keep children healthy.
“Children used to get sick frequently,” says Yemane Shebabaw, the director of the Compassion centre here. “Unsafe water from the pond, river or irrigation well was the cause of much of their suffering.”
“Parents in the community spend their time and money seeking medical help for their children,” says Werkneh, Yelekal’s father. “As a result of their frequent illnesses, children are not able to consistently attend school. Moreover, lack of access to water in the town has made it difficult to keep ourselves and our environment clean.”
Werkneh says this has been a problem in the town for as long as he can remember.
But through their local church, the situation is beginning to change. In May 2014, every child registered in Compassion’s program received a water filter. The centre provided training on how to use and clean the filters properly, basic hygiene, and safe water storage. According to Shebabaw, the transformation in the health of these families was immediate.
“Ever since the provision of water purifiers, the number of children who got sick from waterborne diseases dropped significantly. Previously, we used to get 23 children treated for waterborne diseases monthly. Currently, however, we have less than 8 to 10 children being treated for the same illnesses.” The training has also made families more aware of the potential health hazards from using dirty water. According to Shebabaw, the children now refuse to drink water that hasn’t been purified.
“We are perfectly healthy ever since we started using the water purifier,” adds Yelekal with a smile. “The water we drink now is cleaner than the water we used to drink straight from the pond, river or irrigation well. We don’t get sick anymore.”
Centre staff continue to visit the children’s homes to make sure the water purifiers are being used properly and to help anyone struggling to use them. They are also giving monthly training sessions for parents and caregivers to ask questions, refresh their memories and share their experiences with one another.
Yelekal’s father is encouraged by the change the water filter has made for his family. “I am satisfied to see my children drink safe water. I prefer they are healthy and attend school rather than taking them to health centres and repeatedly disturbing their education. When they drink safe, purified water, the chance of them getting sick is nil. It relieves us parents of the worries and frustration we go through when they get sick. And when they are healthy, their physical development progresses well.”
He adds, “I have great hope for the future.”
The work here isn’t done. Compassion Ethiopia is currently working on building a borehole, eliminating the need for women and children to travel hours every day for their water. This change will make an enormous impact, allowing families to become healthier and the church to continue to grow as the hands and feet of Christ in this community.
By Tigist Gizachew, Compassion Ethiopia