Women and children can be seen pumping water 24 hours a day from a lone well in upper Ghana.
The silhouettes of these women quietly walking through the village during the night can be seen regularly. Three villages depend on this 20-year-old well with a heavily used hand pump.
The neighboring villages have only broken pumps so they must walk up to six miles to this pump to draw water in large bowls called “head pans.”
Each of these pans will hold about five gallons of water weighing 40 pounds, which they carry on their heads.
There is the constant fear that the only well may break or dry up. Cattle huddle around it hoping for some spilled water.
There is tension and resentment between the villages as they continue to come into the village for their water needs. It is a dire situation.
My husband, Tim, and I were on a fact-finding trip to Ghana representing the Texas Baptist Men Water Ministry. We wanted to see how we could help alleviate their water problems.
The hope was that we could drill some water wells for them, but we were struck by how many wells that we passed were broken and unusable.
Those people living around them were forced to go back to the methods they used before the wells were available. This can involve long walks or, during the rainy season, getting their water from the river or streams.
The open area watering spots are shared by cattle and goats as well as people doing laundry and taking baths. As a result, they are contaminated and unfit to drink, but drink it they do. They have no choice.
“Why aren’t these wells repaired?” we wondered. This led us to think there is a larger issue here – a core problem, a disconnect in the system of how we help.
Many of the wells in the frontier region of Ghana were provided by outside sources. A driller comes to an area, drills the well and then leaves. The people benefitting from this new water source are thrilled until it breaks.
It wasn’t their project, they didn’t participate, and they have no idea how to fix it. So once again, it’s back to the long walk to the river. It appears they are waiting for someone to go and repair it for them.
By our eagerness to help, have we, the Western world, created a dependency on outside help? Have we undermined their confidence?
I had a young Ghanaian ask me what the difference was between us – why Westerners can do things and they, Ghanaians, can’t. My answer to him was, “You can do things; you just don’t believe that you can.”
Outside control and outside funding can undermine their motivation and create a feeling of inferiority among those being helped.
If these outside resources dry up, it leaves those who have become dependent on them hopeless and helpless.
If we think of this in personal terms, do we want our children to depend on us forever? No, our goal is to love, train and then launch them and let them multiply. This must be the goal in our mission work too.
We who have are called to help. We understand the great needs worldwide for clean water.
Diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio are traced to contaminated water and poor hygiene, according to the World Health Organization.
Diarrhea took the lives of 361,000 children in one year; those deaths could have been prevented if they had had clean water and proper hygiene.
TBM Water Ministry is working to help with these water-related needs without creating a dependency. Our motto is “Share, Equip, Provide.”
- Share God’s Word and love by working alongside those in need incorporating biblical principles.
- Equip communities by giving them the tools, equipment and training they need to drill and repair water wells, purify water, and create healthy homes by practicing good health and hygiene.
- Provide dignity for those we help by teaching them to take care of their own needs.
We offer hope for a better future. We do not give charity; we provide opportunity.
At the completion of the training, each team is able to continue the work providing the necessary water and training for their own people. It is their project, for their people, by their people. They own it.
One of the young men we trained in Sierra Leone came to us as we were leaving and with great emotion told us, “Before this I had no purpose. I was just here. Now I have something I can do. I can drill wells, and I have something I can teach my son.”
We must continue to answer the call but do it in a way that really helps.
Debra Wint is the vice president of the Texas Baptist Men Water Ministry. She resides in Flower Mound, Texas, and is a member of The Village Church, Flower Mound.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for World Water Day 2017 (March 22) focused on Baptist initiatives to provide clean water around the world.
The first article in the series is:
Ensuring Drinking Water Flows in Ethiopia, Kenya