EMPOWERING WOMEN AND YOUNG GIRLS THROUGH ACCESS TO CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION.
Imagine the thoughtless parts of your day. Think about all the moments in the day you barely have to think at all. The instances when we all go on autopilot; when we’re driving in traffic and not paying attention or subconsciously dodging the 5,000 advertisements force fed to us daily.
It’s only until someone or something jolts us into the present, where we can actively pull ourselves out of what I like to call robotic-mode and have conscious capacity to be actively aware.
Madagascar’s lack of access to clean water is much like this. It’s the background noise that you can faintly hear but aren’t really listening to. An inherent problem we all know exists, yet fail to recognize. Our Western World breeds a culture of complainers. In Madagascar, there is no time to protest or fuss. No time to dwell on the corrupt government and the poor state of its people.
Similarly, there is no choice but to oblige the treacherous task of walking for water everyday, because it's a matter of life and death - even if the dirty water only promises disease and death itself. A duty that literally falls on the shoulders of young females.
Attending the Study Tour in Madagascar this year was the shake I desperately needed to wake up. It drew back the curtains and shed light on how no access to this basic human right, squanders all opportunity and hope for an improved quality of life.
Visiting the district of Belabavary, I learned that the happiest people don’t have the best of everything; they simply make the best of everything they have.
One of the villages in the district had been fortunate enough to receive a clean water tap within the last year and one of those taps I had the honour of inaugurating alongside the Mayor and community elder; Dadabe. A dance party that lasted all day was a true tribute and celebration of [new] life.
I got to witness firsthand how water to the Malagasy people is worth more than gold. It symbolizes a pathway to a brighter future; one with safe water, sanitation and hygiene practices for all.
I used to drag my heels walking to class or stumble to the sink in the middle of the night, half awake yearning for a much-needed sip. Why is our hugely unappreciative nature so wrongly assumptive and entitled? Relativity on this specific occasion is not an equitable argument; it’s just not good enough.
The profound paradox between our two cultures is impossible to ignore.
Spending the day in Amberomena, the pre-intervention village, was eye opening to say the least.
The respect and regard I had for these women before coming here was unfathomable. After walking in their shoes for a short simulated period of time [I use that figuratively as most Malagasy women perform this 3 km walk for water barefoot] - the feeling I’m left with is discerning.
No amount of hitting the gym or lifting weights could’ve ever prepared me for the hike that was walking with 40 lbs of water on my head. The crushing feeling of its heaviness and the contaminated water trickling down the side of my face, physically took a toll. But beyond the strain on my body was the hurt I felt in my heart. The routine reality here for young girls just like me, is what I can only describe as a distant nightmare.
The moment I set that jerrycan down - i felt like I had just finished a marathon.
My reward? Never having to do it again.
This was followed by the unimaginable amount of guilt I felt wishing for the walk to be over. How dare I wish for something to be over knowing I’d never have to repeat it?
I’d never have to do that walk again or drink the water, I should’ve been relieved but all I felt was a deep sense of despair. These women do this everyday, multiple times a day - without a whine and certainly without a whimper.
Just because grievances are not at the forefront of their daily focus, doesn’t mean these women don’t wish things to be different, for them and generations to follow.
They want to have safe access. They crave responsibility and accountability over their clean water source.
They wish to cherish its powerful ability to change the status quo and they truly treasure the results when it does.
Imagine if these women were given the equal opportunity I was given, just by being born in a first world country? That opportunity is luck of the draw - but access to clean water isn’t. Or at least, it shouldn’t be and it doesn’t have to be.
How could something so necessary and mundane as this daily chore seem so heroic? If we gave girls in Madagascar back their time - a purpose beyond the tedious and tiresome - we’d give them more than just minutes. We’d be opening a door to their wildest dreams, of an education and beyond.
These women are my heroes. Does that mean we are the villain’s for leading a vastly different life? No. Is our Western society to blame for contributing to wasteful water practices and over-consumption driven by consumerism? Undeniably.
What I am certain of however is that WE CAN all learn something from this third world enigma. The immense gratitude found in the face of adversity is inspiring on so many levels and has motivated me beyond words.
We have an obligation and duty to our Global Village and just because it seems far away, does not mean it doesn’t hit home. WE CAN care enough, simply because WE CAN.
We may not be able to bring back time, but we can try to give time back - to mothers, women and young girls.
Envision the life these women could lead with more time to participate in education, employment, leisure activities and decision-making?
The overwhelming joy and positive vibrations I felt in my time on the Study Tour 2017, is unprecedented and unparalleled - because the people of Madagascar understand what’s most important in this life; they know what it means to help each other, to build each other up, to support one another and to honour what they do have.
50% of people in Madagascar may lack of access to clean water, but they are leaders in their unmatched sense of unity and spirit. So much so it begs the question: what would this country be if they gained comparable access to clean water?
What would it look like if we eradicated cholera and diminished deaths caused by preventable and treatable diarrheal diseases? It would be much healthier for one, and offer a secure foundation to a culture that supersedes ours in so many other ways, but this solvable one.
Let’s bridge the gap between being passive and taking action. Let’s acknowledge our eroding perceptions and focus on making meaningful connections with the truth; the prospective certainty that comes with access to clean water and the unrivaled promise for women in Madagascar that comes along with it.