Drops of Mercy in Sierra Leone
“This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best tostart small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.” — Matthew 10:41-42, The Message
Water is life.
Maybe that's become a cliché, but it doesn't mean the words are any less true. Recently, I visited Pastor Vidal Cole, a friend who serves local Nazarene churches in Sierra Leone as district superintendent. While there, he took me to a few churches and communities, where I saw firsthand how those three words are a daily reality that can’t be taken for granted. The daily schedule for women and children revolves around collecting water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and laundry. Not only is the task physically exhausting, but it also carries the fear that contaminants in the water may very likely cause illness. In fact, thousands of babies and children die each year when their bodies just aren't strong enough to fight off water-related diseases. Many people call these "stupid deaths" — deaths that are almost entirely preventable.
The problem is serious and life is precious, so instead of simply accepting unsafe water as a part of life, Nazarene churches in Sierra Leone have decided to do something about it. They care deeply about the people in their communities and are working with them to create change through WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) programs. They’re starting by installing wells to provide safe water.
And the difference that something so simple can make is huge. Safe water is changing lives in big ways. These are just a few of the stories that people shared with us:
DAVIDA is a mother of two boys, ages 4 and 2, from a community called Monkey Bush, located about 30 kilometers from Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. She is soft-spoken and thoughtful. “It’s not easy for me to carry buckets down to the swampy area where the hand-dug well is,” she says. “Sometimes we got sick because of germs. The children got very sick with diarrhea.”
The water that comes from a hand-dug well may look OK, but it has contaminants that cause illness. And in communities without easy access to health care, diarrheal disease kills children — far too many of them. Davida says she walked four to five times a day to gather that dirty water. The walk took about 20 minutes each way, so she spent an average of three hours each day walking to collect water. That changed when the Nazarene church in her community introduced a well that goes deep enough to access safe water. “I feel happy,” Davida says. “We have more water now.”
FATU*, 14, is a kind teen who has faced many hardships in her young life. She describes the process of walking for water before a well was installed in her rural community outside Freetown, Sierra Leone. “It was hard,” she says. “The sun was very hot under our feet. The large buckets were heavy on our heads. … I feel so happy for the new hand pump.”
She's not exaggerating. A 5-gallon bucket filled with water weighs about 40 pounds.
Fatu is also glad she can spend more time in school now. “After school, I want to be an office worker — a book keeper,” she says.
SABI* used to hike up and down a steep hill for water in her rural community. She walked 30 to 40 minutes for one bucket of water that wasn’t even safe to drink, and she did this four to five times a day. Now that the Nazarene church has installed a safe-water well, she can walk a short distance from her home to pump water.
“I used to walk really far for water,” the quiet girl shares. “I am happy with the well. It was difficult before, [but] now it’s easier. I walk a short distance. Now, we are not suffering like before. Now, I have more time at home."
According to THERESA, who lives in Fire Mambo, Sierra Leone, with her 5-year-old daughter, children in the area used to get sick from the water they got at the stream. “The water was not pure. Children got sick from cholera because people used the stream as a toilet and for laundry,” she says.
Now, she is able to get clean, safe water any time she needs it from the well installed by the Nazarene church in her community. “Before, I had to spend the whole day at the stream to do laundry. Now, I can do laundry at home.”
With the extra time she has, Theresa is able to earn more income as a petty trader at the market.
JOSEPH BANGUARA pastors the Nazarene church in Monkey Bush and also teaches at the primary school there. Pastor Joe says, “Anyone can get water here. People in the community say, ‘You extended love without even knowing us.’ Jesus extended His love through us.”
Visit ncm.org/WASH to learn how you can provide clean, safe water for children and communities who need it most.
Follow NCM on Instagram to read more stories from Sierra Leone.
This blog is adapted from an article in the current NCM Magazine.
*Names of children are changed for their protection.
*All photos are courtesy of Jeffrey Purganan.