What’s the Connection Between Clean Water and Education?
Finda* is a beautiful, vivacious 11-year-old girl living in a rural community about an hour’s drive from Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. Finda is the kind of person I would want to be friends with once she becomes an adult. She's the kind of person my own daughter would want to be friends with now. She’s smart and bold and doesn’t seem afraid to face whatever life throws at her.
When I ask Finda what she wants to be when she grows up, she doesn’t hesitate: “I want to be a lawyer.” The women gathered around listening to our conversation laugh and affirm her abilities—apparently the fiery pre-teen is already good at arguing her points.
There is no doubt in my mind that Finda could accomplish whatever dreams she decides to chase. That is, if she had access to the right opportunities.
But the reality is that in the rural community where she lives, the right opportunities aren't a given for girls like Finda.
To chase dreams of working as a lawyer — or just about any professional career — school is important. In Sierra Leone, there are compulsory education laws on the books both for boys and girls. Yet in many ways, school is still considered a luxury for girls, something left for after they finish their daily chore of gathering water for the family. Water collecting is a responsibility that normally falls to women and children, particularly to girls.
Water is not something that’s taken for granted in Sierra Leone. Most families do not have indoor plumbing, so they have to gather water for everything from drinking and cooking to bathing and laundry. Finda used walk about 30 minutes to fill a 5-gallon jerrycan or bucket with water. ("It was dangerous to go by myself, so I went with my sister," she shares.) After filling the container — which weighs about 40 pounds when full of water — Finda placed it on her head and walked home. She did this five times a day. What's worse, that hard work was rewarded with contaminated water that could make her sick, but safe water is most often not an option. ("I used to get stomach aches often," she says.)
This is Finda's story, but it's also the story of many thousands of other girls in her country.
A 2012 survey of more than 28,000 water points in Sierra Leone, conducted by the government’s Ministry of Water Resources, showed that 52 percent of people living in rural areas have no access to safe water sources, and as many as 40 percent of those water points provide water consistently only during the rainy season. Thousands of children in the country die each year due to water-related diseases that are almost entirely preventable.
So when the small Nazarene church in Finda's community installed a new borehole well, it not only meant safe drinking water and fewer illnesses for her, but it also meant she could prioritize her education.
“I’m happy now,” Finda says. “Before, I missed school, or I was late most of the time. The teacher flogged us [when we were late]. I’m on time now.”
The cycle of poverty is complex. If there were a quick fix, someone would have found it by now. But shouldn’t this simple thing — access to something as basic as clean, safe drinking water — be a starting point?
Shouldn’t safe water be a given?
Thanks to the care of a Nazarene church in her community, water is now a given for Finda. And now, she can think more about her future instead of planning her day around collecting water.
Visit ncm.org/WASH to provide clean, safe water for children and communities who need it most.
Follow NCM on Instagram to read more stories from Sierra Leone.
Read the current NCM Magazine to learn more about how churches in Sierra Leone are providing for the basic needs in their communities.
*Names of children are changed for their protection.
*Photos are courtesy of Jeffrey Purganan.