All For a Clean Glass of Water

Before we arrived in Rwanda, I remember Florence, my sponsored child, telling me that much of her spare time was spent “fetching water.” I had no context for what this really meant until the morning we sat down at the Food for the Hungry office in the capital city of Kigali with the Rwandan country director, Dwight. We learned that the water situation in the village in Nyabikiri was much more dire than we had initially been informed and/or realized.

Originally, we had planned to help build a new clean-water well to help alleviate some of the demand on the other wells in the village. But the honest truth was – there was no clean water available in the entire village of Nyabikiri – 6,000 people. No clean water – for drinking, cooking, bathing…none. Let that sit for a minute. Humbling.

The four governmental wells and the one Food for the Hungry well were broken and, with defeat, there was no easy fix. When we arrived, they had been broken for four months.

Because of this, those living in Nyabikiri made a choice everyday…

They could decide to walk 8+ miles round-trip to the nearest clean-water well in the next village – carrying their 30 lb. filled jugs called “jerry cans” and using up the majority of their day…

or walk to the nearest watering hole which was much, much closer, but filled with dirty, stagnant water and shared with the village animals.


Not a choice, as Americans and guilty for watering our house plants with water clean enough to drink, we can ever fully understand from their perspective.  Ever.

So with this news, we re-focused our time and resources into two new projects.

The Water Catchment Systems

The first project we took on was helping build two water catchment systems. Essentially, we worked together with the local community to build foundations for two HUGE containers that will catch roof run-off during the rainy season and allow for water to be stored and used during the dry season. Each container can hold approximately 2,600 gallons.

We started by walking to the nearest water hole to gather enough water to mix with the cement. It was incredible to watch the kids wanting to walk with us, sing songs and insist on helping us with our jerry cans.

We dumped the water into a big tarp, so it could easily be accessed when we needed it. Although we never intended to drink it,  you can see the boy in this photo finishing off the water at the bottom of the jug. The truth is, people do drink it.


We fetched water, carried rocks, mixed cement – then repeated.

The result…not bad, eh? Now, we wait for the rain which should begin to fall in October.

Transforming the Broken Well

The second project was fascinating…. to transform one of the water wells currently with a broken pump into a traditional bucket and pulley system. This was not because it was the most sophisticated solution or one without its own issues, but it was a solution that would most immediately bring clean water to Nyabikiri. This decision alone shed a light on how dire the current situation really was.

As we approached the broken well, we walked by a crowd of people hovering over one of the major water holes in Nyabikiri. The water they were collecting was the color of chocolate milk and I was taken aback that there was a line of people waiting to fill their jugs. I was not sure if they were planning to use the water for drinking, cooking, laundry or bathing – but, I am told, most likely a combination of these. When you see this with your own eyes, you feel it even more in your heart. This was serious.


I am sure questions are starting to flood into your mind, just as they did mine : “Why can’t we just fix the wells?” “Why doesn’t the government of Rwanda get involved and help provide water?” “Why would a family decide to use contaminated water?” And with a humbled heart, I want you to know that I don’t know all the answers and was given only a glimpse into the significant issues that they are presented with. But with every question I asked and every answer I was given, I could only take away the idea that it was extremely complicated and layered with many issues not easy to resolve.

But, on this day I was filled with hope that tomorrow there would be clean water in Nyabikiri! And thankfully, that is exactly what happened…

The broken well was built over an area where three aquifers converged. Following the direction of the country director, Dwight, the first thing we needed to do was crack the top off the well and ensure water was still naturally flowing. So the work began.

Once we were able to look deep into the well, it was easy to see that beyond the broken pump, the well was packed with a wide variety of things that were clogging the hole (Sticks, bottles, plastic – and the list goes on!). Most likely, the random items were stuffed into the hole after the pump broke in an attempt to fix it.  But, regardless, one of the community members volunteered to be lowered into the well and retrieved handful after handful and armful after armful of material.

We then pumped out all the water in the well to determine how quickly it would replenish itself. I am smiling thinking of the shrieks of joy I heard as the kids played in the water and attempted to collect it as it came shooting out of the pump.

Thankfully the aquifers were healthy and water quickly refilled the well.

When we first arrived that morning, many people in the community gathered around and starred endlessly with curiosity, but by mid-day we had a large group of men, women and even children that were working, carrying rocks, lending their tools and helping solve the issues being presented. You could see the pride, ownership and sense of accomplishment in their eyes. I was honored to be a part of it.

Together, we built a cement foundation, hung a pulley and attached the bucket. Everyone worked hard…and then…we lowered the bucket into the well.

When that first bucket of clean water came up – I didn’t feel proud, relieved or impressed, which surprised me. I just felt happy. So Happy. Simple, pure happiness. Clean water!!

(Check out this “before and after” photo… or rather an “after and before” photo)

The jerry cans line up immediately, each person taking turns lowering the bucket deep into the well and pouring the clean water into their containers. Watching them walk away with their filled jugs, I pictured them using this incredible, wonderful, priceless clean water for cooking or drinking… or, most likely, a combination of them both! YAY! Clean water!

xo Kate

PS- I just learned this week, through friends that spoke to the country director, that an additional well has been repaired in Nyabikiri and although there is still more work to be done, I am thrilled to know the work has continued!

Dick GillaspieSeptember 16, 2010 - 9:10 pm

Great job telling and documenting your Rawanda adventure and pointing out that God’s work is never done!!!

PatriciaSeptember 16, 2010 - 3:48 pm

It’s so simple to think that water is for everyone, it is the basis for our survival yet clearly (pun intended), that’s not true. I’m so glad you were able to make a difference in this situation.

Becca MahoneySeptember 15, 2010 - 11:57 pm

You are such a phenomenal story teller…I felt like I was there while reading your story. And, of course, the pictures so fabulously document the journey. And, the “after” and “before” picture is the exclamation point on the end of it all.

Dave DSeptember 15, 2010 - 11:46 pm

This is awesome.

Wendy MSeptember 15, 2010 - 11:36 pm

Kate, once again, an amazing, beautiful post. Thank you for telling Nyabikiri’s story.

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