Help a romance blogger bring clean water to Africa

When I saw that one of my favorite romance bloggers, Limecello, was organizing an online fundraiser for a charity that brings fresh water to people in developing countries, I got excited. Really excited. You know what’s the best thing about it? You don’t even have to donate money if you don’t want to. All you have to do is leave a comment on her blog.

So I contacted her to ask if there was a way I could help.

For the past six years, I’ve worked for international charities as a writer and editor. I’ve been really fortunate to go to East Africa a couple of times, and I’ve seen what a huge difference it makes when people have access to clean water. I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve seen, people I’ve met and stories I’ve heard.

Kat with kids
Me with kids at the only watering hole I saw in northern Kenya

In the interest of transparency, you should know that I’ve never worked for the charity Limecello is fundraising for (charity:water). The projects I’ve visited were funded and implemented by the Red Cross and UNICEF, so what I describe here are not initiatives by charity:water.

But water is water, and water is life. I hope to show you how lack of water changes life for people who don’t have easy access to it. And I really hope that this will inspire you to do something simple and FREE: leave a comment on Limecello’s blog post to help bring clean water to communities that are desperate for it.

No water, no food

If you’ve ever lived in a farming community, you’ll know how true this is. But the people I visited in northern Kenya—the Turkana—are not farmers. They’re nomadic herders.

Turkana woman
A Turkana woman. The necklaces are an indication of wealth.

Their families aren’t the only ones who rely on water. Their livestock do, too, and the animals were perishing for lack of water. I can’t tell you how many animal skeletons I saw scattered along the side of the road. For the Turkana to watch their livestock die is like losing their very own life. In fact, that is a very real risk.

You see, the Turkana people don’t eat their livestock. They get most of their nutrients from their cows, goats and donkeys by drinking their milk and their blood. Yes, their blood. They pierce the animals’ skin and draw out enough blood to mix with the milk and create a nutritious drink. As a vegetarian, I realized how luxurious it is to have the choice not to eat something.

An elderly tribal leader told me that families used to travel together to find food and watering holes for their animals. However, as water and the greenery it produces have become so much rarer in this desert area, they have to travel much farther. Only Turkana men and boys move with the animals now (with guns, because cattle rustling is common, and deadly, in this area). The women, the elderly, and girls and small boys stay behind—without access to the animals, their main food source.

Turkana homes
Turkana homes. When they move, they take all the palm fronds and branches with them to rebuild their houses.

Can you see how troubling this is? Because their animals don’t have easy access to water, women, children and the elderly were literally dying of starvation. When I visited in August 2011, I was there because severe drought had led to a food crisis. I visited clinics for severely malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women because they are by far the most vulnerable. The Red Cross had been monitoring and warning of the impending crisis for months, but the world didn’t listen or start donating until it was too late. By the time I got there, six weeks after the crisis became catastrophic, lots of charities like the Red Cross had set up a wide range of support—from clinics to feeding programs at schools.

A girl waits for her food
A girl waits for food at a food distribution

I saw children who were in a terrible state—distended bellies, listless, blind. I met one boy, Kanyang, who was physically a three year old and mentally probably much younger. He was seven. The lack of nutrition meant he would never develop the way he should. Some of the stories I heard were too awful to tell.

None of the people I met wanted to rely on food aid but they had little choice. I visited several schools, where children gathered because the Red Cross had set up daily feeding programs. It was summer and schools weren’t in session. The kids came because this was usually the only meal they would eat all day. Porridge.

A preschool boy with his porridge
A preschool boy with his porridge

But you know what you need in order to make porridge? That’s right. Water. Teachers, parents and volunteers walked miles to draw whatever water remained in their local wells so their kids could have their daily porridge. Teachers opened up the schools and spent every day of their summer there to help their students survive.

Almost all of the wells in the area had been built by charities, and many had plans to build more. The people I spoke to were exploring long-term solutions, and new kinds of technology, to ensure families wouldn’t have to suffer like this again. But charities need funds to be able to do that, and that’s where you and I can make a difference.

No water, no education

This March I traveled to Ethiopia to visit schools that had been transformed thanks to funding from the philanthropic organization I work for in partnership with UNICEF. At first I thought the improvements would focus mostly on the buildings, books and better trained teachers—and they did. But many of the schools had also received something else vital for education: wells.

The children I met only went to school for half a day because their parents were farmers and the kids had to help. Most of the boys had the job of watching livestock while girls walked miles to collect water.

A school in Ethiopia. There are so few resources that the teacher painted teaching resources on his wall to help the kids learn.
A school in Ethiopia. There are so few resources that the teacher painted teaching resources on his wall to help the kids learn.

At every school we went to, kids carried plastic water canisters. At schools without water, the kids had to find a well before they went to school so they would have enough to drink during the day. Imagine how much of their day is wasted on a journey like that and how much more they could learn if they had water at their school.

At one school, hundreds of students were so excited to show us their new well that I worried there might be a stampede! I think the looks on their faces say everything as they demonstrated how one would pump while others filled their cups.

Kids at a school in Ethiopia drink from their new well
Kids at a school in Ethiopia drink from their new well

In Kenya I visited a water project next to Lake Tukana. The lake itself is too salty to drink from, but there’s a freshwater spring right next to it. Girls would walk miles to get to the spring and collect their water. But you know what other function the spring had? It was a crocodile breeding ground.

The men who told me this said it with such gravity that it was obvious where the story was going. “Have any girls been killed?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“It doesn’t happen often,” one man said, but we were clearly all thinking the same thing. Once is an atrocity. So they were building a wind-powered water pump and miles of pipeline to bring water to the surrounding villages, so girls would no longer face this danger and could have the opportunity to go to school instead.

You can help bring water to communities that need it and change children’s lives forever.

Boyfriend and girlfriend
This boy grabbed his girlfriend and motioned for me to take their picture. You should’ve seen him strut when I showed it to them afterward.

How to help—for free

Limecello is hosting a comment drive to benefit charity:water. Various people from the romance community have pledged to donate money if she gets a certain number of comments on her post Water changes everything. All you have to do is leave a comment to help reach those pledge numbers.

You can also help by spreading the word: put the link on Facebook, tweet it (copy in @limecello and @charitywater), send out a mass email. Whatever you can to get more people to comment.

After you comment, copy your comment URL (the hyperlink is in the time stamp under your name in the comment) then head over to Limecello’s giveaway post where you can win things just for having left a comment.

How to help by donating money

You can donate to Limecello’s drive at her special fundraising page. You can also contact Lime to make a pledge. I’ve pledged to give $25 when she hits 500 comments and another $25 if she hits 1,000 so start spreading the word, people!

In case you’re wondering why you should, here’s just one of thousands of reasons:

A boy at a health clinic in Kenya
A boy at a health clinic in Kenya

(Note: You’re more than welcome to comment on this post, but comments left here DO NOT COUNT toward the fundraising goal. You need to comment on the post Water changes everything in order for Limecello to keep track of the numbers. Thank you!)

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