I arrive in Ethiopia’s Amhara region after rainy season has just swept through. The fields are lush smears of gold and emerald. Every piece of land seems to be covered in a crop. In vast acres of teff, maize, sorghum and corn, specks of white scarves appear and submerge again — the farmers bent over their crops, harvesting their livelihood.
From what I picked up in conversations from the fields to the villages, farmers in Amhara make a pretty decent wage.
But country life isn’t easy.
Those who aren’t in the fields — usually kids and moms — spend most of their day preparing food, collecting firewood, herding animals and taking care of other chores necessary to keep their families healthy.
Mintamir, 18 years old, is one of them. Like a lot of the farm kids from my hometown in rural Michigan, she’s been handling chores since she was old enough to walk. When these chores were taken care of, only then would she get to school.
But unlike most farm kids in the U.S., of all her responsibilities, the most time-consuming and physically difficult was collecting water. She’d spend much of her morning walking to an open pond, then hauling her Jerry can home to her house. Her family would make the most of just a pair of these five-gallon containers of water each day. That meant only enough water to bathe (at most) once a week and wash clothes every two weeks.
“We didn’t even wash our faces or care for our personal hygiene,” she tells me. “We were ashamed of our body odor. But also, we’d get sick and then we didn’t focus on school. We’d be tired and sleepy.”
Mintamir has met kids from another life; the city. Her school was a mix of country and town folks. As she learned about their lives — more available water, no cattle to watch over, no crops to tend — she grew anxious. These other kids had time. School was their main focus. What if she fell behind? What if her chores, her illnesses, her waning self-confidence, set her back?
“We are country girls,” she says. “Because we were born here, we’d have to care for animals and the farm and also have to fetch water. We’d be late to school.”
Mintamir pushed through. She’d get up early, she’d stay late, she’d do whatever she had to in order to finish her education. But she’s the exception, not the rule. Our partners tell us that many kids in this area miss school to collect water; the dropout rate for girls is especially high.
Such is the way of country living, many believe. Girls like Mintamir accept that this comes with growing up in a farming family. But they also know that one of their most demanding chores could be relieved completely if they had a clean water source nearby.
“The society is changing here. Now, our time has become like… a computer! Efficient. It’s very different.”
So do we. In 2010, our local partners A Glimmer of Hope and ORDA (Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara) built a charity: water well right in the middle of Mintamir’s village.
She explains that families can now accomplish more each day. Kids can finish collecting water before school and buckle down on their studies instead of juggling multiple trips for more water later in the day. They can come to class clean and ready.
“The society is changing here. Now, we’re using our time efficiently,” she laughs. “Our time now has become like… a computer! Efficient. It’s very different, very different.”
And with clean water so close, she says families have doubled the amount of water they can use each day. People bathe regularly and wash their clothes every week.
Like the city people, she says.
“Now we are the same! We drink well water, too, and feel clean,” she says, speaking for the younger kids around her who are still in school. “When the bell rings, we attend class at the same time.”
“I am just like them now.”
Mintamir has plans to move from her small village of Minchit soon. She’s going to Bahir Dar, Amhara’s second-largest city, to pursue more education. She’s a farm girl at heart, but she’s eager to keep learning. Now that Minchit has water, she hopes more girls in her village will have that chance, too.
charity: water multimedia producer