About five hours south of Addis Ababa, Bulgeta sits at 6,000 feet and boasts almost that many inhabitants. To get there, your sturdy 4×4 would snake south through Ethiopia’s mountains, then turn right at a town called Shone. Thirty minutes later, navigating an impossibly rocky road full of children, cows and donkeys — of push carts loaded with wood and water — you’d pass a primary school where hundreds pack in to learn reading, writing and arithmetic.
Moments later, you’d find the water source that served Bulgeta for generations and stole many of its children’s lives.
For years, men, women and children drank from the village’s large pond. So did their livestock. To the left, trees cover a path that circles it, behind lies a field where the cattle graze. The sloping grass is littered with cow dung and carries waste down its slope to the pond during the rains. The water is filled with green algae and muck, making many sick in Bulgeta.
But like many poor communities in Africa, health care is out of reach for most there. Those who could afford treatment at the nearby Shone clinic would be carried on the shoulders of others for antibiotics that cost between 40 and 80 cents. Those that couldn’t stayed at home and suffered. Many died with parasitic diseases, some of typhoid, others from dehydration or plain old diarrhea.
The people of Bulgeta knew the water was killing them.
“It is not clean at all,” Marcos, one of the village elders told me through a translator in Amharic. “But we have no other solution. We have to drink it.” He told me some people used to walk two hours a day to fetch water from the source and then grabbed his wife and colorful 20 liter Jerry cans and jumped in the pond to show me how they used to gather the water.
But not anymore.
Thanks to humanitarian efforts, clean water arrived a month ago in the form of a freshwater well. It cost about $3500 to drill and cast, and now sits on a hill above the pond. It has changed Bulgeta. Able to pump about a million gallons of clean and safe drinking water a year, it has brought hope and health into town. You see, clean water changes everything in Africa. The precious children of Bulgeta are proof of that, crowding the well, eager to show me how clean their water now was.
(Dinkanich drinks from Bulgeta’s freshwater well spout.)
I spent 11 days in Ethiopia and visited many villages like Bulgeta. One of the organizations charity: water supports on the ground has drilled more than 150 wells in Ethiopia in the past few years, providing clean water to more than 750,000 people.
They are a remarkable team of expatriates and locals. The oldest, John Ed Clark, is a slim 69-year-old man with bushy eyebrows and furrowed brow. He told me that I accompanied him on his 60th trip to the country. He has three more trips planned next year, and says plainly he’ll keep coming until he can’t.
I learned all about the drilling process and even operated the controls of the 30-year-old rig with expert driller Curt King. We looked for water on the grounds of a deaf school and I was surprised to learn how involved the process was. A Seattle resident, Curt’s been at clean water for almost three decades and reckons he’s drilled more than 2,000 water wells in his lifetime. He’s tall and kind and speaks shyly and softly about his work.
Emotionally, Curt talks of the women and children whom he perhaps best serves, the women he sees often weeping as he finishes a well — those “without a voice.” Curt wants the work to go on when he’s unable to continue and has been training three locals — Solomon, Nigusse, and Demoze — to take his place when he retires.
With our help and funding, Curt and his team seek to transform another 60 communities like Bulgeta in 2007. Curt hopes for 100 wells.
(Curt and Solomon laugh at my drilling skills and improper attire.)
After leaving our drill team, I traveled more than 1,000 miles over the next days to remote, water-stressed parts of the country and saw firsthand Ethiopia’s great need for water. I photographed children digging in sand for the precious liquid. I saw hunched women walk torturous miles in the heat with jugs of dirty fluid tied to their backs. I put faces to the country’s 45 million+ without access to clean and safe drinking water. The stories I’d like to tell would fill 10 newsletters.
Touring a health clinic that served 103,000 people and had no doctors, I watched the administrator flip through the book, seemingly shocked himself at the incidence of waterborne disease. Not quite as high as the often quoted UN number of 80%, his clinic still saw about 50 percent. The administrator jumped in our truck and drove us to the local source he said was responsible for the illness. We stared as ponds with cattle and children shared the same drink. Women washed clothes, bathed and drank in the same place. We stood over a small stagnant hole, and I incredulously watched as a young boy in a ragged gray sweatshirt and swollen feet gathered 10 liters. Water is desperately needed here, water is desperately needed in so many places.
You can help.
Support charity: water with your gifts over the coming holiday season as we team with those transforming lives of those in need. Your support allows charity: to continue our work to spark greater global awareness about issues surrounding poverty and to connect people with ways they can make a difference. Through our water campaign, our educational exhibitions, special events and $20 charity: water bottle sales, we are committed to bringing clean water into African communities like Bulgeta while building a community of compassion and concern here at home.
Please get involved.
Donate to charity: water here.