The Road that Changed Everything

Blog Home | by Tyler Riewer | from the field

Thirty minutes outside of Nkhoma, Malawi, far from wifi and the warm glow of electricity, is a village called Sikedi.

It’s home to 195 of the warmest and most generous people I’ve ever met, and it’s the place that Jamie (our videographer), Esther Havens (our guest photographer) and I called home for five days in October.

Sikedi was one of several villages that had been cut off from the rest of the world by a ravine.

Not only was that ravine limiting access to schools and hospitals, but it was the only thing that prevented them from receiving clean water the day when the village on the other side did- because there was no way for the drilling rig to get across.

That’s the story we wanted to tell. Because after that day, these people became determined. At least one person from every household spent two months carrying rocks and bags of sand to the ravine until they had created a passable road across it. It was the first time that clean water had ever seemed like a possible reality for them.

What we didn’t know before we got there was that they had already finished building the road and that the drilling rig would arrive during our visit. WHAT?! I know.

We wanted to show the people hard at work. This news changed our story — but in the best way possible.

Instead we get to show the result of that work… a convoy of trucks driving down the road in the distance, drilling rig at the front… people running down the hill at the sound… the rig rolling right over that bridge and into the community.

People sang and danced all day long. Waiting and hoping for clean water. We talked to women who were skipping chores because they didn’t want to miss anything. The entire community was there, waiting eagerly outside the ropes as drillers put pipe after pipe into the ground. 20 meters. 30 meters. 50 meters. Hours went by. And just as they were about to give up, water finally bubbled up from the ground.

Prior to this day, women had been getting water from a hole next to the river — a source they often had to share with pigs. They were walking to this place four to five times a day and often waiting in line. When that hole ran dry, they had to sit and wait for it to slowly refill.

But having clean water for them wasn’t just about saving time and work. And it wasn’t about better health. To them, water was a symbol of progress. Independence. Life.

When that moment came, the people in this village came charging past the ropes to the drill, and the drillers let them have it… flushing the pipe over and over again, shooting water into the sky so they could dance and sing in the rain.

Water is here, don’t worry!” they sang.

And I can’t even say what that was like.

One of the most important parts of working here, for me, is changing the way people think about charity and giving. But this moment was all about water. It has never been so clear to me how much water impacts lives. Freaking emotional is what it was.

Really, the entire week was emotional. There was something very special about these people. They way they live. Their generosity. Their spirit. They welcomed us in instantly — not as people who were paying for them to have clean water, but as guests in their community. They shared hard stories and spoke over and over again about things like forgiveness and service.

As we drove away, the women lined up and sang once more. I asked our driver what they were singing, and he said, “It’s a song of appreciation. They’re saying it’s bittersweet; that you are like morning dew because you were here and you were beautiful and now you’re gone.”

Frantically trying to put on my sunglasses and hide the tears? You bet I was.

It was just a deeply significant experience. And it’s one that I hope we’ve done justice with the video above. The story of the families in Sikedi and Chinkhwamba villages is not uncommon… there are people all over Malawi who don’t believe they’ll live to see the day that clean water comes to their village.

Nothing would make me happier than to prove them wrong.

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