We're walking through a corn field in Chileka in a southern district just outside of Blantyre, Malawi. It's 5 a.m. and the sun is mildly peeking through the mountains. The five of us quietly follow two young girls as they walk to collect water, rocks crunching under our feet. Carolina and Tabia are 12 and 14, and they're showing us their water supply.
Walking single file, they're careful not to step on loose rocks along the steep slope. The path weaves through rows of maize - it's harvest season and tall crops provide protection from the sun. The girls pause along the way, careful not to slip as they gracefully hop over large gaps where the earth has split. After a good 15 minutes, we fall behind, run out of breath and wonder aloud how they will get the full buckets back up this path. 20 minutes later, we arrive at a water hole. A hand-dug pit in the earth that's about 2 feet in diameter, has filled up with run-off water overnight.
It hasn't rained in a few days, so the water is deceptively clear. When the rains do come, they'll wash mud and dirt down the mountain, and flood the water hole with bacteria, animal waste and disease.
The rainy season brings with it frequent outbreaks of cholera and diarrhea, especially among the children here. Yet the girls calmy fill up their pails and we begin the climb back up. Each of us are thinking the same thing - we can't imagine drinking that water, let alone carrying 40 pounds of it through steep mountains.
Back at Carolina and Tabia's house, the girls get ready for school. Their mother says goodbye to us and piles freshly harvested stalks of corn into our hands. This is all she has, and she offers it to us in thanksgiving. Although we haven't done anything yet, she smiles, hopeful that we'll return with a solution. We promise to try.
The Chitundu Primary School has 205 students, who all rely on a distant well that they share with a nearby village. We follow Carolina and Tabia again, as they make their second long walk of the day to fetch water. This time they're awake with giggles, lost in a group of girls in uniforms, blue and yellow pails in hand. Upon arrival at the well, they must compete with the older women of the village, and default to waiting their turn at the pump. The well is down a hill and through another field, and they miss half an hour of class today. Chitundu Primary School needs their own well, but with the overwhelming need in Chileka county, and a reachable well in the area, it's at the end of a long list. So they wait.
Over the last 6 days, we've seen an overwhelming need here.
We've walked with women to ponds and rivers. We've hiked for an hour in the Neno district to a village that got dirty water from a crude hole in the dirt. We've met two women in Chileka who walk seven times daily up and down a steep mountain carrying water, one pail at a time. We followed Carolina and Tabia on their daily walks.
Through our local partner Water For People, charity: water has funded 10 well rehabilitations in Malawi, and 6 new wells that are being completed.