Stories From The Field

What Helen Taught Us

She told us that clean water made her feel beautiful then. Her story is even more beautiful today.

by Tyler Riewer & Beka Watts

Close up portrait of Helen Apio

Sadly, Helen Apio is no longer with us. But her enduring memory lives on in this story—one we often share—because Helen talked about clean water in a way we’d never heard before. This story was written in 2016, when our team visited Helen for the second time.

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When we first met Helen in 2009, her community had just received a hand pump in the middle of their village.

For decades, Helen had spent most of her days walking and waiting to collect water. It was such a time-consuming process that she could only manage to bring home two Jerry Cans per day.

Let that sink in for a second. The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. Helen’s family was divvying up 10 gallons.

She told us that each day she’d ask herself, “How should I use this water today? Should I water my garden so we can grow food? Should I wash my children’s uniforms? Should I use it to cook a meal? Should we drink this water?”

With two children, one husband and only 10 gallons of water, Helen had to make choices. And she always put herself last.

But all of that changed when her community got clean water.

“I am happy now,” Helen beamed. “I have time to eat, my children can go to school. And I can even work in my garden, take a shower and then come back for more water if I want! I am bathing so well.”

“Now, I am beautiful,” Helen said.

That’s the part that blew us away.

We commonly hear people talk about improved health, time saved, education opportunities, dignity, pride, joy…

But no one had ever said beauty.

This year, we sent a team back to Northern Uganda to visit Helen and see how clean water has continued to change her life over time.

The best part is that it’s not just her story anymore.

Today, she lives with three of her grandchildren. Two of them go to school (on time and in clean uniforms). The other one just bought a sewing machine so she can make and sell her own clothing.

Helen’s son lives next door with his wife. They’re currently saving up money so they can open a restaurant.

Down the road, her neighbors have bigger farms and more livestock. Women are selling baked goods and working in shops. Kids are moving on to technical school.

Everyone is healthy.

In the past few years, Helen has purchased a goat for breeding (it’s birthed three babies), started farming ground nuts, and built her own business — get this — selling charcoal.

The same woman who hardly ever got to take a bath eight years ago now proudly gets her hands dirty every single day.

Over the past ten years, you’ve helped charity: water bring clean water and stories like this to so many families around the world.

As we enter a week of giving and thanksgiving, we want to thank you for your support. Clean water is truly changing everything for people in need.

And for women like Helen, life has never been more beautiful.

Photos By: Hazel & Pine and Esther Havens
Thanks to Ali Troute.