Celebrating Clean Water

Justin Bartkus, a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, is currently touring CRS projects in Ethiopia and Kenya with his mother, CRS Board Member Dr. Carolyn Woo. Here, Justin shares more impressions from the field.

Today’s activities were tremendous, exhausting, but incredibly moving all at once. We spent the day in and around the town of Meki, about two hours from Addis Ababa in the historic Rift Valley.

Our day was spent inspecting the myriad ways in which the poorest of the Ethiopian poor are being built up by the efforts of CRS and its partners. We rumbled across unlabeled dirt roads to see the fruits of internal lending communities, newly installed irrigation systems and livelihood fairs.

Archbishops turn on the spigots for the first time in the Ethiopian village of Koye Jejaba.

Most touching of all, however, was our stop at the village of Koye Jejaba, an area suffering severely from water shortages. In this village, women (and women only) are made to walk 10 kilometers back and forth to fetch water for their families—water, I might add, that is muddy and contaminated by disease-laden human waste. CRS and its partners just recently placed the finishing touches on a brand-new water supply system for the village. Today, the new system was inaugurated.

Archbishops Dolan and Kurtz along with Bishop Abraham Desta of Meki had the honor of being the first to release water from the spigots, a phenomenon that very few members of the community had ever witnessed. The celebration that went up from the villagers was joyous: rhythmic clapping of hands by the men and hooting and hollering by the women. As two elderly women watched their livestock drink clean water for perhaps the first time ever, they raised their arms to heaven, thanking God in their own tongue for the precious gift which they had received. The elders of the community sang to us a song of blessing, recounting the untold suffering of previous years, expressing gratitude to us for CRS’ work and reminding us that “water is life.” No more water-related disease; no more 10-kilometer hikes, no more decimated livestock. Even though I myself am not a part of CRS, I feel blessed to have witnessed such a concrete instance of Christian love truly bridging the gap between cultures and peoples.

One of the moments of greatest levity in this ceremony was when the elders informed us that they had slaughtered a bull in our honor and that we were invited to partake of it with them. I have to admit that the offer did not strike me as appetizing. Instead we settled for some orange soda, Pepsi and teff injera, a large thin and spongy pancake set out with dollops of grilled meat stew. The fare was a bit too spicy and exotic for my taste, a sentiment I shared with the rest of our CRS party. Even still, our meeting with the villagers was very cordial and was an experience that I will not forget in a long time.

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