In early September, a delegation of diocesan leaders from across the United States visited Ethiopia and Tanzania to get a first-hand look at CRS work. The following is a report by Anne Avellone, director of Archdiocese of Santa Fe Office of Social Justice and Respect Life.
Maji Ni Uhai … Water is life, says a sign in Swahili at a watering station in a remote area near Same, Tanzania, where villagers come to water their livestock and draw water for their families. Water is also the connection between people continents away, a place of solidarity.
As CRS works with the small rural communities in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, and Same, Tanzania to gain access to a reliable, sustainable and clean water source and manage it with local leadership, the people of the state of New Mexico where I live also work to preserve centuries old systems of irrigation called acequias and to protect precious water and crops in an arid landscape.
As I flew into to Dire Dawa, from the air I could see landscape that seemed familiar. Dry, rocky hills and mountains are dotted with low-growing scrub plants and succulents like sisal, an agave plant that produces stiff fiber used in twine, and varieties of cactus like prickly pear. There was juniper interspersed with flat, desert-like areas with a rich brown, sand or red color, and dry river beds. It is a land very much like the desert southwest in the United States.
As our truck climbed into the mountains outside of Dire Dawa, the dry landscape gave way to a lush area, created entirely by the local people’s hard labor to terrace harsh rocky hillsides that had been bare and prone to erosion. The terraces, I learned, helped to provide catchments for scarce rain water, and simultaneously restored the diminishing watershed in a very dry area, served as crop planting area, enriched the soil and channeled the water to newly replanted sapling trees.
In one remote community, the spring, almost dry from overuse and contaminated by cattle and wildlife, was restored by practices that protected the water source and restored the trees surrounding it. By carefully maintaining the spring, the local villagers are able to bring clean water by pipes laid by the labor of their own hands to remote areas as well as build reservoirs and fish hatcheries, thus improving the quality of life, hygiene, sanitation and economic stability of these remote villages. Natural vegetation was restored and erosion was stopped. And their spring increased its yield. Living waters renewed.
Water is life—to us and to the animals and plants that share it. I am reminded of how Jesus speaks of living water (John 4:1-42) and the life-giving waters of baptism. Water is essential for human life. Without it we die. Through the waters of baptism and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we are called into mission, in service to and in solidarity with all those who are in need. Waters of baptism give us life and strength to serve those in need, and urge us to respond to so many who live without the basic human requirements of food, water, shelter, basic education and sanitation. Water sustains us and connects us.
Standing with our CRS delegation at one of the successful projects in a remote area of Same, villagers spoke of how this water has improved their quality of life and their dignity. Women don’t have to walk all day to a water source to collect water. Because the water station is maintained and fenced, cattle and other livestock cannot foul the water that surrounds it, which protects the health of the community. As it is here in the desert southwest, “gray water” is collected and used for trees, and on unique “sack” gardens, made of large potato sacks that are filled with dirt and slit so that a family may plant and grow small vegetables to maintain a healthy diet.
Villagers select a leadership team to manage the water, and the accompanying projects. The leader in the village spoke proudly of their accomplishment, and when he learned that some parts of the U.S. share the same arid landscape and water saving techniques, he asked us to share ideas with him so that he may learn. I learned from him as he asked to learn from me.
Humbled by his request, I realized that solidarity means honoring the wisdom and knowledge of others, no matter where they are. Our human life and dignity connect us. Water and landscape connect us. Maji Ni Uhai, Water is life.
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