It's Not Enough to Donate $5 to Build a Water Pump and Then Call it a Day
I was born in Mexico. When I was a one year old, I immigrated to the U.S. with my parents. One summer I returned to the Pueblo where my grandmother and many of my extended family members still live today. I remember walking hand in hand with my abuelita to fetch water from the well across town. It took us about an hour to get there and an hour to return home, with a heavy bucket in tow. Even then the hard work did not end and we would boil all the water to get rid of bacteria.
As a child, I really didn’t understand the bigger issue. For me, it was just a few hours, one week a year that I was spending time with my grandma. My grandma, however, was forced to make this long trek almost every day. I also didn’t understand how dangerous this was. Every time my grandmother made this long walk for water, she faced violence, crime, and health risks on the journey. And my grandmother is not alone. Worldwide millions of women and girls spend up to hours every day collecting water – to a sum of 40 Billion hours per year. That’s time lost that could be spent at work, school, or even playing.
I recently took a trip to Asuncion, Peru with the nonprofit organization Water For People. My colleagues at Xylem are part of the World Water Corps, and each year a group of employees travel with Water For People and help apply our technical expertise to water challenges faced by communities in both Peru and India.
This was my first trip with Water For People and as I visited this village and spoke with the locals, I listened to their stories and the challenges they faced because of the lack of access to safe water. And I realized what my grandmother had been going through for decades. Even more than that, I realized how preventable some of these challenges are, which frustrated me. Working at a leading global water technology provider I know that maintenance and support is critical to ongoing water access. What good is it to install a water pump and then leave it to rust and break? We certainly wouldn’t do this in the U.S. Yet as I walked around Asuncion, I saw countless broken water pumps and useless infrastructure. Not only is this is a waste of money, but it also means that women and girls are forced to once again make the trek, putting themselves in danger and missing out on other opportunities.
I didn’t understand the magnitude of this problem, either personally or professionally, until my trip with Water For People. But I returned with a greater understanding of the challenges and a greater commitment to make a difference. I now know it is not enough to donate $5 to build a water pump and then call it a day. It is about helping communities to establish the infrastructure and community support needed to keep water flowing. We must look at the water sector and the real water crisis and stand together to say –“We Must Change That.” Only then, when we all understand what it will take to solve the crisis, not temporarily but forever, will we be able to see real change.
My trip to Peru changed my life and my perspective. Whether you can go on a trip or just start to learn more about the water crisis I urge you to get involved. It is one of the greatest challenges our world faces and one was can solve in our lifetime.