The Walk For Water - It's a Girl Thing

Water gathering is primarily the task of women and girls worldwide. The risks that women and girls encounter to obtain this valuable resource are great.
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I went for a jog today. If you knew me, you would understand the significance of that statement. I fundamentally despise jogging. But I was having a rough day and needed to off some stress. Five minutes down the trail and my lungs were burning. Not that good 'I am on top of the world' sensation, but rather that "I've been under a lot of stress lately and this could actually trigger a heart attack" sensation. I forged ahead reminding myself that all wasn't lost, I had just downloaded a Jay-Z song on my IPod and was feeling rather hip, given that the other 1.999 gigs of music on my IPod are Country music. That counts as personal growth, right? And so as I jogged along to my new music, I began to reflect upon my less than amusing day:

  • It is raining. It is mid-June and there is no sign of sun in the greater Seattle area. It could be cloudy for weeks.
  • Chaos, our aptly named German Shepherd , was hit in the canine tooth with a rock and the cost of a root canal (for a dog!) is1500. The alternative is to remove the tooth for a mere500.
  • Our kids, who are incredibly cute on a normal day, were allowed to stay up late last night. If you have never spent time with a 5 year old that has had only 7 hours of sleep, well, you are missing an event. Not a happy event.
  • Our house is a disaster. Since we left our jobs to start New Course (a not-for-profit) we have invested every spare dime in building New Course with nothing left for cleaning help and no spare time to do it ourselves. I am tired of praying that no one stops over to say "Hi" lest they think we are total and utter slobs.


It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be easier. You know what I mean? You've been there, right?

I reached the half way point and started back home. The only good news of this jog so far was that I was still alive. Then something happened; the worse kind of something. My dad's voice entered my head. Not just his voice, his advice giving voice. The advice that is usually sage and often amusing. The voice said "You're not the last guy". My dad has this saying: "6 billion people in the world and one of them has it worse than everyone else - the last guy. You're not him. Chin up". How irritating is that when all you want to do is feel sorry for yourself?

I had a few miles of jogging hell left and began to think about this concept. I began to think about the last guy and realized: the last guy isn't a guy at all. It is a girl or a woman. And it's not just one woman - it's at least a billion women (and of course probably many more) all of whom are closer to being the last girl than I am.

For some perspective, if I lived in Sub-Saharan Africa, (or India, Bangladesh, South America, Madagascar, or so many other locales) my jog wouldn't be a jog at all, but rather a four mile hike (on average) that commenced before dawn, across dangerous life threatening terrain, to get water for drinking, cooking, personal hygiene etc. You see, water gathering is primarily the task of women and girls worldwide. The risks that women and girls encounter to obtain this valuable resource are great. The walk back would be with a container on my head weighing as much as 75lbs. Over time, the walk would not make me more fit (as is supposedly the case of my jog) but rather would weaken my skeleton, cause difficulty in pregnancy, and jeopardize my health because of my constant exposure to malaria, dengue fever and other diseases. The water that I went through all the effort to retrieve would most likely be dirty, contaminated water that would cause my children to suffer from water borne diseases with devastating effects such as cirrhosis of the liver, respiratory failure, and diarrhea (diarrhea, sadly, kills 1.4 million children each year).
Photo courtesy of Amy Vitale

Interestingly, as I am jogging down my comparatively safe, secure, picturesque trail, I (most certainly naively) can picture myself making this arduous water trek if for no other reason than I would do anything to provide for my children. So many women do this task with pride and honor and many say "don't pity me; you would do the same for your children". I am convinced I could handle it, it would suck, but for my kids: anything.

But what if I had to send my daughter? What if my day were already so full because I had to gather wood for heating and cooking, gather plants for medicine, tend to the farm animals, plant and harvest crops for dinner, and prepare meals. What if I had to make the decision to keep my daughter out of school to help so that my other children could eat? Not an unusual decision, 2/3 of the children who do not attend school globally are girls, many of whom are kept home to help with domestic chores such as fetching water. And what if my daughter came home one day, crying, bleeding, battered, and bruised because she had been raped on the way? She is now likely to have HIV/Aids and be shunned by the community. I simply could not handle that. I can't imagine anything worse than that. Except for one thing. What if she didn't return at all? A fate that awaits far too many girls around the world, especially in conflict areas, who were walking to get some water and were abducted along the way. What a ridiculous, unacceptable, horrific fate that our daughters so suffer.
Photo courtesy of Amy Vitale

So I completed my jog with new perspective. I'm not the last girl. I get it. Suddenly my bad day was not so bad. But is it enough to "get it"? Ironically, as I finished my jog and took I my last few steps up to my car I found myself asking: What's the next step? For me and my family it is to make New Course a successful agent of change for these proud, tired, brave women and girls. That's an important next step for me.

Do you know what your next step is? Go for a jog, a walk and let yourself think about the last girl. And then let yourself think about how to help her.

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