Rwanda Blog 4: LaDonna Harris, M.Div. Student
Water: A Lesson in Humility
I’d never been on a mission before. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. Nothing I saw should have been a surprise. Yet, somehow, the level of poverty and the lack of resources and development were, in a word, shocking. Let me explain with one example.
I grew up around neighborhoods steeped in poverty. That mostly meant lack of: food, or certainly healthy food; reasonably accessible non-emergency medical care; adequate shoes and clothing, as a few examples. It may have meant lack of water, but that was usually because the water was turned off because the bill hadn’t been paid. It was not because the mechanics of getting water consistently to households, or even businesses, were simply not in place. It did not mean those poverty-stricken households were accustomed to going someplace else to get “unclean water” to bring home to boil for cooking and drinking, or to use to pour down toilets as the flushing mechanism.
But in Rwanda, a country devastated by internal genocidal war, poverty, for me, was redefined; the picture redrawn by a new and humbling experience. On arrival, the first toilet I used was a hole in the floor. I experienced a variety of temporary living accommodations; some with running water, some with none, most without hot water on tap. Nearly everywhere I went, using the toilet meant using a pitcher or bucket to pour water into the toilet to flush it; including in the Governor’s office.
A classmate and I wondered, “Why is it that no government or corporation has stepped in to provide villages with clean, running water?” This had been done in other “under-developed” countries; why not Rwanda? I posed the question to Bishop Alex. In his understated and politically correct manner of speaking, he said: “We find it is more expedient to partner with private investors. Others usually come with their own interests and the process takes much longer.”
Shame on us! No matter what one believes about the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide, we cannot honestly deny the complicity of government and church. Now, through tragedy of unimaginable proportions, a country of humble, proud and resilient people has learned that it is safer to do without than to partner with entities that have the greatest ability to expediently provide a healthful creature comfort that we take for granted daily; clean, running, hot and cold water. So, without complaint or curse, Rwandans patiently partner with private entities that genuinely care about and respect them.
No water trucks were visible, no heavy construction machines laying pipes; just people, young and old, carrying and bicycling yellow containers of water. Water drawn from the river, they buy it to bring home; to cook with, to bathe in, to flush a toilet. If it were us, we would be appalled. We should be appalled.
LaDonna M. Harris
Master of Divinity Program