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The Book of the Week is “one THOUSAND wells (sic), How an Audacious Goal Taught Me to Love the World Instead of Save It” by Jena Lee Nardella, published in 2015.
Born in the early 1980’s, the American author– raised in a strict Christian household– became an idealist, passionate about helping the downtrodden. By her teens, she was volunteering at a Colorado Springs homeless shelter. She worked at an orphanage in Tijuana. In college, she got to meet and work with the Christian music-band, Jars of Clay.
Together with other groups over the course of a decade, the do-gooders who formed a humanitarian organization in 2005 called Blood: Water Mission, would bring uncontaminated blood (for medical purposes) and water (for basic drinking and cleaning) to various underprivileged communities in Kenya, Rwanda, Central African Republic, Uganda, and other African countries. They would help them with the three major components of improving Africans’ health: clean water, hygiene and sanitation.
One of the first of many, many things the author learned in her quest to save lives, was that most Americans’ first impulse is to throw money at a complex problem to solve it. They mean well, but their white-savior-complex is a wrong-headed approach. As she gained experience in providing international aid to poverty-stricken, poorly-educated rural communities, the author saw how villagers were initially skeptical about aid workers’ promises; in the past, so many aid workers had failed to follow up or do anything.
The author’s group eventually elicited a grateful, cooperative response because an educator involved the villagers in raising their own standards of living. A few different aid groups who handled various aspects of a water project, did what they said they would do.
If their projects succeeded, women and children (before school– if they were lucky enough to attend) wouldn’t have to spend hours every day trekking on foot to a water-well or river (which might be used by hundreds of households, and was usually polluted with germs and who knows what else) located many kilometers from their living areas. Blood: Water completed one specific project in Rwanda that allowed eighteen hundred villagers to partake of clean water. Such a basic victory produced a great ripple effect in the community. School attendance soared because:
- kids were neither fatigued by water-fetching nor plagued by water-borne illnesses (and all the people by other illnesses, for that matter) anymore;
- villagers were neither sickened by, nor dying from the water they used; and
- villagers had more time on their hands.
However, the author had rude awakenings on various fronts– a water project that failed, fund-raising struggles, and an episode of corruption by a local male aid-coordinator. She was also forced to do some soul-searching on her religious beliefs. She finally had to accept that it is better to have unanswered questions than unquestioned answers.
Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about all of the above.