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Sara Olivieri is the Field Communications Specialist at Living Water International. We asked her to share how the world water crisis has impacted her life and work at Living Water. This is her story.
I was first introduced to the water crisis and fell in love with the thirsty in March of 2013. I was working as a writer and editor for a luxury retailer, and was given the opportunity to go on a short-term mission trip with six other people from my church. The purpose of this trip was to drill a water well for a rural community in the poorest country in Central America—Nicaragua—through an organization called Living Water International.
I had no idea what to expect—my exposure to poverty had been extremely minimal, and even in many of our poorest areas in the U.S., access to clean water is still usually not a problem. After four hot, exhausting and amazingly fun days, we hit water and my heart was changed forever. From that moment I knew it was time for a new career—something that made a difference in the lives of others—and through some incredible divine intervention, three short months later I moved to Houston to be Living Water’s Field Communications Specialist.
The trip to Nicaragua was enlightening, but I quickly saw it was only a small glimpse of what the organization did as a whole. Operating in 23 countries, Living Water’s mission is to demonstrate the love of God by helping communities acquire desperately needed clean water, and to experience “living water”—the gospel of Jesus Christ—which alone satisfies the deepest thirst.
Since beginning in 1990, Living Water has completed more than 10,000 water projects, with a goal to complete nearly 1,400 this year alone. Having access to safe water not only improves health and decrease disease, but it ties to education, agriculture, and even bridges gaps between various religious groups.
Shortly after joining the Living Water staff, I had the opportunity to visit some of our projects in North India where in many communities a water well acts as a peace-builder between Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Shortly after visiting North India, I went to a rural community in Southern Zambia where prior to Living Water’s intervention through the provision of three wells, families were dependent on the Zambezi River—constantly risking their lives against crocodile and hippo attacks just to gather water.
It hadn’t rained in this particular area for over a year, and when I asked what they relied on for food, they pointed to small seedpods on trees. They explained that the only fertile soil to plant crops was on the riverbed, but anytime they attempted to plant anything, the hippos would come and eat it all. As the community showed us the three wells—joyfully singing and dancing along the way—I noticed small green trees surrounded by wooden fences near the wells. The community leader explained that now with the water readily available, they could plant crops and protect them from the animals.
Water is only the beginning, however, and a few years ago, Living Water launched a new strategic direction to incorporate sustainability and behavior change through extensive community engagement and hygiene education.
My subsequent trips took me to Haiti and Mexico, where I had the privilege to experience these “soft” techniques firsthand. In Haiti, we’ve launched “Community Health Clubs”—voluntary groups of 50-100 men, women, and children of all ages who meet on a weekly basis to learn about disease prevention and the management of water and sanitation resources. In Mexico, trained volunteers are a part of the “Community Care Group” approach, in which each volunteer works with individual households within their communities to deliver hygiene education. Behavior change is never an easy process, but through participatory methods such as these, community members are able to think through solutions specific to their needs.
As we grow into these strategic directions, we still remember that it all begins with water. I look forward to experiencing more stories from the formerly thirsty as water continues to penetrate lives and hearts.
To learn more about the water crisis and to hear Living Water’s Story of the Thirsty, visit water.cc/whywater.