Drilling for water ‘works miracles’ in parched country

March 30, 2005

NOTE: This story is the third part of a six-week Close Up series, "Mozambique: A Land of Contrasts." Related reports, photographs and audio are available at http://umns.umc.org.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS)—Women and girls wake early in the morning and spend their entire day walking to find water to bring home to their families.

The quest leaves no time for education, play or rest.

Any time of the day they can be seen on the dusty paths with heavy buckets of water balanced on their heads and a bucket in each hand. If they are lucky, they will reach a place with fresh, safe water. Most are not lucky. Many only find muddy rainwater.

That is the reality for many people living in Mozambique. The concept of just walking into the kitchen and getting a glass of water is so foreign, most people in the c ountry would probably think you were living in a dream world if you told them about such things.

"Most people take it for granted that water comes from a tap. The reality is very different for most in Mozambique," says Benedita Penicela, director of the Living Water Society in Mozambique, a program supported by the United Methodist Church.

"In some cases, the nearest water is 10 kilometers away," she says. "It is mostly a job for women and girls. Many cannot attend school because they have to travel all day to get water." Because so many young girls are spending their days fetching water for their families, a whole generation is being affected, she says.

"We are ending up with girls with no formal education," she says. "That will affect our future."

The disparity in literacy rates between men and women—even in a country with a 42.3 percent total literacy rate—is telling. According to the World Factbook, 58 percent of Mozambican men 15 years old and above can read, while only 27 percent of women can read. The International Women’s Development Agency reports only 37 percent of primary-aged girls and only 17 percent of secondary-aged girls attend school.

The Living Water Society of Mozambique, in partnership with Lifewater International, is providing wells and safe drinking water to villages. The Living Water Society was started in 2000 with funds from the United Methodist Church in Missouri. Lifewater International is a Christian, volunteer-based organization dedicated to helping rural poor people all over the world get safe drinking water.

Drilling a well in Mozambique costs $8,000, a figure that is out of the reach of poor people in a country where the average monthly income is $40, Penicela says. One well can serve as many as 4,000 people.

Manuel Lalane, head of the drilling crew working with the Living Water Society, says he is helping "to work miracles."

"There are so many problems in Mozambique that relate to water problems," he says. His crew of eight men is in constant demand to drill more wells and repair broken ones.

"Wells are breaking because of the demand," Lalane says. "The need is greater than the wells are capable of handling."

Dressed in bright blue uniforms, Lalane and his crew are welcome sights to the people. Their arrival is cause for celebration. "They put up tents and bring us meals," he says.

"Water is such a precious resource it cannot be used for hygiene purposes," Penicela adds. One of the fallouts from the huge problems of HIV/AIDS is that mothers breast-feed their children, spreading the disease, because no water is available for mixing baby formula.

In the northern part of the country, where the need is greatest, wells cannot be drilled because the available equipment does not drill deeply enough.

United Methodist Bishop Joao Somane Machado says he recently took water to a place in the northern Gaza Province.

"I could not believe what I was seeing," he says. He saw people drinking the previous year’s rainwater from a hole in the ground. "Even animals should not have to drink that water."

Wells are drilled in areas near United Methodist churches or other church programs, and in turn, the water becomes an important evangelism tool, Machado says.

He tells the story of how an elderly woman became excited at the dedication of a well. As the water gushed out of the pump, she threw it up into the air and said, "This is life. This is living water. I want to be part of a church that offers living water."

The Living Water Society has two machines, and its goal is to someday be able to drill a well every day.

"The role of the church is to broadcast the need," Penicela says. "I am sure many cannot imagine how bad things can be."

Contributions to the Living Water Society may be sent through a local United Methodist church or annual conference, or by mailing a check to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Write the check out to "Advance GCFA" and include Living Water Society Advance #156000 on the check memo line. Call (888) 252-6174 to give by credit card. For more information, visit the Advance Web site, http://gbgm-umc.org/advance.

Week four: “Witch daughters,” orphans, unemployed women and uneducated children all have places to go and resources to give them a better life thanks to the United Methodist Women’s Society in Mozambique. The Women’s Society is the equivalent of United Methodist Women in the United States.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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