Walking for water
Next month, a local organization will continue its efforts to bring clean water to thousands of Zambians.
The Lake Oswego-based nonprofit Water Africa will host the Global 6K for Water — previously titled Walk4Water — at Foothills Park 9 a.m. May 4.
Water Africa was started by local residents Bill and Diane Savage in 2008. Since then, the program has raised over $2.75 million and provided water, sanitation and hygiene to nearly 55,000 people via World Vision, a global humanitarian aid organization. Tickets for the 12th annual event cost $50 and participants can either choose to walk six kilometers or 2.4 kilometers. The money will go toward the ultimate goal of bringing clean water to all of Zambia. For more information, visit www.waterafrica.org.
"$50 gets water for life for (each) Zambian," organizer Alan Shiffer said. "People have received safe water because of this walk and the Water Africa work."
The six kilometer length of the walk is based on the average travel distance people in developing nations have to walk each day to collect water for their family, but participants can go at their own pace and don't have to complete the entire walk. Also, each participant will wear a bib with a photo of the individual person that they are providing water for by purchasing a ticket for the event. Some of the sponsored individuals are from other countries outside of Zambia.
"It makes it a little more concrete that this is a person — like this boy lives in Ghana. He hasn't had water and by participation he will," organizer Diane Shiffer said.
According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 16 Zambian children die before the age of 5 and a majority of children suffer deprivations such as lack of access to water, sanitation and nutrition.
Alan has been to Zambia many times since first helping organize the walk while Diane visited the country in southern Africa for the first time last year. They have witnessed both progress in the areas where World Vision has added wells and sanitation tools, and the struggles in the areas without clean water access.
"Houses look different, kids look different, the vibe feels different," Alan said.
"It completely transforms their lives," Diane added.
For instance, one school that the program helped now has bathrooms and showers via water pumped from a solar turbine. In areas where clean water is available, women and children who had to spend their days trekking to water sources spend their time on other things such as education, entrepreneurial efforts, preparing better meals and helping children with homework.
And Diane said World Vision's implementation of water infrastructure is collaborative rather than controlling.
"It's not World Vision coming in and saying 'Here's a well. Have a nice life.' There really is quite a lead up that happens with that," Diane said. "The village has effort and skin in the game. They figure out how to maintain the well, how it impacts sanitation and hygiene in local agriculture. It's very much a partnership."
Participants in the walk will carry a bucket to Millennium Plaza Park to scoop up water and then carry the bucket back to Foothills Park. In Zambia, Diane said the women typically carry 40-50 pound buckets of water over their head.
And the walk will be lined with interactive features like a pump station to show people how Zambians pump water and a station on how to use a "tippy tap," which is a hand-washing device. Students from Oak Creek Elementary School, Bridgeport Elementary and Horizon Christian School will man the stations and answer questions from attendees. The event will also have music and activities for children and the head of a Zambian water committee will be present.
"It's (the event) not just helping them (the Zambians)," Alan said. "It's helping us be informed and aware."
Alan and Diane said Water Africa and World Vision hope to provide the entire country with access to water in the coming years. But they feel proud of the impact that the local organization has already had on the region.
"It's fun to see a vision someone had of how to make a difference actually make a difference," Diane said.