The Friday Five: Reasons to Give a Dam

Our organization has launched a tongue-in-cheek campaign on behalf of an actually quite serious cause. We are in the process of trying to raise $75,000 needed to build an earthen dam for a community in Marsabit, Kenya.  So here are five reasons to give a dam (an earthen one):

1. Because Justin Beaver says so.

2. Because last year, northern Kenya experienced its worst drought in six decades. This dam will protect the communities from future droughts.

3. Because a gift as small as $25 can make a significant difference for our friends in Marsabit.

4. Because this dam will also allow for small scale irrigation farming for over 3,000 people.

5. Because isn't this video just irresistible?

[vimeo 47469878 w=500 h=281]

If you would like to walk with us in this journey, click here for more information.

Scrub, Rinse, Wring, Repeat

This morning, I awoke with a simple chore ahead of me: laundry. I have been traveling through the desert of northern Kenya and the volcanic hills of Rwanda, and have arrived in western Kenya with a pile of dirty clothes. Contrary to the ease with which we wash our clothes in the US, doing laundry in Africa is more time consuming and labor-intensive. Instead of Tide, washing machines and dryers, we use rain water, home-made soap, two basins, two hands and the equatorial sun.

The best time for washing clothes is in the early morning while the air is still cool and the clothes can dry in the mid-day sun. I filled a basin with rain water collected from a tank (thanks to Blood:Water Mission) and added a liquid soap made for washing hands, dishes and clothes. (Some of the women who had been trained by Blood:Water Mission in water, sanitation and hygiene were the ones who now make and sell the liquid soap to the community!)

I soaked the clothes in the soapy water and did my best to scrub the dirt out of them. From clinics to schools and churches to homes, remnants of the places I have traveled released themselves from the fabrics of my journey into the basin. I spent a good hour and a half with my hands to my clothes - soaking, scrubbing, rinsing, wringing, and hanging to dry.

I felt gratitude for the access to water and to soap. I felt admiration for the women beside me who do this on a regular basis with competence and strength. And I felt conflicted about the drastic differences between life here and in the US. I wondered who I felt more sorry for: the women here who are bound to the slow and heavy labor of life's necessities or Americans whose fancy machines have developed efficiencies and expectations that leave little room for the slow and connected life.

The Magic of Development

Today I visited the desert of Marsabit, Kenya. The last time I was here was early 2011 when water was already a challenge, and the drought of 2010 simply flaunted its severity. The rain tanks sat empty. The earthen dam was dry, and the animals lay dead upon its crumbled surface. The expected rainy season passed over northeast Kenya without a drop to share. The following rainy season simply did the same.


I remember flying away from Marsabit in a small missionary plane, dumbfounded by the cruelty of the earth and by the limitation of man. As we left, we had encouraged everyone to continue the work, but it honestly felt futile. Why would you build a rain tank when you have lived a year under cloudless skies? Why would you teach your neighbors how to properly care for water when there is simply no water to care for? Why risk the fool by believing in a good God when the earth continues to stand dry? I looked out the window into the desert and wondered if the tears of the dying were the only drops of water that would come. I prayed, but with disbelief.

Today, I flew back in that same missionary plane and saw a land different than when I had been here 18 months before. And what I have seen in the process of such hardship is the enduring belief in the ability to hope and to take responsibility for one's situation regardless of circumstance. Day in and day out, the people of Marsabit continued on with utter resilience to survive. They faithfully built the tanks and repaired the dams as dust devils swept across their land. They developed health and hygiene clubs, dug pit latrines and carried on with a commitment to improving their lives regardless of the circumstances that they could not control. Many people in the US would consider an empty rain tank a failure, but the actions of these communities prove greater success than most places I have seen. Poverty gets the worst of humanity when it tells people that they are without any hope or dignity or ability.

The rains had finally come last October. Like manna from heaven, the rain filled the tanks and the dams. And because the people of Marsabit had worked through the drought to construct the catchment systems, they were able to collect every drop. We visited schools with rain tanks, and the children sang songs about the importance of clean water and hand washing. They were thankful to God that the drought had subsided, and they proclaimed how they were stronger together by enduring through it.


Progress comes in ebbs and flows, and it shows itself in stops and starts. We wish for change to come quickly, but more often than not, it comes slowly and gradually. It is a lost cause to judge success by rain or drought. The magic of development is in the spirit and belief of communities who work diligently together through times of both scarcity and plenty. I am so inspired by our friends in Marsabit.

30 Hour Journey

Our culture is on a quest toward an unprecedented speed and efficiency that would cause our ancestors (or even our grandparents!) to stand dumbfounded at what they see. I am amazed at how quickly we can send our thoughts to one another via the internet. How fast our cars can go. How instantly our needs are met through technology. James and I are in Atlanta, on our way to Kenya by way of Amsterdam. The entire voyage takes about 30 hours, which compared to travelers a hundred years ago, is practically like lightning speed. However, for those of us living in 2012, sitting in crammed seats with weird food and high passenger-to-toilet ratios while we coast over the Atlantic is a very long journey.

I am increasingly aware of the quick pace of the American life. We take 15 waking hours each day and splice them up into scattered intervals - half of which we are doing simply because everyone else is doing them and not because we think it is the most healthy or flourishing way to live.

We desire to see the world around us keep up with our pace, and it's hard to know if we are victims of an urgency culture or if we are the ones responsible for creating that expectation. We celebrate when a technology allows us to perform a duty faster. It allows us to check something else off the list and get to the next one quicker. But we ought to also mourn the loss of something very perennial as human beings.

In America, clean water comes at the turn of a tap. It comes so quickly and easily that we don't realize what a privilege it is to have at our fingertips. We don't notice it. We simply consume it.

Thirty hours from here, I will be entering communities that have waited generations for access to clean water. And when it does come, it comes slowly. Village committees are formed, trainings are held, rocks and sand are dredged from rivers and walked by ox cart. It is rarely accessible in a personal home, and the water source is communal. People gather around it. They use their amount wisely and see it for the gift that it is.

So, despite the long journey that we are about to undertake, I am thankful for being a prisoner of time and limitation, even for just the next 30 hours. Our relationship to time, expediency and one another is something we ought to wrestle with over the long-haul, and not just for a fleeting moment.