Nothing steals Aminaeli’s laughter. Most Tanzanians are taught to cover their mouths when they laugh. Some have severe Fluorosis – a dental discoloration that occurs from drinking water with high levels of natural fluoride. It leaves brown striations on the teeth.
Aminaeli made laughter a life raft. It eases her pain. It rides her through trying times. It allows her to empty out and fill back up with joy. It gives her courage.
20 years ago, at 18, Aminaeli married a man who would be driven to alcoholism by poverty. They now have 5 children. Many nights no one ate. Other nights, she would forfeit eating so that her children could.
They would both seek work during the day. He always came back empty-handed. She learned that her hands were the only ones to be trusted to provide.
She would search for work in people’s fields. Harvesting, planting, weeding – anything that might give her money to sustain her family. Aminaeli would negotiate with landowners to work an acre of land for the equivalent of about $4. It would take her two days to complete the job. There was never enough. Often her kids would be sent home from school because fees were not paid, or uniforms were worn out. Regardless, her children could always count on their mother’s laughter.
In 2015, Save the Rain started to work in Aminaeli’s village. Another non-profit had invested in a piped water project there. We questioned if we were meant to focus our efforts in this area. Nature knew better. The moment the thought occurred, a deluge of baseball-sized raindrops came pouring down. We danced in the rain with the village leaders before running for cover. It was then that we asked about the pipe project.
They explained that the pipe project would require people to pay per bucket of water. We questioned, “Had the piped water been tested for high levels of fluoride?”. It was a serious problem in the area and evident by the number of children with swollen skulls and bowed legs. In Tanzania, natural fluoride levels can be up 25 times the recommended allowance for consumption. The organization admitted that water had never tested, and they had no intention of doing so. Months later, the rains came and washed their project away.
Save the Rain, along with Aminaeli and a team of 23 women from the Kingori ward went on to build rainwater harvesting systems on homes and schools. 12 communities in their area now have access to continuous reliable fluoride-free drinking water.
The work has changed Aminaeli’s life. Her kids excelled academically and were selected to attend secondary school. She had the money to pay school fees from her job with Save the Rain. Her family never went hungry.
Bigger than that, she helped change the lives of more than 47,000 people. Aminaeli and her team of builders and gardeners have in the last 5 years given clean water and food security to 16 primary schools and just over 2,500 families and their surrounding networks. And there is no intention of stopping. Laughter can change the world. It can raise you up and ride you to your destiny. Aminaeli is proof of that.