The following story is written by Cliff, a Rotarian, investor, father, and volunteer who had the privilege of building a rainwater harvesting system for Anna and her 7 kids. They are worlds apart and a bonded family forever.
My first trip with Save the Rain left an indelible mark. You get to this magical place, with Mt Kilimanjaro as its backdrop, after spending 30 hours on planes. You feel exhausted and anxious. As you drive to your hotel, you quickly realize how different this place is from home. You stare in bewilderment at 4 people on a motorcycle. When you get to your first village by a donkey path, you cast your eyes on malnourished children. These kids stare at you with huge smiles even though they play with a soccer ball made from plastic bags. This does nothing to their abundant gratitude and does everything to yours. It takes so little to effect sustainable change here. After you have a good cry over feeling helpless, you get angry at those in charge for not investing in their people. Things you take for granted are not commonplace here and your anger won’t change anything.
7 days in, I get paired with Anna’s family. Her 7 children range from 4 months to 17 years old. She is emaciated and exhausted. They live in a dilapidated hut the size of your bathroom at home. You learn her story. She has been abandoned by her husband. She cannot own land nor ever re-marry. You scream inside about all the injustices.
You start laboring with 4 of Save the Rain’s women builders and quickly learn how out of shape you are. You are embarrassed by your inability to keep pace with the others as you heave 70 lbs. rocks and mix concrete by hand. The women run circles around you and you gain a whole new level of respect for them. The work is a bonding process. It could be made much easier with power tools. You have to fight with your 1st world experiences because they aren’t replicable here.
You become part of another family’s story …forever. As you build the rainwater harvesting system, you celebrate all the possibilities it will bring to Anna and her kids. You realize you won’t be there to witness the effects it will have … but it’s all worth it. I left there a different person than I came…humbled and praying I can emulate their gratitude. The laughter and love shared in a week could keep my heart full for a lifetime.
Fast forward 18 months, an opportunity arises to return to Tanzania. I was able to revisit Anna. I could barely keep it together when she came running to give me a hug. I grabbed the nearest translator but my tears couldn’t be suppressed. Anna explained that her life has never been this good. She no longer walks for water. Her children are healthy. There is food to eat. She even has a small herd of goats. She works for Save the Rain and she is so grateful for everything. When I revisited her home, it was impeccably kept. There was abundance everywhere. Her tank was full and her garden was plentiful. I was overwhelmed with joy. There was a small wooden pallet structure beside the house with a rusted tin roof that surely leaked. I asked her what it was used for. Her eldest boys sleep there since there isn’t enough room in their 12’x 6’ house. It took about 2 seconds for the father in me to ask how much another room would cost to build on her house. $500 to change two more boys’ lives forever. Seems like a good deal and an even better deal for my soul.
The beauty of service is that it is circular. It benefits everyone involved and honors both the giver and the receiver.