She stood before she spoke. Straightened her dress and composed herself. Happy John had something to say. She wasn’t going to wait.
This was the first meeting Save the Rain organized in her village. Save the Rain wanted to hear the stories of Lositeti and Happy had many to tell.
“My dream is to be able to give my children breakfast before they go to school,” she said.
This was also her daily prayer. In those prayers, Happy asks about tomorrow, every night: What will it look like? Will her kids be sick? Where will she get food? Will she be there for her children when they wake in the morning?
Happy speaks up, standing tall in a room of hundreds of her neighbors.
She shares that the women in her village leave home at midnight. Babies tucked in but left alone in the dark. The women meet each other along the road. They know not to be late. Walking to the tap station alone at night is far too dangerous. More dangerous than leaving their children home alone for 8 hours. They press together to stay awake and to stay warm. They wait for hours, in the dark. It will be dangerous, every minute. The women are vulnerable and predators know this.
There is conflict there, too, she said.
It is ugly. It is unjust. Happy doesn’t fight, but she understands why some do.
“People are competing to survive,” she said.
Happy, like everyone else waiting in line, has paid for access to the water at the station. But she doesn’t know when the water will come. She doesn’t know if the water will be on when she gets there. And if the water is on, she doesn’t know if it will turn off before it’s her turn at the tap.
But she’s got to try. The only other alternative is an 8 hour walk from her village. She’s got to be the one who tries for her household. Her husband works in the city, only able to send money home from time to time. Money that pays for school fees, uniforms, and books.
Her daughter walking for water? Her son? That is not an option for her, she says. She wants them to learn, to study, to succeed. For them to know what their own dreams look like.
But Happy has strength not all others have. Most families deny their daughter’s education beyond the second grade, instead she must walk for water. It is a short sighted choice, as girls often share what they learn with others in their family. Educating a girl educates a village.
Which is why Happy takes the daunting task of finding water for her family upon herself alone. Happy is strong and works hard. Happy gives whatever she can: Her food, her water, her time and her love.
She focuses her energy on the children of her community as well. She is the health and food liaison for the primary school where two of her children are part of the 600+ student body.
“If we don’t involve ourselves to help our children, there is no one who is going to help them,” Happy said. “The kids have no voice to cry out and say, ‘We need this.’”
Happy makes sure the kids are eating.
In the year prior to Save the Rain arriving in her village, her duties changed.
That’s because there was no food to eat. There was no water to drink. Many of these children didn’t eat before they got to school, Happy said, nor would they eat when they got home.
The children were fainting during class from starvation. When they do, Happy is the one school officials call.
“I have to make sure they wake up,” she said.
“They are trying the best that they can,” she said. “They ask neighbors for food.”
Happy knows this because she is also trying her best.
She’s a sustenance farmer and in the recent past years, food has been scarce.
But even when she has food, she might not have water. Sometimes, she has water, but no food. Whatever she does have, Happy said, she gives to her children first.
It’s not simple when she has both.
“I sometimes have water and food, but no time to prepare it,” Happy said. “I will leave early in the morning to find water and come back late at night. I won’t have the energy and the children don’t get fed.”
That’s because on the days the tap does not produce (which is more often than not) she will walk eight hours to a river to collect water. She will carry 40-pound jugs back. The sun will be hot and the road will be rough. The water won’t be clean, but it’s what she can get.
It’s her dream, after all, that her children have breakfast. At least a cup of chai, she’ll say, before they walk to school. She believes dreams can be realized.
It’s not faith because she’s seen it happen. Happy is one of the women hired and trained by Save the Rain to build residential rainwater harvesting systems and organic gardens. Since that first meeting, Happy and her team of co-builders have constructed hundreds of systems for their community and their neighbors. Happy no longer treats fainting students and she does indeed feed her kids breakfast each morning before they go to school. Happy has rainwater harvesting system at home now and her dreams indeed have come true.
Please join us to make that dream come true for more women like Happy. Share Happy’s story. It is one that needs to be heard so that more and more women and children can see their dreams come true.
HAPPY IN HER SHOES
This is Happy and she lives in Lositeti. She shared the story of the women of her area. After it, we asked ourselves, “Could we walk a day in her shoes?”. In honor of the women of Lositeti’s journey, and so many communities just like it, Save the Rain birthed the “In Her Shoes Women’s Empowerment Campaign”. A campaign designed to free women from the confines of their daily search for water.
With your help, Happy and women like her, will never need to wait in line for water again.
In 2016, a 200,000 liter rainwater harvesting tank was built on the Lositeti primary school and regardless of their small annual rainfall, has never been empty. A flourishing school farm and vegetable garden welcomes you as you arrive at the school. Save the Rain has trained and now employs 22 women in Lositeti who to date have built 116 residential rainwater harvesting systems and home gardens in their village.
In late 2017, Happy was one of the recipients of a rainwater harvesting system on her home. Her life changed. She recently had a baby and for the first time in her life, she could focus solely on her children’s growth and happiness – instead of on their survival.
Through the work of the In Her Shoes Initiative, the children of Lositeti are attending school, are healthy, and are eating consistent meals. Women no longer forfeit their every hour in search of water. Three years after the partnership with Lositeti began, it has blossomed and is honored as a pilot project in the area. It is a community that had reached out of the depths of despair and now stands like a flagship of hope. A village that used to dwell on barren land now has gardens blooming all around it. A school that no teacher would agree to work at now has a waiting list of teachers wanting to be there.
Water changes everything, especially for women and children. And with your help, we will continue to build better paths for women just like Happy. To join our In Her Shoes Campaign, visit https://www.savetherain.org/in-her-shoes-campaign/