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Intern Reflection: Water to Thrive visits Ethiopia

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Lars Anderson is a rising senior and Civil Engineering major at Valparaiso University in Indiana. This summer, Lars was placed in an internship with Water to Thrive (W2T) where he is putting his engineering background to good use, helping improve how water wells are more consistently and successfully established and managed in the African communities served by W2T.

Earlier this summer, Lars traveled to Ethiopia for two weeks with W2T leaders and donors to see the work first-hand and to make connections with their in-country partners.

Read Lars’ reflection on his exciting and eye-opening journey to Ethiopia.

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When I accepted my position as an intern with Water to Thrive in Austin, I knew that a trip to Ethiopia would be a part of it. What I didn’t realize was how much I would learn about the country and how visible the impact would be that W2T has on rural communities there. Over the span of two weeks, our small group

Lars, in his Valpo shirt, and the rest of the team arrive in Addis Ababa.

Lars, in his Valpo shirt, and the rest of the team arrive in Addis Ababa.

toured about 40% of the country and had the chance to visit twelve well sites sponsored by donors. W2T has been funding water projects in Ethiopia since it was founded in 2007 and in that time, numerous groups of donors from all around the United States have had the chance to travel there. Our group of nine people included W2T’s founder, executive director, another intern, myself, and five other travelers.

We traveled to six major Ethiopian cities, separate from the rural communities. In Addis Ababa, the capital, we saw the National Museum, which among many

One of the amazing rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia.

One of the amazing rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia.

national treasures, contained the skeletal remnants of Lucy. In Lalibela, we saw the incredible rock-hewn orthodox churches, with each architectural aspect symbolizing something biblical. In Axum, we saw the ancient obelisks which serve as markers of tombs of royalty. Near Hawassa in the Omo Valley, we met members of the Mursi tribe, where the women are famous for using lip-plates. We had a fantastic tour guide (who is pictured above) to show us all of this and much more throughout the trip.

As amazing as it was to see and learn the history of the beautiful country, it couldn’t compare to the opportunity to be with the twelve rural communities and celebrate the gift of clean water. Each of the wells we visited was recently completed or will be soon. And each one serves at least 200 people and often

Women and children, the water bearers, line up to use a community well.

Women and children, the water bearers, line up to use a community well.

many more due to the need in the areas. At some of the most recently completed wells, we were greeted with popcorn, coffee, dancing, and shouts of celebration. But at each completed site, we heard how much of a difference the clean and accessible water was having on the health and well-being of the people. Women no longer spent hours collecting water for their families and hurting their backs with the weight of the containers. Children, especially five and under, no longer fell ill or died due to water-borne diseases. The overall improved well-being of the community often brought more opportunities for education, women’s rights, and collaboration for further improvements. It was full of truly special moments as we celebrated with the communities on behalf of the contributions of so many.

On an individual level, the trip has already impacted me in numerous ways. Professionally, the experience provided a clear view of one way I can use my engineering degree and set me up to complete a difficult task this summer.

Lars takes notes while well operations are explained to the group.

Lars takes notes while well operations are explained to the group.

We met just a few representatives from W2T’s hard working local partners REST and DAASC. Without these organizations and their intuitive and skilled leaders, none of the projects we saw could have been completed with the same results described in the section above.

For me, it was really neat to see how these leaders, who each had technical backgrounds, had committed themselves to addressing the massive need of clean water supply in their country. I only hope I can commit myself in a similar way to a need and help generate results as visible and widespread. As I visited each well site, I took notes on the specific aspects of each project. This included site selection, well construction techniques, water committee organization, water source protection, as well as social and cultural concerns. These notes, in combination with research on water supply processes form the basis of the best practices document that Thomas, another ServeHere intern with W2T, and I will dedicate most of the summer to creating.

Personally, the experience has greatly influenced my perspective. Before the trip, I heard something that has stuck with me since. It was along the lines of

Everybody is happier and healthier when there is clean water.

Everybody is happier and healthier when there is clean water.

“All we can bring to a situation is our perspective.” I have thought a lot on that since. Ask anyone who’s traveled to a different country or spent time among those of a very different background, and I think this idea would resonate with them.

I think there’s something special about sharing your perspective and hearing or seeing a very different one. For me, it does at least two things. It first reaffirms the many similarities that exist between people and then it enables me to see how my own perspective and role may fit into a larger context. The first concept was most clear to me as I talked with a woman who owned a small shop in the city of Axum. The woman was 22 years old, and had three adorable kids with her.

Fresh water -- this is the daily payoff made possible by W2T donors!

Fresh water — this is the daily payoff made possible by W2T donors!

She knew a little English and when I told her I was 21, she pointed out that “we are similar.” It was a neat moment because I realized that in spite of all of our differences, we were really more similar than different. The second concept is one that I think I’ll always be figuring out, one that will hopefully become clearer as I determine how I can serve and do my part in an organization.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to travel with W2T on this incredible trip to Ethiopia. It was an experience that will certainly continue to guide me in my life and professional decisions. I am excited to see how my time with Water to Thrive continues to challenge my thinking on how to best serve rural communities in Africa.

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