When a faucet is running in our homes, clean, cold water comes out, enough to quench our thirst for days. When we’re thirsty, it often takes just a few steps to get to the nearest water source.
But such is not the case in some places around the world. Less than 40 percent of the rural population in Tanzania has access to clean water. Living in mud huts with dirt floors, rural Tanzanians spend an excess amount of effort just to reach water, never mind if it’s clean.
“During the day, the women might have to walk two hours, three hours to go get water,” said Sue Haertel, a lay Salvatorian and an active member of St. Pius X Parish in Wauwatosa. “You get there, to the spot, and it’s just a puddle. And if someone else has been scooping water out, you have to wait for it to re-fill before you can get more. The water they’re bringing back is full of stuff — typhoid, cholera, all these waterborne diseases.”
When Haertel returned home to her parish after a trip to Africa in 2011, she brought the Living Waters project with her. Living Waters is St. Pius X Parish’s Lenten and Easter project, which raises funds for Safe Water for Life and Dignity, a program that provides safe, clean water to rural villages in Tanzania.
The program was started and is now run by former Salvatorian seminarians from Jordan University in Morogoro, Tanzania, whose ministry includes working with villages and villagers in rural areas to install wells.
“Sue (Haertel) came back (from Tanzania) and said, ‘They have this project where they build wells,’” Kathy Wellenstein, the liturgy and music director at St. Pius X, said. “We thought, well, it sounds like a perfect Lenten project. So we started it.”
“Now, if we stopped it, I think we’d have complaints,” Haertel said, commenting on the passion of parishioners for this project.
The people of rural Tanzania are aware of Safe Water for Life and Dignity, said Haertel. The villages will write to the men who run the program and ask for a well. Once the money is donated to pay for a well, the men, as well as a hydrologist, will visit the village to pinpoint where it is safe to dig. Then the men work with the people of the village to form a water committee.
“The most important thing about this is that they make relationships with the people in the town,” said Haertel. “They develop the water committee. The people have real ownership of it.”
When it’s time to dig, a professional digger will dig the well by hand and, once parts are delivered and installed, the village will have a “well celebration.”
Safe Water for Life and Dignity also sends proof to donors that the well installation has taken place. “They’ll write us letters: ‘We’ve chosen our village. We’ve met with the village leaders,’” Haertel said. “We’ll get pictures as they’re digging the well, as they’re transporting the materials and then the well celebration. It says to the people that this is really happening.”
Each ring well, a more durable well that uses a pump instead of electricity, can serve as many as 500 to 1,000 people, and costs around $5,000. In the past six years, St. Pius X Parish has raised more than $100,000 to place 22 wells in more than a dozen villages. Each donated well has a plaque that reads, “We wish you health and happiness from St. Pius X Catholic Parish, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, USA.”
This year, the parish raised $32,633, enough for six new wells and repairs for other wells.
Safe Water for Life and Dignity’s program doesn’t stop once the well is built. The men will periodically come back and check on the well to make sure it’s working properly, as well as conduct health surveys to see the impact of the well on the health of the village.
The impact of the well on the health and well-being of the village is immeasurable, said Haertel. “If you have clean water, you’re not going to get sick, and you don’t have to spend all day getting it,” she said. “And you might have a little extra so you can water more crops, plant more crops, maybe sell them. It enhances the health and well-being of the entire village, plus girls can attend school instead of walking all day to get water.”
St. Pius X’s efforts in supporting the project have spread beyond their own church community. Mother of Good Counsel Parish’s confirmation students heard from Haertel and started to raise money of their own. They raised $5,000, enough to build one well in Tanzania.
What is most exciting to Haertel is the commitment of St. Pius X’s parishioners to the project, year after year.
“At the beginning of Lent, I speak at the Masses and let people know, and people are so enthusiastic because they see that they’re doing such good,” she said.