Carrying two 5-gallon buckets of water four miles in the heat of the day felt, for the Rev. Neil Tadken, downhill all the way.
“It was pretty heavy. What really struck me through the whole thing is that this is actually someone’s life,” said Tadken, priest-in-charge-under-special-circumstances at St. Luke’s Church in Monrovia.
It is the experience of many young girls in the South Sudan. Several times daily in the scorching desert heat, they must carry that much water in a jerry can or container balanced on their heads about four miles — roughly the geographic distance between St. Luke’s and the Church of the Transfiguration in Arcadia.
So the two congregations teamed up a few months ago for a collaborative “water walk” from St. Luke’s to Transfiguration to raise local awareness and funds for global relief through Water Is Basic, according to the Rev. Julie Bryant, Transfiguration’s rector.
Water is Basic is an indigenous borehole drilling company, operated and staffed by Sudanese, whose mission is to put clean, safe water within reasonable access for every person in the Republic of South Sudan.
“We spent time in both congregations talking about the girls, who miss school because they are providing water for their families, and the damage it does to their vertebrae,” Bryant said. “Being adolescents, carrying this heavy water on their heads causes them pain and sometimes cripples them for life.”
About 20 people participated in the walk, which inspired Kathy Warden, 63, a Transfiguration vestry member, to bring along her grandchildren, Bryan, 3, and Madison, 2, because “I want them to know about such things,” she said.
“We carried a big [empty] water can and asked people along the way to put money in it,” Warden said. “Bryan was delighted to have people putting money in the can. He did the best he could to communicate that we wanted to get good water for the people who need it.”
Warden said it was interesting to speak with people as the group made its way, sometimes single file, through old town shopping and restaurant districts in Monrovia and Arcadia, engaging passersby.
“They stood there and listened and several people gave money as we went along,” she said. “It was a lot for me, personally. This is an important cause because we have lots of water and very obviously, all we have to do is turn on our faucets to get it.”
Raising consciousness on the streets
Jeanette Armstrong, 72, of Monrovia said she wrapped an Episcopal Church flag around her shoulders at Tadken’s invitation.
“Fr. Neil said it’d be great for us to have this Episcopal flag to show the people what denomination and church we’re from,” she recalled. “I said I’d be proud to put that on.”
When they reached the beauty shop “where I get my hair done every week or so, I stopped in to see my beautician,” she added. “I told the ladies what we were doing.”
The hairdressers and customers “all came out and took pictures of us and Fr. Neil explained to them what we were doing and they all pulled out money and put it in the bucket and they were so happy that we talked to them about that,” she recalled.
“We take water for granted and here these young girls do a round-trip two to three times every day to take buckets of water, and those weren’t small buckets,” she said. “They do this for their family every day. What we take for granted, they’re doing to survive.”
Susanne Reinecke of Arcadia, a 44-year Transfiguration member, said she attempted to take a turn at carrying the water buckets, and estimated that she made it about a block.
“It was a humbling experience to find out how heavy that much water can get in a relatively short time,” she said. “It was a nice day too, a little warm, but nothing like the hot weather the Sudanese have to deal with, I’m sure.”
She and her husband Wayne, both Transfiguration outreach committee members, sold bottled water along the way as a conversation-starter, she said.
“People were very receptive,” she said. “It made a big impression. It’s great, not only to give money to a cause but actually to do something that brings it home so personally, what it means to people. This is important for people to know about.”
Tadken said that carrying the water raised his own water awareness. “We can turn on a faucet anywhere we are, and we have water. I kept thinking, I’m pretty darn lucky. I’m a fairly big, strong guy.
I could put the buckets down when I absolutely needed to, and to have good conversations going with people from both parishes,” he said.
“It was a beautiful day, it wasn’t like I was having to do it in hot, humid weather,” he added. “I was thinking of the climate, and the other physical challenges in their [Sudanese] topography that would make carrying that much water that much more difficult and really, almost inhuman. It’s a pretty stunning thing to reflect that somebody has to do this for their whole life.”