“We came because Christians in America learned that you would like some help to build a protected well for safe drinking water in your village.” At each of 91 remote Malawian villages during four weeks in the field, my partner or I introduced ourselves and began the well dedication with these words.
We worked with Malawian field officers and installation crews to help install the pumps, to prepare the installation records, and to lead the dedication for the new well. We put in many 12 and 14 hour days in hot and dusty conditions, but in truth we did only a small part of the total work. The villagers themselves dug the well. They molded and fired the bricks to line the well. They gathered the sand and gravel and clay needed for the construction. They hauled up to ten 50 kg (110 pound) bags of cement to the well site. Marion Medical Mission’s African staff constructed each well. Local volunteer Zone Management Teams, each responsible for 50 to 200 wells, select the villages to receive new wells each year, and they oversee the ongoing maintenance program. African field officers and installation supervisors oversee all aspects of the program. And, somewhere in America (or Canada), we told each village at the dedication, a family or a church has donated funds to Marion Medical Mission to purchase the cement, the pipe, and the pump for this well. These donations also pay the salaries and expenses of the African staff that build the wells and run the program. It is truly a marvelous partnership between people in America and people in Africa.
“Glory to God,” says the inscription on top of each well, in both English and the local language. We volunteers were encouraged to look for the face of Christ during our days in the field. Surely, I thought, the way that so many people in America and Africa have been brought together to sponsor and perform this work must be an expression of God’s love. But I also saw the face of Christ in the joy and caring for others expressed by the villagers that we encountered. When we arrived at the village, children and adults crowded around the truck to greet us and help carry the pump, pipes, and tools to the well site. Sometimes, the women would dance and sing songs of joy while the crew installed the pump. The first stream of clean water out of the spout was an occasion of great joy. After each installation, the village headman or another senior person gave a short speech thanking us and the donors in America on behalf of the village. Now, the women would not have to draw contaminated water from open wells or streams, or to walk long distances to the water source. But often the headman would also say that other villages still lacked access to good water, and he would express the hope that we would be able to provide a similar well for those villages also.
We have such an abundance of all things in this country! It was hard for me to imagine the possibility of drinking filthy, contaminated water until I saw it with my own eyes. Clean, safe water from a protected source is something we take for granted, but it is still beyond the reach of one-third of all rural Malawians and Tanzanians and two-thirds of rural Zambians.
This is my third year helping to install shallow wells for Marion Medical Mission, and I have also helped with research to study and improve the maintenance system that keeps the wells working after they are installed. It has truly been a joy to work with so many fine people from both sides of the world.