CHICAGO, IL (February 18, 2015) — Four high-school students who recently traveled to India in advance of CHIC 2015 say they came away with a much greater appreciation for the ways clean water can determine the health and infrastructure of a community.
The group included Nathan Hoppenrath, who attends Kaleo Covenant Church in Portland, Oregon, and attends the youth group at First Covenant Church in Portland; Kelsie Sneegas, who attends Hillcrest Covenant Church in Prairie Village, Kansas; Emma Place, who attends First Covenant Church in Portland, Oregon; and Richard Martin, who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he attends Sanctuary Covenant Church.
The students traveled to India with a team that included Dave Husby, executive director of Covenant World Relief; Boaz Johnson, who grew up in the slums of New Delhi and teaches biblical and theological studies at North Park University; and Tim Ciccone, leader of youth ministry for The Evangelical Covenant Church.
Through Project Blue CHIC 2015 is partnering with Covenant World Relief, the Hindustani Covenant Church and Water First to raise awareness and money for clean water projects around the world. The triennial youth gathering at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville will be held July 12-17 this year.
The students talked about their experience and what they learned through emails, which have been adapted for this story.
What impressions did you have of life in the places you visited?
Nathan Hoppenrath: We got to visit a small farming village early in the week and asked the residents what their daily lives looked like. They get up at 4 a.m. and eat a small meal. After the meal they go out to the fields and work until sunset. If they do not work all the time they will be unable to generate enough income for them and their families.
Emma Place: The people we visited in the rural area of Solapur live in very basic houses, most of which were made from tin and cement. None of them had running water or a plumbing system in the house, so they used the community bathrooms and pumps. We also stayed in Pune, which is a very large city. In the richer part of Pune where the higher caste lived, the houses were much nicer than the houses of the lower caste people.
What situations did you notice due to the lack of clean water and sanitation?
Kelsie Sneegas: The little bit of water the people have isn’t enough to help them or keep them healthy, so any progress they make is truly only a small dent.
Richard Martin: The water available was very bad for us, so we had to drink bottled water, even in the hotels. It was very tempting to drink the water offered to us, forgetting that our systems are very different.
Nathan: Women in the villages have to travel two or more kilometers to reach a source of water—and that water is not clean. This means that not only are the women unable to help out in the community in major ways, but because the water is not clean, it can cause people to get sick. Then people are unable to work, and often that means they fall into debt. The money lenders are high caste, and once people fall into debt, it’s very hard to get out.
Emma: One of the biggest issues is the diseases people contract from drinking contaminated water. Young girls and women in the villages are responsible for getting the water, so they often have to walk hours everyday to get water. This can be extremely dangerous, and they are often at risk of being attacked. Because these young girls spend so much of their day out fetching water, they are unable to go to school. Without an education they have almost no chance to move up in the social structure, so they will remain in the cycle of poverty that they were born into.
What was it like to walk with the women to get water?
Emma: It was very surreal. I felt guilty that I am able to turn on a faucet in three or four rooms in my house that give me unlimited access to clean water. Having water in our houses is something that we don’t even think about; it’s just there. Walking with the women and girls in the village made me feel incredibly thankful that I never have to worry about being attacked while walking to get water, but it also made me feel very small and unhelpful in the face of such a significant problem.
Kelsie: We were able to get the water from the hand pump that the Hindustani Covenant Church put in. That decreased the distance women had to travel and made it a lot easier to get water. It was incredible how strong these women were! They were pumping and picking up the water buckets like it was full of feathers.
Nathan: In many places the hopes for clean water were focused on how it would empower the women in local communities. With clean water near the village, the women have time to form self-help groups. In one community that we visited a women had been leading her community as a result of the self-help group. The Hindustani Covenant Church hopes to bring access to clean water to every village in India.
Kelsie: The Hindustani Covenant Church provided large amounts of hope for the people of villages and farms everywhere. It was amazing to hear the testimonies of the lives that were changed because of the water sources provided to them. Water really does change everything!
What else did you learn from the trip?
Nathan: Water really is a kingdom issue. Just because it isn’t a local issue that we see everyday, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I believe it is our duty as part of the body of Christ to help those in need. This can be local service projects or even global projects, but as Christians we must recognize that it is our job to help.
Kelsie: I was taken aback by how giving and generous the people in India were toward us. The showed us extreme hospitality. I think that here in the United States, we give because we have extra to give. The people I met gave what they didn’t have because they want to simply show love.
Richard: Everybody in India was so friendly to us—from market vendors to people in the village. Also, I appreciated the connections we made with people—from our home stay to the kids from the village who came to welcome us.
Emma: As followers of Jesus we need to do something to change the suffering people endure. Those who are most seriously affected by this issue are those in the lower castes of India. Those people are treated like they do not matter, and they are constantly reminded of their social status through discrimination and injustice. By providing clean water for them through pumps and wells, it enforces the idea that they do matter and are loved by God.