The following story comes as the result of a yearlong partnership between Shutterstock and charity: water. Additional thanks to charity: water for providing the photos and Muche Alemu’s story.
Clean water pours out of a well and Muche Alemu laughs as he reaches out, gulping down handfuls of the clear water and splashing his face. Hands still under the steady stream, Muche looks up and smiles. His wrinkled face radiates a joy that is reflected on the faces of the women and children who are also at the well to collect water. It is a joy that comes from the realization of a profound hope.
And for Muche and the other people of the Casie Chibechiba village in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, this water well is exactly that; it is the realization of what they had hoped for. But the water situation in this village has not always been one to inspire smiles and laughter. Despite his radiant face, Muche’s life has not always been so joyful.
For years, the people of Casie Chibechiba spent hours each day walking to and from a dirty pond to collect water. The pond, fed by a small spring, is barely suitable for animals, much less for people. The stagnant water is green and murky, the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes in a malaria-plagued area. The top of the water is covered by a thick layer of scum and algae and it seems that disease would be almost certain for anybody who might drink from this pond. But for a long time, that was the reality of life.
With no other source of water, hundreds of people would use this pond as a place to bathe, to clean their dishes and their clothes, and to drink. Disease was almost a certainty and the only question was how severe it would be when it struck. This was the reality of life for Muche Alemu and all of the other people living in Casie Chibechiba. It was a circumstance that Muche remembers with pain and deep sadness.
As he thinks back on that time, Muche’s wizened face grows somber. He talks about the many men, women, and children that died as a result of the waterborne illnesses that came from that pond. And then he becomes very quiet and drops his eyes. When he looks up again, his saddened face says everything.
“My daughter died too,” he murmurs. “She was my oldest child and I loved her very much.” As he pauses to think about it, his eyes, no longer twinkling, well up with tears. “Four years ago my daughter walked down here to collect water for her family. This is where she always came.”
As Muche tells his story, the children who had been laughing and playing in the clean water only minutes earlier become quiet. It’s a story that is far too familiar to all of them.
“My daughter became very sick with diarrhea and we did not know what to do,” Muche continues. “We took her to the nearest health center, but they could not cure her.” The old man’s face is pained by the memory of losing his oldest child; it is a pain that seems to be just as sharp now as it was four years ago. “Only two days,” he says, shaking his head. “She died after only two days."
It is hard to even imagine that kind of harsh reality. Muche continues his story by explaining that his daughter left behind six children when she died.
“I worried about those children every single day. Water was always our biggest fear. It made our village sick and there was nothing we could do. I was so afraid they would die too.” Then his face begins to brighten. “But now I do not worry anymore.”
Today, the people of Casie Chibechiba drink clean water from a well funded by charity: water. Though memories of the days when they had to drink from the dirty pond are still painful, there is a lot of joy in this community. Muche Alemu says that before charity: water came to help them, many people died each year from waterborne disease.
“I do not know the exact numbers, but there were hundreds of people who died because of our water.” But now all of that is different. “We have no more sickness from water,” Muche says happily, “No more children dying because they cannot find clean water to drink.”
Though the loss of his daughter left a deep scar, Muche says that he is full of joy because he no longer worries about his grandchildren. “They will not get sick from this water. I do not worry. Instead, I am happy.”
Thanks to the thousands of people who support their efforts to bring clean water to those who do not have it, charity:water is able to work to ensure that people like Muche Alemu never have to lose their children because of waterborne illness, that they never have to spend their days worrying about who in their family will be next.
We are happy for Muche and for thousands more like him because clean water means they now have hope for a safer, longer, and happier life.
As he reflects on the new water situation, Muche reaches his hands back out and starts drinking again. He laughingly splashes a little water on the kids standing near him. And then he looks up with a smile.
To read Shutterstock's press release concerning Muche's story, please visit: http://www.shutterstock.com/releases/120810.mhtml