“Se va la agua!”
I joined the Water Aid team while I was in college and now I help out with the communication efforts in Nicaragua and Colombia. WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is not something people think about every day, but it is for the most part something people use every day. When I hear the word “wash” I almost immediately think of water and I think of the millions of people that still do not have access to water.
My family is from a small town (pictured above) in Colombia and every once in a while the water plant would shut off the supply to the whole town. Someone would release the information the day before or the day of and a man would walk down the street informing everyone “Se va la agua!” which translates to “the water is leaving”. My grandma would wake up extra early on those days to fill up any and every container we had in our home. There was a respective one for the bathroom and one for the kitchen. With several of us at home, the water almost always finished quickly. We bathed with buckets, dirtied the least amount of dishes possible and we conserved our hand washing water as much as we could. We had it easy because we always knew that the water would come back but that’s not the case for everyone. There were challenges but it has certainly left us with unforgettable memories!
I think what stood out to me the most from those experiences was realizing how much water we use throughout the day. When you always have it, it’s easy to forget how essential and precious it truly is. The days we had no water, the food we ate was different, the way we bathed was different and other daily routines were different. We got used to it but there were always challenges especially when we didn’t save enough of it! Those days always reminded us of how lucky we were to be connected to a main water supply even if it sometimes failed. We were lucky and it always felt so good when the water came back on.
This happened enough times that we were almost always prepared for it. They would cut off the supply to the town for a couple hours to a couple of days. Everyone had these storage tanks ready to be filled up and if you didn’t have any there were neighbors willing to share whatever water they had saved. I will always remember how uncomfortable it got on the days that were extremely hot and we had no water — a shower was absolutely everything at that point!
I think everyone was at ease (even the times they shut it off for a couple of days) because everyone knew that this was not a permanent situation. Having no access to clean water every day, however, is a completely different story and it changes many things in a person’s life from the amount of time they dedicate to collecting water to the health of their children. I learned more about this during my time in Bilwi, Nicaragua and La Guajira, Colombia, which are some of the areas we work in.
Even with all that, I still continue to learn every time I visit a place where there is a lack of access to water and sanitation. It’s just crazy to think how water is a necessity for all but a luxury to many. For now, all I can offer is visibility and a voice. No matter how small our actions we can always teach at least one person about the global water crisis and about the 2.3 billion people that lack access to safe sanitation. Maybe one day while I’m sharing my voice there will be another person who is inspired to tackle on the global WASH needs.