Thursday, October 29, 2009

Last year, I received this article from "Phoenix" of Forest Lake, Minnesota. The article was accompanied by a one hundred dollar check that she won for submitting this story. Thanks Phoenix for writing a great and passionate article about H2O for Life and the water crisis. You have shown, once again, that one person can make a difference!

By Phoenix Forest Lake, MN
About Phoenix » More by this contributor »

The Gift of Life
submitted by Rebecca Harwell!

Americans are spoiled. It’s a fact. Today, teens have everything we want (except that perfect date for the prom). We don’t even stop to think that many aren’t so fortunate. And, if we do, we assume that someone is helping them and their problems will be solved soon enough. Anyway, what can one kid do? I’m going to tell you about a problem that millions of people face every day. It’s up to you to do the rest.You come home from a grueling soccer practice, and all you want to do is drink up Lake Superior and flop into bed. So, you go to the kitchen, pour yourself a huge glass of water, and guzzle it down. What if you had to walk six miles to a well for that drink? And carry back a heavy jug of water. And, after that, when you’re about to collapse from thirst, you open the jug and find the filthiest water imaginable. There are little bugs floating in the brown water, and it smells horrible. However, you’re dying of thirst and this is all you’ve got, so you drink up. I’m guessing that has never happened to you or anyone you know. But it’s life for millions of children. Africa is the second largest continent, home to 922 million people. It’s also the poorest and most underdeveloped continent. Thirty-six percent of the population of Africa lives on less than $1 per day. That’s less than a bottle of soda costs. With this dollar, they have to feed their families, which can include several generations. These people can’t afford wells for every household like we can. They don’t even have wells for all the schools.This means that every day, people – generally children – have to walk several miles to get a couple of gallons of dirty water for their family. They know that the water is bad for them, but it’s all they’ve got. They must drink it or die of thirst. It’s not just drinking the water that hurts these people. Most villages have open sewage, which means waste ends up in the streets. Animals, including livestock, drink this filthy, diseased water. If an animal gets sick and then people eat it, they can get sick too. Most African markets are outdoors, some right by sewage. Flies buzz around the debris, eating and drinking their fill and laying eggs on the food people then eat. These unsanitary conditions are causing many preventable diseases in Africa. Illnesses that aren’t a big deal here are deadly there. For example, diarrhea kills 3.3 million people, 800,000 of them children, every year in Africa. It’s caused by parasites found in dirty water, along with dehydration. Trachoma is another preventable disease that isn’t necessarily deadly, but is extremely painful. With trachoma, your eyelashes slowly turn inward, causing extreme pain and blindness. This disease has blinded approximately seven million people. It can be spread through body contact and flies. Another illness that you’re probably familiar with is malaria, which is caused by disease-ridden mosquitoes. They need a place to lay their eggs, and the open sewage fits the bill. Half the world’s population is at risk for malaria, and 3,000 people die from it every day. That’s over a million a year. And these are just a few of the diseases that ravage Africa, all because of dirty water. This past year, my school held a fundraiser. This wasn’t the normal kind where you sell magazine subscriptions or calendars to earn money for the school. This fundraiser changed lives. We sponsored a school in Mozambique and raised $9,100 to build a well. A well actually costs twice that, but an organization called H2O for Life found government programs to match the amount we raised. Together, we gave the gift of life to that school. If the cogs in your head are moving and this sounds good to you, then talk to your principal or a teacher about getting your school involved in H2O for Life. It’s a way to get everyone to help. Or recruit a couple of buddies and start raising money yourself. Do a carwash, a bake sale, or sell lemonade on the side of the road. So, you have the money – now what? It probably isn’t enough to build a well, but who cares? Every penny counts. You can donate on the H2O for Life website. They graciously accept even the smallest amount (but try to give at least $20). You can find more facts about Africa’s water situation at hope I got through to you about the terrible problems people face when they don’t have clean water. You can do something about it. I am trying to convince my church to sponsor an African school. When my school started our fundraiser, we watched a short video about a celebrity who went to Africa. He was shocked by what he saw, and so was I. But, the thing about that movie that I’ll never forget was when he visited a school that had just gotten a well. The kids were so excited, not because the movie star was there, but because there was a new flush toilet – something we completely take for granted. Think about that, and look at your life. What if you got excited whenever you poured a glass of water or flushed a toilet? It’s these small things that are the true gifts of life.

This piece has also been published in Teen Ink's monthly magazine.

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