Water | Life and Death in Haiti
Today's post is written by Maria Atkinson, a staff member at Danita's Children, World Help's partner on the ground in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.
Moving to Haiti has opened my eyes to the effects of a life consumed by inescapable poverty. Here, my views and appreciation of water have escalated immensely due to the harsh realities of a world living in a constant state of survival.
Growing up in the United States, I never had to think twice about opening my faucet and taking a drink from the cool stream running abundantly from the tap. Clean water is a luxury so easily taken advantage of, especially when it is readily accessible in nearly every facility, and its absence is never feared.
In Haiti, 40 percent of the population lacks access to clean drinking water. A typical trek for water in a remote Haitian village includes a six to eight mile walk, or if they are fortunate enough, it is gathered from a nearby river or stream. But for a large majority of Haitians, these natural provisions do not come free of bacteria or disease. With the absence of clean water also comes the disadvantage of unsanitary living conditions.
The river is a communal bathing area, toilet, and washroom not only for humans but animals as well. Countless amounts of bacteria and viruses are transmitted through unclean water. This is the primary source of innumerable waterborne diseases, including massive cholera outbreaks, which have swept across the nation of Haiti since 2010.
Lack of access to clean water is not a mere inconvenience of life in the Third World—it is a matter of life and death.
Recently, I took a journey that forever changed my life.
Stephanie is 7-months-old and weighs a mere nine pounds. Her little body has been ravished by the plague of malnutrition and contaminated water. Only a week prior, her young mother brought her into the Danita’s Children Medical Center, in a desperate attempt to receive help for her child.
After being examined by our medical team, the decision was made that the severity of her condition required drastic measures. She would be taken to an intensive program for critically malnourished children for as long as three months.
I held her tiny, weak body in my arms, thanking God that He has given her the strength to face yet another day. The long, eight-hour bus ride to Port-au-Prince is eased by her gaze; yet with every moment I watch as her eyelids struggle to remain open, my heart breaks a little bit more knowing that each breath she takes is literally a miracle.
Within minutes of our arrival, the nurses began to evaluate her status.
“She’s extremely dehydrated and her diarrhea alone provides for serious concern,” explained one of the medical coordinators in charge of this particular program. “Thank you for bringing her to us.”
As I left the sweet baby girl in the care of individuals who had pledged to fight to save her life, my eyes swelled with tears. As much as it pained me to leave her behind, my heart was overwhelmed with gratitude that Stephanie had been given this opportunity . . . the opportunity to survive, to have a second chance at life, and to become more than a statistic.
The entire ride home, I could not stop thinking about Stephanie’s beautiful brown eyes and precious smile. Knowing how much her life was about to change just by the provision of consistent care and access to simplicities such as clean water brought me inexplicable joy.
For little Stephanie, clean water will literally save her life. And it will also drastically increase the chance of survival for the 60,000 children who die every year in Haiti from unclean water.
Water is invaluable. Water is life.