I am in a bit of a unique circumstance while writing this blog as I am sitting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia preparing to leave for a five-day trip to where more than 64 million Ethiopians live- in rural poverty. So, the implication of being a change agent for me- and thus, my answer to this question comes at a time where I am observing and truly
seeing and feeling the impact of clean water. Allow me to share what happened today as an example of why campaigns like this must continue and even more so- why they must be executed well.
Today, I sat down with Mark Bennett, CEO of the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa. (For those needing more background, Nicholas Kristof has written several columns highlighting this problem.) Women come from all over Ethiopia to have their fistula repaired- a surgery that is literally life-transforming. Otherwise, these women are subject to a life of social shame-and for some that means hiding a way in a dark hut until she dies. The Fistual hospital, over the past five years, has set up five locations all across Ethiopia in attempt to reach women suffering from this medical problem. Here’s where clean water comes in.
In some of the poorest regions in Ethiopia, clean water means boiling water gathered from filthy sources like rivers and puddles. Not only does that have implications for general health, but surgeries that deal with the vulnerable areas of the body demand sterile environments. But, I prefer to make it a bit more real- because that is when people start to pay attention.
As a woman, I truly do understand the importance of feeling clean-particularly in the vaginal area. If I were confined to a life of urine and feces draining down my legs without any control- the emotional turmoil and psychological trauma that would cause would be unbearable. And that is just as a white American girl who lives in California. But let’s pretend that I am a woman living rural Ethiopia-whose labor is a vital contribution to my family’s well being and my ability to provide a home and a family to my husband is directly correlated to my worth as an individual. It’s hard to capture even an iota of the devastation.
Clean water, for these women, means dignity.
So why do I want to be a change agent? For me, the question is more about defining what a change agent truly is- a person helping to create healthier societies, stronger ecosystems, and the long term empowerment of the marginalized peoples of this world.