Why I’m Supporting WATER AID’s “The Big Dig”

In 2009 I was lucky enough to spend three months over-landing through Africa in what I can only describe as an experience of a lifetime.  A continent rich in resources, culture and wildlife, plagued by the horrors of civil war, genocide and famine is one that created a rollercoaster of conflicting emotions that continues to haunt me to this day.

One of the eleven countries I visited on this particular visit was Malawi.  I was first introduced to Malawi as a passenger on an overland truck making its way through a sea of people on badly-maintained roads, seemingly used as a public walkway.  It was a visually enchanting introduction to the country as I watched local women in colourful sarongs laugh with each other as their children skipped alongside them, with men on bicycles carrying wares to and from their grass-roofed houses.

Our first stop was a visit to the local market and it was my first interaction with some of the friendliest people I’ve met in the world.  Children running up to pinch my white skin, local women in fits of laughter as a baby screamed in fright at the sight of me, and the friendly banter with the ‘Malawi boys’ who give themselves nicknames such as Spiderman, Sweet Lover, Wise Man, Mel Gibson, Flamingo Man and My Cheapest Price.

But behind the smiles of the people living in a country aptly known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ is a reality that most of us cannot even comprehend.

–          On average, people in Malawi live on £1.50 a day

–          Life expectancy is just 52 years

–          49% don’t have access to sanitation and one in five don’t have access to safe drinking water

–          As a result 3,500 children younger than five years of age die every year from diarrhoeal diseases

The reality of not having access to safe drinking water was something I faced head on during a day spent with locals in their village in the Luwawa Forest.  A local initiative to raise some money for the village saw us spend the day ‘living like a local’ as we helped the women prepare and cook lunch, learn about the logistics of their village and enjoy some dancing and singing.  (It was also the place I was when I learned of Michael Jackson’s death from the 70 year old blind village chief – but that’s another story!)

Before we could begin to prepare lunch however, we had to collect water.

We were given empty containers and followed the women for the half hour walk to a water pump which had recently been installed with the money they made from hosting these days for foreigners.  Before this was installed we would have continued our walk another couple of hours to the closest water hole.  Once we reached the pump, we rolled up sleeves, flexed our muscles and filled our containers in what felt like a gym workout.  But I soon realised that was the easy bit as we tried to mimic the local women and walk back to the village with our water containers balanced on our heads.  We were the tourists – we were balancing these on our head for a ‘local experience’.  The local women balanced containers on their heads to free their hands to carry additional buckets of water.  They made this trip a couple of times a day.

This was the effort required to access safe water in a village that has the perceived luxury of a water pump installed.

Not everyone is that lucky in Malawi. 

Ever since Bob Geldof threw the Band Aid initiative at the western world, we have all been aware of the desperate plight in Africa and many of us have contributed to worthy causes.  We have also all been guilty of turning a blind eye.  How many of us have watched a documentary on the famine in Ethiopia and subsequently pushed aside the terrible feelings it evoked as soon as we changed the channel?  How many of us have contributed to organisations only to discover our donation was used to purchase a new car for the charity chief?  How many of us have donated money and really have no idea if it made a difference?  How many of us want to make a difference but don’t know where to start and who to trust?

I have been all of these people.

We live in a world with constant access to real-time media but at a time when images of starving children, ailing adults, drought-stricken landscapes and war-torn countries seem to flood our televisions, newspapers and internet sites, we are also facing economic turmoil and the realities of our own lives and personal challenges.

But every now and then someone starts an initiative that simply makes sense


Water Aid launched such an initiative today and it’s called The Big Dig.


From 18 June until 18 September, Water Aid is aiming to raise £1.2m to bring clean, safe water to more than 134,000 people in rural Malawi.  Every dollar raised will be matched by the UK Department for International Development.

You don’t need to go to Africa to build a well.  Water Aid just needs you to help raise awareness and contribute where you can – every penny counts.

You can follow the progress made in two communities at www.thebigdig.org giving you a chance to directly impact the lives of people in Malawi.  The appeal will culminate with the digging of a borehole streamed live over the internet via YouTube.

So next time you turn on the tap in your kitchen and pour yourself a glass of water, or turn on you washing machine to have your clothes wash as you sit down to watch television, spare a thought for those who can’t take such luxuries for granted.

Take a look at this video to learn more www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwcymVgK9Ck and visit Water Aid’s “The Big Dig” microsite at www.thebigdig.org to find out how you can help.

Please share this with your friends and colleagues – it really is a great cause.

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

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