Water is life. Humans cannot survive without water. Yet, there are 750 million people around the world who lack access to clean water. Water is a precious commodity that the majority of Americans take for granted. To Americans, clean running water is a basic need and not a luxury. However, in most developing countries, the majority of people live without this basic need. Some people (mostly women and children) have to walk for miles to fill up massive buckets with water for everyday household needs: cooking, cleansing, washing clothes, washing dishes, and cleaning the house.
Two years ago, I traveled to Tanzania to oversee two water and sanitation projects. I stayed at a convent that did not have running water or electricity. Each morning, I would wake up and walk into my bathroom to brush my teeth and to “shower” (the shower consisted of me dumping a pitcher of water over my body). I had this luxury because in my bathroom there were huge buckets filled with water. Thankfully, I did not have to fill up the buckets due to the fact I was a guest and probably would not have been able to lift the filled buckets. At night, if I wanted a hot shower, the nuns would boil water for me to bathe in. To me as an American, this was “roughing it.” To the Tanzanian nuns, this was a daily routine.
The nuns did all the work to make the convent as self-sufficient as possible. They milked cows, raised pigs, tended to chickens and rabbits, farmed, cooked, and cleaned. These are difficult tasks in themselves but with the added complication to collect water these tasks became arduous. When the nuns needed it, they filled large buckets of water from a nearby stream, which they then carried back on their heads (each bucket holds around ten gallons of water.)
It was during my stay at the convent that I became overtly aware of the need to conserve water. My routine did not undergo large changes because the nuns provided water for my basic needs which included washing my face, hands, body, and flushing a toilet. Since they provided the water, I did not want to seem ungrateful by senselessly using all the water in my bathroom. Therefore, I tried to use such little water that the nuns would only have to replenish my supply every four days or so. I found that I could use less water and still carry on with my daily routine. Since I have returned to New York City, I find myself still adhering to water conservation by turning off the faucet when I’m brushing my teeth or washing dishes. Next time you run the faucet without being at the sink or turn on the shower without stepping in, remember that many people consider water to be a luxury and do your part to conserve water.