While there are numerous highlights from the Youth Gathering, my interaction with high school students in the ELCA World Hunger interaction space was one of the most memorable events. Over the course of the Gathering, roughly 33,000 youth had the opportunity to engage in ELCA World Hunger’s interaction space, the 100 Wells Challenge .
In connection with the water theme, we had an interactive activity called, “Walk for Water.” During this activity, youth carried a 5-gallon water jug around a track with various obstacles that a woman living in the Global South may encounter on her daily walk to collect water. With women being the primary water collectors for the family, participants were, “walking in her shoes,” to learn how access to water can significantly affect one’s life.
Although a woman in Africa walks on average 3.7 miles to collect water for the family, most participants at the Youth Gathering only completed one lap (one tenth of a mile). As many youth finished the track with tired arms and hands, they were in awe of the fact that they would need to walk 36 more laps to complete the average distance women and children travel every day. The understanding gained by youth and adult leaders is perhaps best summed up by one teenaged boy that walked 3.7 miles with the 40-pound water jug who stated, “You can read about it (such statistics) as much as you want, but until you do it, that’s what makes you realize just how hard that is. Otherwise, it’s just numbers.” Youth quickly realized how difficult water can be to carry, but more importantly how much time it takes to collect this resource in many places in the world. Not only can greater access to water reduce the weight of water women must carry, but it also reduces the amount of time spent collecting water, freeing up women to start a small business, spend time with the family, and engage in the community in other meaningful ways.
Who knew a walk around a short track with a 5-gallon water jug would give people such a deep understanding and appreciation for access to clean and safe water?
Colleen Peterson is an ELCA World Hunger Intern