Imagine: The Need to Turn Water into Control

The vision of John Lennon, Imagine no possessions – I wonder if you can – No need for greed – no hunger. Now there is a dreamer, something Lennon acknowledged in the song ” Imagine.”

For the past several months I have been reviewing the various books, articles, and editorials written about global poverty.  It has been a review of the issues, an update on the data, and a reminder that this is an intractable problem that finds no easy solutions.  Despite the complex arguments and battles over aid vs. development, increasing taxes or lowering taxes to create jobs, systemic injustices anchored in corruption and greed; I always come back to a simple image that continues to transform my thinking about how we address poverty.  It is a picture of a young boy filling a glass of water from a standpipe installed by a client/partner in Swaziland.

The back story of that image is really remarkable.  Children in Swaziland spend an average of two hours a day “fetching” water from sources that are usually not sanitary or healthy.  They miss school because they are in search of water. They become ill because the water they find is not clean, and alas, they are most often hungry because there is no sustainable agriculture – a process that requires water. That is the child’s reality.  The adults around this issue complicate the situation by failing to realize that often simple interventions have profound impact on the health and safety of our children.  And further, the adults continue to make the whole process political.

Our client received a grant from The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation to install 50 solar water systems in and around health clinics, schools, and community centers.  The outcome of this initiative was to provide access to water for over 200,000 people in a country with a population of 950,000.  Now that is significant.  The process, however, took hundreds if not thousands of labor hours to implement.  Most of those hours had little to do with installation, but with appeasing the adults fighting over control and money.  The control issues had little to do with whether or not the project would be implemented in an effective and compassionate way.  Rather, who is in charge and who gets credit always were at the center of the debate. What logos should appear on the systems, where should they be located, who drills the boreholes and where should the standpipes be positioned – just some of the control questions that surfaced during the implementation.  Often we would leave these discussions screaming into the wind – because it appeared that control trumped everything.

Imagine, as John Lennon challenged us, if there were no possessions  – there would be no greed.  Who owns the well that delivers the water and what can be extracted from the relationship created by the well?  Is it money, is it political loyalty, or is it their souls? The stakeholders all had an interest in that question.  In Matthew 25:35, in eight simple words, Jesus said, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”  It seems pretty simple – but finding that drink, delivering that drink, regulating the quality of that drink, and determining who gets credit for that drink is something of a nightmare created by our need for power and control.  Imagine – a world where a child goes to a standpipe, turns on the tap, and water fills his glass – all done without the need for control but done out of compassion and love.  Imagine.  I am a dreamer.

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