Offering water aid in Ethiopia, one drop at a time

March 1, 2011

By Laura Geggel

Giuliana Sercu uses a piece of cloth to carry water several miles to a village. Many Ethiopian women and children living in villages spend most of their time carrying water instead of going to school or working. By Susan Sercu

Instead of going to school, many Ethiopian girls carry water for miles — water used for washing, bathing, cooking and drinking.

Giuliana Sercu, a 12-year-old girl from Issaquah visiting Ethiopia with her mother and cousin, partly filled a 10-gallon jug and carried it on her back, wrapped around her body with a piece of cloth during her Feb. 4-13 trip to Ethiopia.

“It was really heavy,” Giuliana said. “Mine wasn’t even a third of the way full and it was totally heavy for me.”

The muddy water wasn’t even clean, but it was the closest water source to the village. By working with Water 1st International and Water Action, Giuliana and her family journeyed to Ethiopia with two missions in mind: learn about the culture and bring clean water to people in need.

“I think that clean drinking water is a right for everyone and I think it’s awful that some people don’t have it and I want to change that,” Giuliana said.

Giuliana learned about Water 1st last year, when the nonprofit organization visited her sixth-grade class at Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart.

At school, she learned 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water worldwide and 2.5 billion people lack even a simple toilet. About 5 million people — most of them children under 5 — die from water related illnesses, such as diarrhea.

Water 1st works in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras and India, partnering with local groups to bring clean water and toilets to villagers.

Entranced, Giuliana told her mother about its mission.

“She was especially moved that girls don’t go to school because they’re carrying water for their families all day,” her mother, Susan Sercu, said.

Susan talked about it with her friends and learned that her friend Diane Langstraat sat on the board of Water 1st. Langstraat told her about the parent-child Ethiopia trip and the Sercu family decided to pursue it, spending $3,000 per person for food, accommodations, tips and transportation.

“I had never been to a developing country before and she certainly hadn’t,” Susan said of her daughter. “It was amazing. It was eye opening.”

The group of 11 flew to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

“It smelled different there and later we realized it was the food they eat there called injera,” Giuliana said, referring to the spongy bread, a staple Ethiopians eat with nearly every meal.

During their trip, the Sercus became fast friends with their tour guide, the only man on the trip and a translator between them and the villagers. The group drove an hour and a half outside the city when it encountered dirt roads and people living in huts.

“They’re proud of their heritage and they were so excited to see us,” Susan said. “I felt like a celebrity.”

Susan and Giuliana walked with a group of women to a river and helped them carry some of its water back. Access to clean, nearby water would not only allow these women time to attend school or work, but also would save money that families spend on medical bills treating waterborne illnesses.

In Ethiopia, Water 1st works with Water Action, a local group that builds wells and water systems for Ethiopia’s villages. If a system breaks, Water Action is on hand to fix it.

The Sercu family helped make concrete and dig holes for fence posts around a water tower using rudimentary tools.

“It was hard because their tools are handmade, so it looks like a tree branch with a rock attached to the end,” Giuliana said. “It was hard, especially because their soil isn’t very soft and there were a lot of rocks in it.”

Susan said she took her daughter and niece to Ethiopia to teach them about public service. The family volunteers in Issaquah and Seattle, and Susan saw the Ethiopia trip as an extension of their altruistic work.

“We want our kids to have compassion for others and so we try to do as much as we can locally,” Susan said. “We just want them to have a respect for people and other cultures.”

International appeal

The Sercu family filled an entire suitcase with more than 50 deflated soccer balls, Frisbees, jump ropes and art supplies. They donated them to an Ethiopian school and played with the students, despite the language barrier.

“It’s funny how you can still communicate through gestures,” Susan said. “They were so welcoming.”

Once the students pumped up the soccer balls, they began a game on a nearby field.

“Usually, they play soccer with newspapers rolled up or socks sewed up,” Giuliana said.

The students played extraordinarily well, said Giuliana, who plays soccer in Issaquah. Her team, Eastside FC, Tom Turner’s U13 team and EuroSports donated supplies for their trip, and Giuliana, now back from her trip, continues to raise funds for Water 1st International.

Notes from Ethiopia: Giuliana Sercu’s journal

The 12-year-old Issaquah girl recently journeyed to Ethiopia to participate in a relief mission. Here, she recounts some of the experience:

Day 4 — Feb. 8, 2011

After a crazy night of sleep under our mosquito nets at the Negash Lodge in Wolliso, we had breakfast, packed up our backpacks (lots of snacks and Purell) and headed back out to the field to a village called Tute Kunche, where Water 1st has a water project in progress.

The system will eventually bring clean water to thousands of people. But for now, they still have to use water from a dirty stream for cooking, drinking bathing and whatever else they need water for.

Some women and girls walk one and a half hours each way just for the contaminated water. At the stream, a bunch of women helped us strap water to our backs using pieces of cloth. All of the Ethiopian women carried full, 40-liter jugs (mostly old vegetable oil containers) and no one complains.

My container wasn’t even one-third full and it was heavy!

As we were walking, the Ethiopian women and girls laughed at us in a friendly way. When carrying the water, you have to walk kind of stooped over so that you can balance the heavy jug.

We walked about 20 minutes and brought the water and jugs to different houses. I can’t imagine walking like that for hours every day; some girls are not even going to school because they have to get water for their families.

Day 5 — Feb. 9, 2011

Today, we drove to the Kelecho Gerbi water project that is being built. The great thing is that the Ethiopian people (mostly men) in the village are building the project, so they know how to use and repair it if it should break down.

We helped them today by digging holes for the fence posts that will go around the water tower. The fence will protect the tower from animals. The holes needed to be about .6 meters deep and pretty narrow.

The dirt was very hard and all of the tools, buckets and supplies were handmade. Next, we had to mix cement by taking broken-up rock, dirt and a tiny bit of cement mix and water and mixing it all together. This was a lot of work. There wasn’t a container to keep it in; we just mixed it right on the ground.The Ethiopian people work very hard and they are proud of the work they are doing.

After working, we visited a home nearby that was considered a more “modern” home. There were four walls, a metal roof, but no windows, electricity or running water. Inside there were some homemade benches and some baskets on the walls. The floor was dirt and a little hay. A mother, father and nine children live there. The parents were proud of their home and work hard as farmers.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment at

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One Response to “Offering water aid in Ethiopia, one drop at a time”

  1. Week 7- Risk Assessment: Diarrhea in the developing world « on March 3rd, 2011 11:57 am

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