Gemma Harris of WaterAid describes the work of the life-giving charity where she works

After much discussion, the Council of the Glastonbury Pilgrimage decided that it should invite WaterAid to participate in a joint venture covering at least the next five pilgrimages (2007–2011). This suggestion was enthusiastically taken up. In return for donating the total afternoon collection to their work, including sums of money raised by parishes up and down the country prior to each Pilgrimage, WaterAid agreed to place their publicity expertise at our service to encourage participation in the Pilgrimage and provide a focus for our giving. Gemma’s article follows below. [Francis Gardom]

WaterAid is an international charity dedicated to helping people escape the stranglehold of poverty and disease caused by living without safe water and sanitation. WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and effective sanitation.

A billion people without

Clean water is essential for life, but over a billion people in the world do not have it. This and the lack of sanitation results in over two million people dying from water-related diseases every year. The lack of clean water close to people’s homes also affects people’s time, livelihoods and quality of life.

Diarrhoea claims the lives of nearly 6,000 children a day. These children are dying because they do not have access to adequate sanitation or safe water. Where there is nowhere safe and clean to go to the toilet, people are exposed to disease, lack of privacy, and indignity.

These problems are daunting but the solutions are simple. It costs WaterAid just £15 to provide one person with a lasting supply of safe water, sanitation and hygiene education. WaterAid works with local communities using a mixture of low cost technologies to deliver lasting solutions.

Nakwetikya from Ndedo, Tanzania, used to have to collect the scarce water available, polluted with animal and human waste, from the bottom of deep and dangerous hand-dug pits. Sickness and deaths were common.

Hope in Tanzania

‘The situation here used to be bleak,’ she explains. ‘There was no water and we had to dig pits to find some. Can you imagine what it was like? My legs used to shake with fear before climbing down those holes. There was no choice. If I didn’t get water, my family couldn’t eat, wash or even have a drink.

‘When I heard that we were going to get clean water I remember laughing, it was so funny. I can only compare it to someone who is in prison for a long time. When they are set free it’s the most fantastic experience. Since having the new water source, life has changed in so many amazing ways. My status as a woman has been finally recognized. I have the time to look after my family as we have more time and energy.

‘Before we formed a committee and prepared ourselves as a community, men just saw women as animals. I think they thought of us as bats flapping around them. They had no respect for us and no-one would allow you to speak or listen to what you had to say. When I stand up now in a group I am not an animal. I am a woman with a valid opinion. We have been encouraged and trained and the whole community has learnt to understand us.’

Since forming in 1981, WaterAid has been supported generously by churches from across the UK and beyond. Through the annual WaterAid Harvest and Lent appeals, plus collections and events throughout the year, church supporters make a real difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest communities. During the last five years alone, churches have donated more than £1·6 million to WaterAid.

In 2007 WaterAid has the privilege of being the dedicated charity of the Glastonbury Pilgrimage. As well as donations through the giving of alms, it is hoped that churches will become involved in fundraising during the lead up to the pilgrimage on 16 June