Dr. Carolyn Woo on World Water Day 2012: Your Gift of Water is Something to Celebrate

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Editor’s note: Today, as we commemorate World Water Day, I am honored to again welcome Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, the President & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. Please visit Catholic Relief Services today to find out how you can make a difference in our world. LMH

Getting water is so simple for us: We turn on the faucet, and there it is. When that doesn’t happen—maybe a water pipe breaks or maintenance shuts off the supply—we consider it a huge hardship.

I experienced that once as a young girl in Hong Kong, then a tiny British colony on the edge of China. The Cold War was raging and tensions were always high. Despite that, in a long-standing arrangement, Hong Kong bought most of its water from China. At one point, some dispute flared. China decided to teach us a lesson and cut off our water supply. Hong Kong got water only once every 4 days, and then for only 4 hours.

My family would turn on the taps during those hours, save that water and parcel it out carefully. I remember taking showers from buckets. And certainly I remember the relief we felt when the restrictions were lifted after a few weeks and, once again, water flowed from the taps at any time of the day or night.

Thoughts of that came to mind a few years ago when I traveled as a Catholic Relief Services board member to Ethiopia. Cardinal (then Archbishop) Timothy Dolan of New York was on that trip, as was my son Justin Bartkus, among others. I saw many villages where it would have been considered a luxury to have 4 hours of water coming from a tap every 4 days.

I will never forget our stop in Koye Jejaba, a village just south of Addis Ababa. The main job of the village women was to make a 6-mile round trip on foot to fetch water. Every day. Day after day.

But their life was about to change. We were there when the taps opened on a new water system built by CRS and our partners. It is something I will never forget.

As my son wrote at the time: “The celebration that went up from the villagers was joyous: rhythmic clapping of hands by the men and hooting and hollering by the women. As two elderly women watched their livestock drink clean water for perhaps the first time ever, they raised their arms to heaven, thanking God in their own tongue for the precious gift which they had received. The elders of the community sang to us a song of blessing, recounting the untold suffering of previous years, expressing gratitude to us.”

I remember that the animals rushed to the trough in their own excitement. They could feel the water vapor in the air.

That celebration was because of you, because you feel the suffering of those who must live without a reliable water supply. The Church in Ethiopia has several well-drilling rigs, purchased with funds from CRS donors like you. The rigs are moved all over that country to deliver these miracles.

The work that those rigs have done—that you have helped CRS do: building irrigation projects, stemming erosion, providing drought-resistant seeds, supporting alternative livelihoods, anticipating the need for food aid—brought hope to many Ethiopians during recent erratic rainfalls that left famine in neighboring Somalia.

I am reminded of these words from Psalm 65:

You visit the earth and water it,
making it abundantly fertile.
God’s stream is filled with water;
you supply their grain.
Thus do you prepare it:
You drench its plowed furrows,
and level its ridges.
With showers you keep it soft,
blessing its young sprouts.
You adorn the year with your bounty;
your paths drip with fruitful rain.
The meadows of the wilderness also drip;
the hills are robed with joy.
The pastures are clothed with flocks,
the valleys blanketed with grain;
they cheer and sing for joy.

As I write this, rains have come to East Africa, easing that drought. But a lack of rain in the Sahel region of West Africa is endangering many there. Because of your generosity and support, we are working to relieve this suffering.

CRS has many such projects throughout the world—bringing clean, lifegiving water to millions—all because of your compassion.

As always, there is so much need, so much more work that we must do together. Thank you for letting us be of service.

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo is President & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.

Copyright 2012 Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo

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