Walking for Water

April 14, 2014 at 9:41 AM

In early 1980, hiking a steep trail towards Annapurna in the Himalayas, the author happened upon a young Nepali keen to practise his English. Eight hours walk from the nearest town, he offered shelter for the night at his family home. I slept that night in the attic squeezed between sheaves of drying corn cobs fascinated by the glimpse of extended family life unfolding on the lower floor. The space brought new meaning to open plan living. Despite the altitude and plummeting temperatures, there was no glass in the windows but there was a cooking pot bubbling away on a fire directly on the dirt floor in the centre of a single room that the family shared with two water buffalo! I made the hike with them to fetch their water - a 3km trek back down the mountain to a muddy pond where more water buffalo wallowed. This was the source of all their daily water.

Thirty years later, then Year 12, Cordelia Oh also made the journey to Nepal as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Award. The living conditions for rural families had changed little in those intervening years and the plight of those living in third world conditions spurred her to apply to become a Unicef ambassador this year.

This weekend, the daily walk for water became reality for 85 students from Saint Kentigern and neighbouring schools, Macleans, Pakuranga College, One Tree Hill College and a team from Auckland University who came together to raise funds for Unicef to help address the need for clean water and sanitation for villagers in need. Cordelia, along with a fellow ambassador from Macleans College, organised students into groups of four or five to create a family unit that walked together for an hour carrying buckets of water - having sought sponsorship for the number of laps completed. The event was to symbolise how more than 2 billion people around the world, who lack a safe supply of water, must walk 6km a day or 3 hours to fetch drinking water. Spirits were high but it didn’t take long to discover that the task was more difficult than they first imagined. Water is heavy and you can’t afford to spill the family supply. It’s also awkward to carry and soon some resorted to a sight seen around the world – a bucket placed on the head and a sedate and steady walking pace.

The students are now gathering their sponsorship money and hope to have raised a good amount for Unicef. Well done to Cordelia for taking on this task.

Note from the author: Suffice to say the mixture of warm, unpasteurised buffalo milk from a mug washed in the self-same water brought my hiking to an abrupt end!

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