The Gift of Life

July 13, 2008
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Americans are spoiled. It’s a fact. Today, teens have everything we want (except that perfect date for the prom). We don’t even stop to think that many aren’t so fortunate. And, if we do, we assume that someone is helping them and their problems will be solved soon enough. Anyway, what can one kid do? I’m going to tell you about a problem that millions of people face every day. It’s up to you to do the rest.

You come home from a grueling soccer practice, and all you want to do is drink up Lake Superior and flop into bed. So, you go to the kitchen, pour yourself a huge glass of water, and guzzle it down. What if you had to walk six miles to a well for that drink? And carry back a heavy jug of water. And, after that, when you’re about to collapse from thirst, you open the jug and find the filthiest water imaginable. There are little bugs floating in the brown water, and it smells horrible. However, you’re dying of thirst and this is all you’ve got, so you drink up.

I’m guessing that has never happened to you or anyone you know. But it’s life for millions of children. Africa is the second largest continent, home to 922 million people. It’s also the poorest and most underdeveloped continent. Thirty-six percent of the population of Africa lives on less than $1 per day. That’s less than a bottle of soda costs. With this dollar, they have to feed their families, which can include several generations. These people can’t afford wells for every household like we can. They don’t even have wells for all the schools.

This means that every day, people – generally children – have to walk several miles to get a couple of gallons of dirty water for their family. They know that the water is bad for them, but it’s all they’ve got. They must drink it or die of thirst.

It’s not just drinking the water that hurts these people. Most villages have open sewage, which means waste ends up in the streets. Animals, including livestock, drink this filthy, diseased water. If an animal gets sick and then people eat it, they can get sick too. Most African markets are outdoors, some right by sewage. Flies buzz around the debris, eating and drinking their fill and laying eggs on the food people then eat.

These unsanitary conditions are causing many preventable diseases in Africa. Illnesses that aren’t a big deal here are deadly there. For example, diarrhea kills 3.3 million people, 800,000 of them children, every year in Africa. It’s caused by parasites found in dirty water, along with dehydration. Trachoma is another preventable disease that isn’t necessarily deadly, but is extremely painful. With trachoma, your eyelashes slowly turn inward, causing extreme pain and blindness. This disease has blinded approximately seven million people. It can be spread through body contact and flies.

Another illness that you’re probably familiar with is malaria, which is caused by disease-ridden mosquitoes. They need a place to lay their eggs, and the open sewage fits the bill. Half the world’s population is at risk for malaria, and 3,000 people die from it every day. That’s over a million a year. And these are just a few of the diseases that ravage Africa, all because of dirty water.

This past year, my school held a fundraiser. This wasn’t the normal kind where you sell magazine subscriptions or calendars to earn money for the school. This fundraiser changed lives. We sponsored a school in Mozambique and raised $9,100 to build a well. A well actually costs twice that, but an organization called H2O for Life found government programs to match the amount we raised. Together, we gave the gift of life to that school.

If the cogs in your head are moving and this sounds good to you, then talk to your principal or a teacher about getting your school involved in H2O for Life. It’s a way to get everyone to help. Or recruit a couple of buddies and start raising money yourself. Do a carwash, a bake sale, or sell lemonade on the side of the road.

So, you have the money – now what? It probably isn’t enough to build a well, but who cares? Every penny counts. You can donate on the H2O for Life website. They graciously accept even the smallest amount (but try to give at least $20). You can find more facts about Africa’s water situation at

I hope I got through to you about the terrible problems people face when they don’t have clean water. You can do something about it. I am trying to convince my church to sponsor an African school.

When my school started our fundraiser, we watched a short video about a celebrity who went to Africa. He was shocked by what he saw, and so was I. But, the thing about that movie that I’ll never forget was when he visited a school that had just gotten a well. The kids were so excited, not because the movie star was there, but because there was a new flush toilet – something we completely take for granted. Think about that, and look at your life. What if you got excited whenever you poured a glass of water or flushed a toilet? It’s these small things that are the true gifts of life.

Join the Discussion

This article has 12 comments. Post your own now!

Missyninja said...
Jun. 21, 2011 at 7:48 pm
Really good! you did a great job. it's sad to think about it but inspiring to think that only a little money goes a long way.
moon_light_writer said...
Nov. 27, 2010 at 5:08 pm
Good Job! I agree, we do take things for granted. Some people have to realize that they are lucky to have water and food. This article has opened my eyes. Good Job!
bnj111 said...
Oct. 26, 2010 at 8:57 am
This truly opened my eyes to the problems people face everyday in Africa. It made me think about when people in America have and waste that the people in Africa could never dream of having. This is an amazing way to get people involved in helping people in Africa. It has honestly inspired me to get my church and school more involved in helping make wells for the unfortunate children and schools in Africa. I hope this article will get people more involved!
Evangelynne said...
May 2, 2010 at 7:56 pm
What an eye-opening, well written article! The situations in Africa, as well as many other countries, are truly heartbreaking. However, it should be noted that Americans do face problems as well. In the US there really are high rates of poverty, abuse, hunger, illness, and other problems. I feel as though we should take care of our own citizens before we can aptly take care of anyone else...because how can we solve another's problem while we still have not entirely overcome hardship ourselves?
Icare4U said...
May 2, 2010 at 7:49 am
It is true that it is hard to think about how much more we (Americans) have than others. But God has blessed us with a lot for a reason. He calls us to share what we have with one another. just think how many people could be living a better life if every American was to sponsor just one family a year. We can't be naieve. We have to be willing to do something, then do it!
radisali said...
May 1, 2010 at 11:31 am
Yeah... like 'screenname' I too originate from Africa and sometimes I kinda feel irritated when people talk about how much poverty there is in Africa and my mum and I have visited some really poor places there and it makes me want to cry when I realise how blessed and lucky I am to live the way I do...I'm now gonna try and encourage my school to do a fundraiser for H20 for life cos it might be a little donation there but it makes a huge impact of their lives...
earthmuffin This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 22, 2010 at 6:14 pm
thumbs up!
screenname! said...
Nov. 4, 2009 at 6:23 pm
I'm from Africa too. Though I never got to experience this things there, I know it's out there. I know children are dying.
Rather than being offensive when people talk about Africa and poverty, I have to accept the fact that many people in Africa need help.
beckylovesxx said...
Nov. 4, 2009 at 3:44 pm
omg , i love this so much. wow. if i knew you, we'd probably be the best of friends. lol . amazing <3
Electricity This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 21, 2009 at 5:29 am
I completely agree. A lot Americans are spoiled rotten. However, the average American isn't as lucky- especially in this economy. I was told yesterday, that most Americans don't go out of the country- less their home town- virtually their whole life. I was stunned! Twice a year I go out of the continent! So, I would prove your point. Not all Americans are so spoiled, but -yes- many are. I like your article, it opens my eyes.
PonderMonster96 said...
Oct. 13, 2009 at 5:53 pm
hey...have you heard of baptist temple?
its a church and them too were or are still currently raising money to build a well for water over there... and they visit other places to preach n stuff; pretty cool stuff... n oh the article was stunning, realistic and totally realistic. we americans are spoiled. i'm glaad somebody brought it up. =]] keep writing
iluvwriting This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 13, 2009 at 8:25 am
Oh my gosh, thank you so much for bringing this to everyone's attention! I hope i have these stats right, but Africa has about 14% of the world's population. They are responsible for approximately 2% of the world consumption. On the other hand, North America has 5% of the population, with about 30% of the world's consumption. We need to become more aware. We need to cut down our consumption and think about the less fortunate more.
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