February 17th, 2010
11:59 PM ET

Before and after

Chris Guillebeau
AC360° Contributor

In 2004 I went to Liberia for the first of five visits. It was a pretty crazy place at the time, having just ended a 14-year series of civil wars a few months before I arrived with a small assessment team. The streets were patrolled by U.N. tanks, the only electricity was provided by private generators, and the non-functioning lampposts were covered in bullet holes.

While surveying villages outside of the capital Monrovia, we found this site where villagers obtained their drinking water.

I drink the tap water almost everywhere I go — but you can be sure I brought my own $3 bottle of water with me that day. No one builds up an immunity to a water source like that.

The previous year, while working in Sierra Leone, we had taken up a collection for another charity further upcountry in Liberia. After seeing the first water source, we made our way to the second site in a long, bumpy ride in a Land Rover. A crowd gathered to greet us, and this was the image we found at that scene:

At this site we heard a number of interesting things from the villagers, the most interesting of which was that no child had died since the well had been installed. I thought that was a pretty good return-on-investment: pay for a well, work with a local organization to ensure a strong educational campaign accompanies the arrival of the well, and children stop dying.

Stories like these are the best way I know to illustrate two things:

1) The global water crisis is staggering. I won’t bore you with statistics, except to note that almost one billion people in the developing world are more likely to drink from a water source like the first image than the second.

I don’t know about you, but these days I’m more concerned with the quality of my cappuccino than my drinking water. Despite the fact that the world is unfair in many ways, I find it unacceptable that so many people have to worry about where their daily water comes from.

2) Enabling people with the ability to make their own choices is the best form of development. If you can’t make the simple choice to not get sick all the time or keep your children alive, your options are very limited. There isn’t much “lifestyle design” in places like this.

Having been through graduate school in the social sciences, I’m well aware of the moral relativist argument that we should mind our own businesses and leave these things alone. But fortunately, my two years at the university were preceded by four years in places like Liberia and Sierra Leone. I’ve seen too many water sources like that of the first image, and no one wants their children to die before the age of five due to a completely preventable illness.

The thing about before and after — it’s hard to go back to before when you’ve experienced the after. This is true in life, clean drinking water, and transformation of all kinds.

Editor’s Note: Chris Guillebeau is a writer and world traveler. He publishes the Art of Nonconformity blog at ChrisGuillebeau.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisguillebeau.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Angie Esteves

    Hi, I live here in New York and I recently did my taxes. Before I did them I budgeted my money very well. I am moving my kids needed new bedrooms sets, I mean I rarely get to do anything for myself so this year I was going to buy a cheap little car seeing and me and my boyfriend share one....problem is thanks to Gov. Paterson, he is holding our state refund checks possible until the summertime. Now lots of people depend on that some more than others. He is holding i to pay some of our debts. Shouldn't they have budgeted the money better? We already have to wait a year to get our taxes back after working hard all year long, now another couple months? It just doesn't seem fair. Gov. Paterson needs to be called out!!!

    February 18, 2010 at 6:30 am |
  2. concern denver Co

    Anderson is anyone giving out simple things like tooth paste and soap and deodorant. and combs and brushes you know just a small care package ..

    February 17, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  3. Shirley Ross

    These things concern me also, which is why for the adults in our family for Christmas we give to various charities in their name to take care of these concerns.

    February 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  4. Denise Barlow

    It's the small blessings in life we take for granted. Thank goodness there are organizations worldwide who can help make these little blessings in life assessable to everyone.

    February 17, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  5. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    Clean water is key to optimal health.

    We need to create more clean water sources for people and that will reduce the deaths/diseases.

    Bodies can't be strong and healthy if they are polluted.

    February 17, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  6. tara bardi

    Will you speak free at a water science conference? Awra, florida section. Or national. I'd like to see you on one topic and michael grunwald on another-water based though.

    February 17, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
  7. Gia Tyree

    Makes all of us feel so much more blessed and not worry about the small stuff.. we all need to help our brothers and sisters with clean water! Makes everything irrelevant compared to this major issue..

    February 17, 2010 at 2:27 pm |