Bringing Health and Hope to Kuwaa through the Gift of Water
For many families in the Kuwaa region of Liberia, life stories are composed of daily desperation in the struggle to survive. Jensen Seyenkulo’s family story reads no differently. But after many years away from the area, Jensen has returned to his birthplace to help rewrite the stories of his people, superimposing abundance and hope where want and misery were once the only narratives.
In much the same way as many families before and since, Jensen’s parents worked tirelessly and sacrificially. Each day, his mother worked sun up to sun down in the family’s garden plot to grow just enough vegetables and rice for a meager meal. Dad spent all day searching the forest for wild game. Discouraged and desperate, he usually came to dinner empty handed.
After eating what never felt like enough, Mom and children would walk nearly a mile to fill containers with water for the next day. The water smelled foul and contained human waste, but Mom figured dirty water for her children was better than no water at all. Little did she know, the water was often the source of sickness and death that plagued the village.
In recent history, one in five children in the Kuwaa villages die before age five, and more than half do not live to celebrate their 10th birthdays. When someone becomes sick, injured or experiences a complication in childbirth, the nearest hospital is a three-day, 80-mile walk away, and most die before reaching help.
“When I try to describe how bad the situation was and is you may think I must have a very vivid imagination,” Jensen recounts, “but really, my imagination is not that good… things are just so bad it is hard to describe and even harder to really get your mind around.”
When Jensen was four, his parents decided the best hope for their child was to give him up for adoption. A person from the city promised to give him an education. After that he would see his family only in the summers.
After many years and much schooling, Jensen returned to visit his home village in 2005. He was dismayed to see things had gone from bad to worse. “The conditions were just deplorable,” says a now middle-aged Jensen, largely a result of the Liberian Civil War that devastated the land from 1989 to 2003. Moved to seek action, Jensen contacted two American missionary families that he had known from summers during his childhood.
“It became clear that what was needed was a health project, and that project had to start with clean water,” says Jensen. “That’s when we got in touch with Wheat Ridge Ministries and told them what we believed the Lord was leading us to do. Wheat Ridge received our proposals and they were glad to be partners with us.”
With the grant from Wheat Ridge, five new wells were built and several old wells damaged during the civil war were renovated.
As the switch is made to clean water sources, the health of the community is drastically improving, particularly among children. Families and children previously weakened by sickness from unclean water now boast greater health, the absence of continuous stomach pain and increased strength for daily tasks. Driven both by hope and increased health, the Kuwaa communities are working together to build and repair additional wells and mold bricks for constructing a local health clinic.
Without the long evening walk for water, families have time together and are able to do homework with their children. Thus, education in the villages is becoming increasingly possible and parental involvement in children’s lives is becoming a greater component of community life.
Beyond the immediate results of clean water, the Wheat Ridge investment in the Kuwaa Mission has opened the door for other substantial partnerships that will further transform villagers’ lives. The Liberian government has agreed to provide personnel and supplies for the health clinic the Kuwaa Mission is building. Samaritan’s Purse also is partnering with the mission to establish fisheries and animal husbandry programs that will infuse villagers’ diets with protein.
These collaborative efforts provide the fuel that empowers the Kuwaa people to transform their quality of life and walk into hopeful futures for themselves and their children. People in the villages are excited; they are working hard together.
“These are my people,” Jensen says with love in his voice. “God has provided a way for me to go back and help.” Through your ongoing partnership with Wheat Ridge Ministries, you have become a part of the Kuwaa people’s story, too – a story that has allowed thousands of people to escape scarcity and despair and enter into hope and health.
Written by Lydia Ewing-Green