Any Lengths: Behind the Scenes with Sanjay

The noon sun glares down from an azure sky and, even under the canopy of trees, I feel its convective omnipresence in my lungs, in my shoes, in my skull. Sweat stings my eyes. I blink to clear my vision, my foot strikes a root and I stumble. Somewhere behind me, a chuckle, politely muffled.

How much further? I wonder.

Sanjay Water Walk

Sanjay walked with Tanna island villagers to bring water back to their village.

In Vanuatu, there is no such thing as an easy day. The Pacific island chain is like some fabled sea monster that feeds on the sweat and blood of its people and disgorges in return the saltwater of its coastline and the fire of its active volcanoes. Survival is not a simple task. Basic human needs, such as clean water to drink, demand Sisyphean ordeals of exhausting repetition, while basic human functions, such as defecation, result in viral, and often fatal, illnesses. With no plumbing, no infrastructure, and little to no education regarding sanitation and hygiene, the people of Vanuatu are dying tragically preventable deaths.

Back at the village, I sit in the shade and massage my shoulder. The 45-minute walk to the only available water source seemed like a pleasant hike, but the water-laden return was grueling, one I would prefer not to repeat. I look around at the women, some barely ten years old, some pushing seventy, who must make this trip five times a day. Every day. And because the spring from which they draw their water is often temporarily dry, there is not even a guarantee that they will return with anything. And no water doesn’t just mean no drinking—it means no cooking, no eating, no washing, no cleaning. It means hunger, filth, and disease.

Boy Water TIn

Water is life, and many around the world don’t have access to this simple necessity. We are working around the world to bring safe water to people in need.

But still these girls and women must make the trip, because the chance of no water is far better than the certainty of no water. Often they return with full cans, often without. Five times a day. Every day.

Living in a modern society of shortcuts and upgrades and luxuries, I have a hard time grasping exactly what this means—that they will never stop fetching water until they have one hand on the jerry can and the other on death’s door. People in my world of ice cubes, hot showers, manicured lawns, and faultless plumbing will never truly know what this life is like, where girls don’t go to school just so they can bring water, where old women die having given years of their life to water. In Vanuatu, whole lives and communities are shaped by the need to survive.

And suddenly, after centuries of toiling for water, waiting for water, losing because of water, burying the young and the old in the absence of water, there is a spring of hope: ADRA’s water tanks, one of which will hydrate 600 people. Connected to an infrastructure of clean water, these tanks are designed for storage and replenishment, so that when the water does temporarily dry up, there is plenty to last until it’s flowing again.

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This water tank is being built on Tanna island in Vanuatu. It will bring fresh, clean, safe water to hundreds of villagers.

Because of these water tanks, no girl must lose out on an education, no old woman must spend her golden years with sore bones and a bent back, no child must die from a cup of contaminated water, no community must invest their potential in the bare act of staying alive. This proliferation of time and resource allows the people of Vanuatu to truly live and, with a cup of clean water in hand, a chance to enjoy it.