Tattered Running Shoes Restore Lives
For three years, Marian Liautaud, Editor of Church Law & Tax Resources and Today's Christian Woman, has run the Chicago marathon, raising money for clean water in Africa. She wasn't always a runner, but sometimes supporting a cause can make you do extraordinary things.
After running and raising money three times, though, Liautaud began to wonder what actually happened to all that money—and whether it was really making a difference. After all, how much difference can some clean water make to one small village? So Liautaud set out on the trip of a lifetime, following the money from fundraising to the actual clean water projects in Kenya.
What made you want to go on this trip?
Every season as the marathon training runs become progressively longer and more time consuming, I have questioned why I'm running for water. Why not just write a check instead of beating my body in hopes people will be inspired to give money? And also, where's this money going anyway? What difference does it really make when people have clean water?
These are the raw questions that would run through my mind as my feet hit the pavement mile after mile. Last year, in the midst of my third marathon, I decided I needed to see with my own eyes where all this marathon running and fundraising leads. I didn't want to run another marathon without knowing if it was really worth it, and whether I could confidently keep asking people to donate their hard-earned money to this cause. I shared my idea with Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of Christianity Today magazine, and she agreed that readers asked the same questions I had about charity running and clean water in particular. I then went to Michael Chitwood, National Director for Team World Vision, and asked him if there'd be a way for me to follow the money from my Chicago Marathon Team World Vision fundraising page to Kenya where the money ends up. Without hesitation, he said, "Come to Africa, and I'll show you."
I was taken on a two-week trip to South Africa and Kenya with Chitwood and a group of Team World Vision runners and clean water supporters. For the first leg of our trip, 13 people from our group ran in South Africa's Comrades Ultra-marathon, the world's oldest, largest long distance race. These runners ran 54 miles, most of them uphill, and together, Team World Vision runners raised about $200,000 for clean water. After a day of recuperating from the aches and pains they earned running Comrades, our group boarded a plane for Nairobi, Kenya. We spent the next week together in remote villages in the Great Rift Valley.
Why is providing clean water to these communities such a big deal?
The communities we visited seem cut off from the world. Roads are often barely passable, and clean water is hard to come by. The sites we saw are at varying stages of involvement with World Vision. In the schools and villages where clean water is now accessible through different types of water projects, school enrollment and attendance are high. Children are free to go to school because they don't need to spend the day in search of water with their mothers. At school, children learn about hand washing and proper hygiene, which leads to better overall health. Attendance increases dramatically, and this consistent attendance leads to better learning. Once a child is educated, the community is changed forever. Mothers, no longer forced to spend the bulk of their day in search of water, are free to cultivate vegetable gardens and even to start businesses. The ripple effects of clean water are far-reaching.
What is something you experienced on the trip that has changed how you think about providing clean water?
From the first time I heard about the need for clean water in places like Kenya, my heart and mind were gripped by the idea that there are people living today who don't have access to this most basic human necessity. Every time I turn on the tap, I think about this.
Meeting these people and seeing firsthand how they cope with the daily challenge to find water so they can care for their families moved me beyond description. The resiliency of the human body in the face of extreme deprivation is a testament to God's creative power. That human beings still manage to live with joy even in the face of abject poverty and deprivation speaks to the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us see beyond our circumstances. This is something I will never forget.
People are people wherever you go. We all dream about providing a better life for our children. But to see mothers longing to provide water for their families—knowing that every other good thing in life will flow from clean water—made every mile I ever ran more than worth it. To play one small part in helping our sisters and brothers on the other side of the globe realize their dreams for their family—what better reason could there be to run?
You can read more about Marian's journey from the marathon to Africa in an upcoming story in the October 2013 issue of Christianity Today and in the September/October issue of Today's Christian Woman.