Going to Rwanda for the first time felt a lot like entering my blind audition on "The Voice" three years ago: some nerves, but no expectation, just wide open to the experience. For most people, Rwanda brings to mind the mass genocide that happened 25 years ago this April. My family and I went in knowing only what we had read or seen on TV. But from the moment we arrived, it was clear that we had only seen one narrow portrait of the country. There is so much more to Rwanda’s story. We were inspired by the beauty and the people who are proud and seeking better lives.
Rwanda is lush, green, and full of rolling hills. There’s no dirt on the street; there’s no garbage. It’s very safe. It’s not sadness and depletion and anger. These individuals we think of as ‘people in poverty’, with a legacy of horrific violence that divided the country, were some of the most grateful and happy. I especially saw that when it came to the children.
I had a chance to sing with the kids at one of the schools we visited and it was one of the best moments of my life. I’ve never had a crowd so engaged. These kids didn’t know me, my music or anything, but they knew they liked the music and they had fun. They got very quiet when I started to sing. The energy around me was pure celebration – it was amazing!
But it wasn’t just about the music. These kids were getting clean water for the first time at their school. A lot of their energy came from knowing for the first time they could have water that wouldn’t make them sick.
In their village, women had to walk miles every day to get to dirty water for their kids. They have no choice. It’s heavy – the weight of a microwave – and they’re balancing it on their heads or carrying it any way they can. All that effort for water that isn’t even safe to drink.
The kids we met were missing school to go fetch water for their families. Other kids were getting sick with diarrhea and parasites from the water and had to stay home from class. And if you miss a certain amount of school you get kicked out. You lose the chance at education and bettering your life.
So, when those school children saw us come to visit, they saw hope because they knew clean water was coming. And those kids made the most of it. We saw them once they got clean water. They were excited to learn about washing their hands, brushing their teeth. Things we take for granted.
Before the trip, I didn’t think much about clean water. We take it for granted. But I was shell shocked when I came back. Now I’ll look at the tap and I’ll get upset if it’s left running on for too long.
Not just the fact that it’s clean, but that it’s close. They get to enjoy it. They get to enjoy the moments in school. The moments not spent walking and carrying heavy water containers. The kids were thrilled to have running water and bathrooms. They were able to adapt to the gift they had gotten. They were showing everyone, ‘we’re not going to waste this.’
At that moment I saw that water is much deeper: it’s hope, salvation, living. That’s what water is for everybody no matter where you live.
Before the trip, I didn’t think much about clean water. We take it for granted. But I was shell shocked when I came back. Now I’ll look at the tap and I’ll get upset if it’s left running on for too long. If there’s a water bottle that’s half empty, I’ll put it in the fridge, make people drink it.
The thing about the water crisis is that it’s something solvable in our lifetime. It only takes the will to do it. World Vision, the Christian humanitarian organization that I was traveling with, reaches one new person with clean water every 10 seconds. They’re hoping to bring clean water to every person everywhere they work by 2030. They’re not alone. The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal for water aims to provide every person around the world with access to clean water and sanitation by 2030. You can help. Learn more about the issue, find an organization you’re passionate about, and support them.
I would love to see a world where everyone has clean water. I can’t say enough what that would mean for people, especially in places like Rwanda. In a place known for such a dark past, to see that type of hope and the way people were coming together is incredible and powerful. We could all learn something from that.