It is not very often one gets to fulfill a dream, let alone in less than two years.
In August of 2007, Ken Baerg met his friend Randall Mark for coffee in the Starbucks in their hometown of Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, as he had many times before. But on this particular evening, Baerg began explaining his dream to pioneer a quality 5K, 10K and half marathon in Abbotsford to raise funds for Hope International, an organization with many developmental projects all over the world. The specific project that had captured Baerg included enabling villages in Africa to tap into fresh water.
Water for Ethiopia
“There are a myriad of worthy causes,” Baerg explains. “However, without the fundamentals – clean water, food and shelter, there is no hope to pull out of the cycle of poverty and premature death for many of these people. Access to water is foundational to health and the ability to start to become economically sustainable.”
Mark was enthralled with the idea, as he had spent some years of his youth in Ethiopia with his missionary parents. “The people there are tattooed on my heart,” Mark shares. “I jumped at the chance to help them.”
By tapping into a clean water source, not only the health of a village would improve but also children could go to school instead of walking for most of the day to carry water to the family.
Before long the two put together a group of friends who were excited to be on board with such a good cause. Abbotsford’s Run For Water was born.
On June 1, 2008, over 700 runners and walkers participated and in excess of $20,000 was raised for Hope International. “Not only did we provide our community with a well-run event that encouraged physical fitness,” board member Darrin Braun shares, “we raised enough money for one village in Ethiopia to receive a water system.”
The Trip of a Lifetime
In November of 2008 the two friends accepted an invitation to Africa with Hope International. They saw first-hand how the funds from the Run for Water were used to tap a water spring for Amedo, a village in the southern mountains of Ethiopia. The water source of this remote village of 2,000 had dried up. The populace is facing a famine in light of the void of the annual rains this spring.
Baerg shares, “While we went to bring added support and exposure to people’s physical needs, we connected with the people on a very human level. We moved from a statistical reality – more than 20,000 people die each day from extreme poverty – and stats can be so numbing, to the reality of kids with mothers and fathers who love them like we love our kids, who cannot provide and who too often watch one another perish for reasons that are ultimately preventable.” This lesson hit close to Baerg and Mark, both fathers of young children.
Little Girls Walking for Water and Losing Their Innocence
Mark shares, “I asked a little girl, Temeka, how the water system would change her life. She smiled an amazing smile and immediately cheered, ‘I can go to school!’” Previous to the tap, girls as young as nine years old were responsible to make the daily 20-kilometer trek up and down the mountain to the spring to bring water to their families.
After talking about school Mark saw Temeka suddenly drop her head and say something else in her unique dialect. The translator hesitated, and then explained Temeka was ashamed.
Through emotion, Mark continues, “She had said, ‘Tell him I’m happy because I don’t have to go into the woods anymore so I won’t get raped again.’ The look in Temeka’s big brown eyes was of sheer terror.” The translator explained men from nearby villages would often wait for the girls as they made their daily hike and then take advantage of them. Living without police or military, these girls were forced to take this plight everyday, even with their families knowing about the possibility of rape, molestation, and even kidnapping. Their situation is so dire that the girls had to keep making these hikes for water.
More Than Water
Upon returning home, the two friends relayed to their board of volunteers how this money was used for so much more than life-saving clean water. It also saved girls from dire situations. With added fervor, the group of 12 volunteers created a curriculum and invited schools to participate in the 2009 Run for Water, with the sponsorship of Envision Financial.
The second Run for Water more than doubled in size and raised $86,000 for Hope International.
Baerg, Mark and the dedicated board of volunteers has vowed to make this event an annual one to ensure more funding can help more people, especially young girls, in this remote region of Ethiopia. To find out more go to www.runforwater.ca.