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Safe Water Through a Child’s Eyes: Magdelena’s Story

Magdelena Poul

“It was a torture-like feeling.”

That’s how 11-year-old Magdelena Poul described her long, terrifying trek to collect water for her family in rural Mkinga, Tanzania.

Magdelena and her family

Sometimes they could afford to purchase the day’s water from a water truck. But the rest of the time, it was up to Magdelena or her mother, Rachel, to walk anywhere from two to eight miles to gather the water.

“It was scary to be out alone,” Magdelena said. “We used to walk two or three kilometers each way to get water, and sometimes that source was dry, so we had to keep going another two or three kilometers to find water. It took so long — about three hours total to go get water!”

Magdelena collecting water from her community's new safe water source, just a few minutes' walk from her home.
Magdelena collecting water from Mkinga’s new safe water source, just a few minutes’ walk from her home.

Her journey to retrieve dirty water could be both time-consuming and risky. UNICEF’s Violence Against Children in Tanzania research reported many instances of sexual violence committed against girls and young women collecting water.

Magdelena dreaded this responsibility, and it used to define her entire day. If she had to walk to get water, it affected whether she could complete her homework, play, or even sleep well.

Magdelena studying in her free time

“I had to do this after school, so the time I needed to be spending doing homework was taken by fetching water,” she explained. It was a painful sacrifice because Magdelena loves school. In fact, she’s one of the best students in her class and dreams about becoming a doctor or a pilot.

Magdelena in class

“I didn’t sleep as much then, and I missed time playing with my friends. It was not good. What’s more, this was dirty water we were collecting, and it made us sick.”

— Magdelena Poul, age 11

Waterborne diseases, including cholera, are common in Tanzania. And many families have no option but to drink contaminated water that has not been treated. Within rural communities like Mkinga, 70 percent of the poorest residents collect water straight from an open source — such as a river or stream — or from an unprotected well or spring, according to recent data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme.

But Magdelena no longer lives in fear of that long walk or how sick she could get by drinking the water. Now, there is a Water Mission tap just three minutes from her house.

“With the safe water, I don’t have to think about how far I have to go anymore — I just go get the water! It’s so close to our home. That’s a comforting feeling. This water is so much better, too.”

— Magdelena Poul, age 11

Now that safe water is readily available, Magdelena is celebrating her newfound free time.

Magdelena and her friends at school

“The best thing is that we can enjoy our lives so much more,” Magdelena said. “We can do our chores quickly now, so we are much freer. I spend much more time on my studies. I love to dream about supporting my family. You have brought so much help through clean water to me and my family!”

Magdelena in class

GIVE SAFE WATER to children like Magdelena this Christmas season.