Searching for Water
“Riya” started attending the local school in her rural village when she was six.* Like all kids, she wanted to learn about her world. Her favorite subject was biology, and she dreamed about caring for her loved ones as a nurse. The school didn’t have reliable utilities. The electricity would come and go on the whims of the stressed power grid, and when the underground lines broke, it took weeks for someone to come to repair them. There was no clean water, either. Often it was mixed with dirt and waste from damaged sewer lines. She and her fellow students had to wander into the surrounding fields to use the bathroom. She often felt scared when she went into the fields, because she knew other girls and women who had disappeared, sometimes taken and raped or even murdered.
At home Riya had to take time-consuming trips to help her siblings collect water. When she finally arrived at the water pump she had to heave the heavy pump handle to get enough to fill a large bucket, then walk back. Not long after her fourteenth birthday, her body changed, and she needed access to clean water when she used the bathroom. With her increasing home responsibilities and no fresh water at school, she eventually stopped attending school. Now she works with her family harvesting rice on a small farm. She is helping her family, but only to subsist as another child stuck in the cycle of poverty. She will not have the learning she needs to become a nurse. Riya’s story is common throughout the developing world.
Solar-Powered Water Pumps Bring an Answer
“Vijay,” Director of Influence International, learned about the lack of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene at Grace School, and responded with an effective solution.** Solar-powered water pumps provide reliable, fresh water from a renewable source, and are an effective way to promote public health through clean energy. Vijay had seen some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) using this technology in the area. Trained in global leadership in Boston, Vijay returned to his native country to show the love of Jesus in tangible ways to the rural poor. Since 1989, Influence International, an NGO, has launched education initiatives to empower young people, who are often overlooked. The organization has also planted multiple churches, founded a theological college, and trains leaders in Christian ministry.
Influence International partnered with Grace School in 2010 hoping to send out “a beacon in the midst of malnutrition, corruption and spiritual challenges,” Vijay says. As the only English medium school in the thirty surrounding villages, it serves the needs of children like Riya, educating them holistically to bolster their communities. Until recently the school had no electricity, a relatively common problem for rural schools. (Stress on an already inadequate power grid, difficulty setting up and repairing power lines, and government abuse of funds intended for rural development can all be factors.) The school had a water pump powered by a diesel generator, but even that depended on having a constant supply of fuel; the children still had to go into the fields to use the bathroom.
Through his ongoing partnership with Vijay and Influence International, Energy For Mission’s founder Colby May seized the opportunity to support this project. Helping local churches steward the natural environment and bring transformation to the lives of the vulnerable are the twin pillars of EFM. With funding from its sister organization Energy for Purpose, EFM invests profits from church energy audits into locally-led Christian ministries in the developing world. As Energy for Purpose helps churches improve energy efficiency and reduce their ecological footprint, it’s compounding those benefits to clean and reliable energy development led by churches in vulnerable places. This is exactly the sort of project EFM wants to support.
With additional generous funding from EFM’s partner Power of Clean Energy and the services of a professional infrastructure planner, workers installed a water pump, powered from six solar panels, near the school in mid-2023. There is also a separate bathroom, something the school’s principal says has added to everyone’s feeling of privacy and security. Students and teachers also save time without needing to go outside. It has made work easier for female teachers residing at the school as well.
Health, Safety, and Dignity
Influence International is able to provide regular instruction on basic hygiene, since many students in rural areas lack awareness of healthy and hygienic practices. Basic practices like handwashing have already improved health in the school and community. “This gift is a game changer for the school as it is bringing health and hygiene awareness, safe-guarding children, and bringing dignity,” Vijay says. This small step is also making a long-term positive social and cultural change. We are so thankful for EFM’s support.”
One advantage to smaller-scale projects like this is that Vijay is able to maintain a close relationship with the people he is helping. Too often, larger NGOs misunderstand the actual local needs and bring technology that goes unused. “They will install water pumps, but the pumps will just sit there, because that is not what the people actually need,” he says. Smaller organizations and more fine-tuned projects allow for real change.
A solar-powered water pump is only one type of project out of many different initiatives that Influence International has undertaken. While the organization casts a broad net in its services, the success at Grace School shows that similar projects can follow in other areas where Influence International works, like its theological college. EFM Director Paul Sassenrath believes more partnerships like this are on the horizon: “We are excited to bring this kind of change to Grace School,” he says, “And we are actively looking for other opportunities for Solar Water Pumps in South Asia and beyond.”
*Not her real name.
**His name has been changed for security reasons.
Will you help us empower the next generations of leaders in the global church through more projects like these?