"Zambian couple works to raise awareness of global water crisis

For Indianapolis residents Grace and Handa Siangonya, the world water crisis cuts close to home. They’ve lived it, and loved ones back in Zambia are still living it.

The Siangonyas, who have lived in the U.S. for over 10 years, will be at the State Fair Saturday to share firsthand how people worldwide deal with the scarcity of clean water.

In conjunction with Water for People, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to developing simple, affordable water solutions, the Siangonyas hope to be a “living example” of a global crisis.

The DNR Fishin’ Pond will be the setting for Saturday’s Water Celebration Day. The popular exhibit will feature water games for children, and Grace will be on hand to teach fairgoers to carry water on their heads.

Grace considers herself fortunate. Many of her kinswomen trek 5 to 10 miles each day. Depending on the time of year and rainfall levels, they may wait for hours to fill their containers before starting for home. As the day gets hotter, the water flow can slow to a drip.

Handa says, “Women sometimes get up at 3 a.m., 2 a.m. or midnight, and they don’t get back till 2 p.m. It can be 12 hours of work just to go and fetch water.”

Aside from the time-consuming, grueling labor of fetching a dwindling supply of water, there is the additional problem of the water’s quality. Testament to the effects of untreated water, the Siangonyas’ own bodies rebel when they return to their home villages. Handa says, “When we go back home, we have to treat or boil the water till our stomachs get used to it.”

According to WFP Indiana Section Vice Chair Steve Hadley, Saturday’s event is intended to raise Hoosiers’ awareness. “We’re aware when we don’t have water, when it’s hot and we have a drought and we can’t water,” he says. Mostly, however, here in Indiana water is not given a second thought. But elsewhere, lack of clean drinking water makes life a daily struggle.

WFP works in 10 countries, partnering with local people to build sustainable solutions that can change an entire community’s prospects. Stand pipes and gravity-fed water systems are typical projects. Indiana’s chapter sponsors Bolivia. Next month, Indiana’s WFP committee will host two benefit events (see sidebar). Half the proceeds will go to WFP’s Bolivia program and half to WFP general funds. Hadley notes that the organization has an excellent track record. Indeed, independent charity evaluator Charity Navigator gives WFP an “exceptional” rating.

State Fair Water Celebration Day activities will run from 9 a.m.-noon and 4-7 p.m. Saturday at the DNR Fishin’ Pond, located behind the DNR building.

Water For People Fund-raisers

What: Running for World Water: 5k Run and Walk (sanctioned)

When: Sept. 8, 9 a.m.

Where: NCAA Hall of Champions/Canal Walk

Details: 317-407-8489

What: Wright Brothers Band

When: Sept. 15, 7 p.m.

Where: Garfield Park MacAllister Center

Details: 317-788-9882

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