Posted by: jericayoungken | November 11, 2010

A Board Member’s Journey: From ‘Nova to Bolivia and Waslala

Hola!

As this is my first Water for Waslala blog post (please bear with me, I’m new to the blogosphere!), I figured I’d take the opportunity to introduce myself, share a little bit of my story, and tell you why I am so passionate about the work taking place in this little village in rural Nicaragua.

Born and raised in the Poconos, Pennsylvania I never thought twice about water.  It came from the well next to the house, it rushed by in the form of a stream in my backyard, and it rained down from the sky for days on end.  It was clean and drinkable and there.  I could brush my teeth, wash my clothes, shower, flush the toilet, cook, clean, drink, and play with it as much as I wanted because we had an endless supply.  We filled our pool and water balloons with it every summer.  We froze it and made ice skating rinks in the winter.  To me it was just another constant in my life, like air, food, and my stuffed animal collection.

Fast forward to college.  As a student at Villanova University I had the opportunity to take classes on social responsibility and global poverty, to travel to places such as Honduras, Cambodia, and Slidell, LA and to see firsthand the effect of water on one’s quality of life. Through these experiences, I began to realize my place in this world and how it is so delicately intertwined with everyone else’s.  I began to think about the things I took for granted everyday (water, education, soft serve machines in the dining halls) and what this new realization meant for my life.  I had been exposed, in small doses, to this idea of living simply, of going without, of changing my habits and behaviors to live more justly.  And I wanted more.  I didn’t want to just read about or hear about these concepts.  I wanted to live them.  I wanted to be somewhere that challenged me and forced me to reassess my assumptions and preconceptions about life.  So a few short months after graduation, armed with a pocket sized English/Spanish dictionary and a year supply of peanut butter, I arrived in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

You are never too old for a slide "train"

I fell head-over-heels in love with Bolivia.  Everything about it, from the culture to the people to the language to the geography, affected me right down to my very core.  Never before had I lived so simply.  And never before had I felt so alive.  I lived at an all girls’ orphanage with 53 beautiful, intelligent, funny, loving, incredible girls.  Each girl (myself included) was responsible for helping to prepare meals, washing the dishes, hand washing her clothes, doing chores, and making her bed.  There were no dishwashers or clothes dryers or vacuums.  A majority of the time, there wasn’t even running water.  Don’t get me wrong; we always had access to water.  If it wasn’t coming out of the faucets in the bathrooms or kitchen, or the pump out front, then we just had to go the back of the house, open the lid to the well, drop the bucket down (be careful not to let go of the rope!), and heave up a bucket of water.  Depending on what you needed the water for, you might need to bring up 4 or 5 bucket loads just to do your morning chore or wash a day’s worth of clothes.  And sometimes, even the well dried up.  When that happened we had to take our buckets across the street to the school or down the road to a neighbor’s house to see if we could borrow some water from their well.  And after all of that, the water was still contaminated and had to be boiled before you could drink it or use it to prepare food.

One of the things that impressed me the most about the girls at the orphanage was their consciousness of the world around them.  I often overheard one of the older girls explaining to a younger one that while we sometimes didn’t have water, we still had to be thankful for what we did have because a lot of people in the world live with a lot less.  A lot of people have to walk miles every day to fetch contaminated water.  Not only is that exhausting and tiresome, it is also time consuming.  Putting aside the obvious health consequences of not having a clean water source, what about the time it takes to gather your water every day?  That is time taken away from your family, time that you are unable to help your child with his or her homework, less time for you to sleep in the morning because you must make the long walk before it gets too hot.  I was recently in a little town in northern Peru and heard someone say that most people there do not have hobbies the way we have them.  There is simply not time enough in the day to accomplish all of the necessary tasks and then still have time to read, play a sport, or spend leisurely time with friends.

Two of the middle school aged girls are taking water out of the well to wash their clothes.

Zaida and Maria Elena getting water from the well

So how did all of this bring me to Water for Waslala?  When I returned home from Bolivia a year ago I had a hard time adjusting to life in the US.  After living “without” so much for an entire year, I realized how much I had actually lived with.  How real my life was there without all of the distractions that can sometimes overwhelm us here.  Combine that with my new job as a staff accountant at Ernst & Young and you can see how I experienced what some call reverse culture shock.  Because of this, I wanted to find a way to still incorporate everything I had experienced and loved in Bolivia into my everyday life.  I was beginning to realize (as friends marveled at various Excel shortcuts and my ability to understand the fundamentals of how a 401k works) that I had a valuable skill to offer.  Accounting is not just for big corporations and international conglomerates.  Everyone needs an accountant!

When the Water for Waslala Board of Directors invited me to take over as Treasurer for the organization I couldn’t say, “yes!” fast enough.  I had participated in the annual Walk for Water as a student at Villanova, and was always impressed by the profound impact that this small organization was having on the lives of Waslalans.  And now I could be a part of it!

Over the past few months I’ve been continuously amazed at the work that we are doing.  From the students at Villanova to the other Board members to friends and family who offer their time and expertise, the dedication and love that is poured into Water for Waslala on a daily basis is incredible.  So thank you for allowing me to be a part of it and I can’t wait to see how much more we can do together!

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Responses

  1. Jerica I loved your first blog post and I’m very proud of you. Can’t wait for the next one!

  2. Hi Jerica! I stumbled across your blog via fbook and decided to take a peek. Congrats on the new board position, and I’m so glad that you’ll be able to keep contributing to those less fortunate, since it’s something you are so passionate about. Can’t wait to read more about the journey!! -Niki

  3. Jerica you are awesome!!!!!

  4. Jerica you have always been an inspiration and marvel to me in how passionately you live life and how compassionate you are, even when faced with adversity. 🙂 Love, Mom

  5. Soooo excited for you Jerica!! Can’t wait to read more 🙂 xoxo


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