On a hot January day at Camphor Mission, VIM friend Jack Hopkins gave me the report that Neenyadah Village was ready to receive a new water well. I was glad to hear this good news because my local congregation, Green Valley UMC in Akron, Ohio had sent enough money with me to fund the digging of a new well somewhere in the Camphor vicinity. Before I traveled to Liberia, I had learned that boys and girls of the rural areas walk miles carrying buckets and cans only to bring home contaminated water for cooking, drinking, and cleaning. Within my very first days at Camphor I saw for myself the parade to and from the river. I saw the river water, stagnant and dark in many places. I also saw the clinic where cases of dysentary are treated.
On that humid January morning, Jack asked if I and several others wanted to take a bush hike out to Neenyadah. Joshua, the well digger employed by Camphor, would be our guide. We hiked the three miles to the village, step in step with Joshua on dusty trails of red dirt. We carried bottles of drinking water that were emptied long before we reached the village. After an hour or so, our party rounded the corner that brought us into the village - a community of over one hundred people. On the edge of the community sits the only water source, a lazy stretch of suspicious river water. Just past the river begins the complex of village buildings, walls constructed by dirt, roofs covered in thatching. But despite the primitive homes, Neenyadah is pristine, devoid of litter. The village is orderly in a gentle sort of way. Children play with dogs. Women cook on fires. In one palava hut a large group of people gathered in a circle of dancing and drumming. Joshua explained that the village is bereaved. Someone had died.
"Come this way," a man of the village directed us to the shade of a tree. Someone rounded up chairs - enough for all of our Camphor party of five. A couple of wooden benches were dragged into the shade. "Good morning," a smiling man greeted us with the firm hand shakes and the fast intimacy that was becoming familiar to me in this West African world. As village men and women took their place in the circle on the benches and on the ground, I realized what was happening - a business conversations of sorts, negotiations between well digger Joshua and village council. Neeyaneedah was soon to receive their fresh water well.
Joshua spoke quick Basa to Neenyadah village chief... Camphor Mission would supply culverts, pump, concrete, all supplies, plus the expertise of Joshua for supervision. The village would supply two men each day to dig. They would supply gravel and sand. The elders discussed the terms - the collaboration was beginning. Details were agreed upon. As Joshua pointed to me, he explained to the elders that a United Methodist congregation in East Ohio, U.S.A., was backing this project 100%. Christians in North America had given so that children in West Africa might have fresh water and live. "Zwo Bamba!" several women exclaimed, the Basa words for gratitude. Their children's life expectancy had just increased significantly. They moved close to embrace me. It was a beautiful way to spend a hot and muggy morning in January.
by Rev. Jennifer Olin-Hitt, pastor at Green Valley UMC