My name is Sheri, and I am known as Mama Maji (mama water) in the Kilimanjaro Region of NE Tanzania, because I have a passion for water projects.  I’m shameless in my requests to anyone who will listen, to help fund Empower Tanzania’s water projects. If I’ve never asked you for money, it’s only because I haven’t had a chance yet!

Finding funding to finance water projects is not easy.  Questions like ”who will take care of maintenance?” and “can’t you add more to it, like an agriculture project, to make it worth the investment?” are valid, and I do think about those questions a lot.  However, they completely miss the reason I do this work.

Safe water is a basic human need.

Two years ago, on my way home from visiting several project sites out in the bush in rural Tanzania, the group I was traveling with decided to stop at what appeared to be a random little village housing area.  We had just had a great day with a lot accomplished and much laughing and singing.  It was almost dark, and this stop wasn’t on the schedule.

I asked why we were stopping. They hesitated a little, and then said that a young girl had died, and we needed to visit the family. In Tanzania, it is hot, and bodies are not embalmed.  If you die on Monday, the visitation is Monday night and the funeral is Tuesday.  Most people die in their homes, and it is cultural for everyone to drop everything to go visit the family.  So we did.

The little girl was two, and she had died of diarrhea.  Somehow, she got hold of some un-boiled water, and was thirsty, so she took a drink.  That’s what 2-year olds do.  Her mother didn’t know how to treat it, so 24 hours later, she was sitting on the bed in the bedroom, wailing over the loss of her baby, surrounded by a village full of people who completely understood.  This is not uncommon. I tried to imagine what my life would have been if my children had faced this kind of danger on a daily basis; if all our children in the U.S. faced this kind of daily danger.

-Would it be a national emergency?

-Would it affect how much I allow myself to dream about my child’s future?

-Would I be able to love my child freely, knowing he could be snatched away at any moment?

I didn’t know this woman, or this child, but I held her hand and I cried.  I cried because of the ridiculousness of it all, and because I couldn’t imagine that I would be strong enough to do what these people do every day.

And then I committed, one more time, to keep working on finding clean water for these people, and teaching them to respond to waterborne disease when it strikes.  I do it, because that girl has a sister, and that sister doesn’t need to die.