“In the developing world, water is either a source of life—or a source of extreme illness and death,” Cross International President and CEO Kelly Miller explains. “The ability to access clean water is transforming for villages and individuals.”
That’s why Cross International supports Christian partners who bring clean water sources and training to their local communities. It’s one of the key impact areas for the Thriving Kids Africa campaign, which is aiming to raise $515,000 to reach 15,000 at-risk children and their family members.
“We’re firm believers in holistic, integrated development,” Kelly says. “There’s no one panacea. Water doesn’t change everything, but it does trigger a lot of other things to get changed, as does education, medical services, microenterprise, and economic development. Those are all integrated services needed for a community to thrive, and water is one of the core components.”
Cross International doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to development. Instead, they listen and respond to what those in need are asking for.
“It’s not us coming in and defining their needs; it’s the village or community who defines what their greatest needs are and how to tackle those needs in a planned way.” Kelly says. “Water is oftentimes at or near the top.”
In many of the communities Cross International serves, women and young girls bear the brunt of collecting water. Water sources are often up to an hour away from their homes, so women and girls can spend two to six hours a day transporting water. They lug up to 50 pounds of water at a time from open wells, shared with domesticated and wild animals. Snakebites are a common occurrence for these water-gatherers, and water-borne diseases and parasites plague their communities.
Beyond the health risks caused by limited access to clean water, the social costs are astronomical. Carrying water for hours on end keeps women from paid work and keeps girls out of school. That lack of education leads to early marriages, limited employment opportunities, and a continued cycle of poverty.
“When a culture wants to break that cycle—and most do—and you provide opportunity through one simple intervention like clean water, it has a springboard effect to other things,” Kelly says.
For example, after Cross International’s partner Kachere Water for Life installs hand-pump wells in a community, they help the women in that community form a Self Help Group. Twenty to 25 women band together to form a small savings and loan program. They each pitch in small amounts as they can, and Kachere and Cross International add funds, too. Their revolving loan bank helps them start small businesses that meet their community’s basic needs, build their local economy and provide for their families. In just five months, one self-help group managed to double the average number of daily meals per household for the majority of their members (from 1 to 2).
“All of these things work together in terms of integrated development,” Kelly says. “And the Gospel plays a big role in that in the hope and inspiration it gives them.”
In addition to their Microenterprise efforts, these Self Help Groups also talk through their community’s social issues and bring men into the conversation to improve their villages.
“The men are so supportive,” Kelly says. “The reality is women and girls have less opportunity, so when you create more for them, it helps the entire family and the whole community.”
That integrated, community approach underpins the Thriving Kids Africa campaign. Every project addresses one of those key community needs that leads to children who can grow up healthy, hopeful, learning and loved.
“When you have a stable family, a stable community, and a stable faith, children can thrive,” Kelly says.