Drop by drop.

Nepal and the Himalayas at dawn.

In April 2015, Nepal was slammed with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Thousands lost their lives and millions more lost their homes and their livelihoods. With infrastructure and access to water often the first need in the wake of disaster, Wine To Water reacted quickly by distributing hundreds of Sawyer water filters to the process of recuperating and healing could begin.

Although the attention on the devastation and plight of the survivors in Nepal soon dwindled, Wine to Water’s work only ramped up — starting with Dahakhani.

The river where villagers collect their water for cooking, cleaning and drinking. During the rainy season, the river overflows and collects dirt and debris along its route down the mountainside with it. During the dry season, there simply is no water to collect.

In the remote corner of Chitwan province, villagers in Dahakhani walk miles to the nearby river to collect unsafe water. Without operational latrines at the school, the local children are unable to practice proper hygiene — leading to poor health and outbreak of preventable diseases. These factors have lead to many health problems, especially for students. In response, Wine to Water, alongside village leaders, formulated a multi-tiered holistic solution:

Entirely ambitious but certainly achievable, these goals inspired me to get involved, so traveled to Nepal in September to assist. Over the course of 10 days, I saw, learned, and experienced so much from the people of Nepal. Here are some of my takeaways:

Most families rely on their own harvests for both food and wages — which means they are entirely dependent on water for not just their lives, but their livelihoods.
Volunteers and villagers take a break to break bread/corn wine.

2. Sometimes you have to get buzzed in the name of gratitude. If you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine the cup (or even bowl) of liquor you were just offered was a pint of artisanal sour beer. Of course, then you also have to push the memory of it being poured out of a dusty five-gallon bucket out of your head. And refrain from breathing through your nose so you didn’t catch a whiff of the mixed aroma of earth with rubbing alcohol. Other than that, yeah, just like a craft brewed gose. But when I thought about all the effort — months of plowing, planting, growing, harvesting, fermenting — that went into that gift and what it meant to hand those months of toil to us volunteers, it’s hard to be anything but entirely humbled and grateful.

Constant rain during the rainy season makes for difficult work.

3. Charity doesn’t mean handouts. Wine to Water’s work is rooted in the concept of serving in community. For a project to even start, the village or organization in need of clean water solutions must put skin in the game by contributing financially to ensure the long-term success of the project. Once ground is broken, villagers contribute with sweat equity — they are trained on the new system and contribute to its construction in order to have full working knowledge in case anything should break. The entire week, our rag tag group of volunteers were surrounded by talented villagers who guided our efforts and will continue to ensure them, their families and their neighbors have sustained access to clean water long after we leave.

Community dance party getting warmed up.

4. Celebrate success when it comes. Although we had hoped the entire twelve-month project would wrap up neatly exactly on the last day in the field with the final volunteer group to Dahakhani, it didn’t work out that way (see Bullet 1). But you can’t get down about the unanticipated and the uncontrollable without realizing the larger picture — that an entire village is so much closer to regular, safe access to clean water on Friday than they were on Monday. As Doc Hendley, founder of Wine to Water, shared,

“My efforts are going to be a drop in the bucket, but if I would have never taken that step because it was too big of problem, then we wouldn’t be anywhere right now.”

After our team left, the final tap stands were raised and the water was released from the dam to fill the pipeline throughout the length of the village. And while my contribution was but a small drop in the bucket toward this incredible accomplishment, my cup runneth over with pride that together, in community, we brought water to Dahakhani.

To get your own hands dirty for clean water, visit Wine to Water’s website to learn about volunteer opportunities around the world.

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