Story by Olivia Hara, 2014-15 CivicSpark Alumna, Sierra Nevada Region

I missed clean clothes, clean hands, and baths. It was the second week our community was completely without water. The little water we had for cooking and bathing was just a few inches from sparse rains in our Jojo tank. Just the day before my host father had collected the last trickle of water he could from the Ngwane River, but even then those drums were mostly full of sand. The borehole, a previous aid project, was only pumping water so salty it left behind a thick residue in my wash basins and eroded my water filters. At night we would sit on our grass mats facing my host father’s barren fields–by this time of year he should have been harvesting his second crop of corn—sipping on cola to cool us in the hot Swazi heat. Every night we spoke of rain, and some nights we would get a short burst of rain, that always sounded like a torrential pour, only to find barely an inch of water collected in our drums.

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Photos left to right: Dried up river bed (Little River); Learning to wash our hands at the preschool; Salty bath water, enough water to fill a Nalgene bottle!

From the time I arrived in my community I witnessed the draining of two rivers, the desperate watering of crops, that would only shrivel and brown, bearing no fruit, and countless cattle lay down only to never get up again. The community smelt of rotting flesh, as cows continued to starve and decompose throughout the village. Many people had lost several of their cattle, including my host father who had lost nineteen cattle, six in one week. While the country was wrought with hunger and fear of the unknown, I found it impossible to avoid the same feelings of hopelessness. What was I actually doing that was going to help? What good was it to teach about sustainable agriculture, when there was no rain to make anything grow? How can I motivate others to make change, when dehydration drains me of my energy? I faced many questions, and doubts during my service with the Peace Corps, but continued to do what I could, because it was all I could do.

While this could be considered an extreme example of climate change, a reality that seems only to exist in the distant future, it is a reality that millions of people around the world face every day.  It is a reality that we could very well be facing in the not so distant future. In fact, just two years ago communities were without water all throughout California. Climate change doesn’t wait for our political agendas to address it, it is happening and we can only control how we act and react to it. Choosing to ignore it, or pretend that it is a matter that can wait, is like bleeding out and deciding to go to the emergency department tomorrow or maybe next week. Organizations like CivicSpark that are addressing climate change with the urgency it needs to be dealt with are leading our world towards a future. The work you will do with CivicSpark may be challenging and sometimes frustrating, but it is making a difference and preventing the above reality from one we all are too familiar with.

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Photos left to right: Washing clothes in dam before empty at the Little River; Dying cow in drying Ngwane River.