Walk In Her Shoes: A journey like no other

Ayanna carries her heavy load of water. It will take her more than three hours to return to her home. © CARE

In south Ethiopia, 14-year-old Ayanna awakes to darkness. Every day she rises before dawn so that she can embark on a gruelling journey to fetch water for her family.

Ayanna’s fragile, waif-like frame makes her look much younger than her 14 years, yet her gaunt face tells a different story. Every day she leaves her kabele (her village) at 5am to make the gruelling three-hour journey to the closest water point. The 11km journey is long, arduous and unforgiving. “I would never go alone. I am afraid of the animals,” she says. Foxes and hyenas have attacked children like her before.

Collecting water since age nine

But Ayanna knows no different. “I have been collecting the water since I was nine years old,” she says. Like most of the children in this region, her parents are farmers so they rely on this water not just to live, but to sustain their livelihood – their cattle. With increasingly erratic rainfall, it is becoming harder for Ayanna to fetch water. She dreams of becoming a teacher, but she has little time for school and her journey ‘makes me tired’ she says.

Every afternoon in the relentless sun, she makes her way to the ‘ella’, a traditional Ethiopian well to collect water. At the bottom a film of dirt and debris floats on top of the water. It’s impossible to haul the water alone as the level is so low, so even pregnant women and girls as young as eight form the line that helps. It’s dangerous. A few years ago a girl died as she fell passing the water. She was a year older than Ayanna.

Ayanna fills her 20-litre jerry can with the help of her friends and straps it to her delicate back. Her fragile frame buckles under the weight. She looks like she might snap. She can weigh no more than six stone and carries approximately half her body weight. Her return journey takes her longer than three hours due to her heavy load.

The water could kill

“I filter the water through my scarf like everyone else,” she says, but the water could kill her. It contains leeches that swell to the size of a finger or bigger by gorging on the blood of livestock or even babies. “Diseases like diarrhoea are so common, that sometimes people don’t even know they are sick. It’s a way of life,” explains Haji Meteyisa, CARE’s Pastoral Water and Sanitation Manager, who has recently started working with Ayanna’s community.

Walked a half marathon

Only when Ayanna arrives home at 4pm, having walked more than half a marathon, can she have her second and last meal of the day, anshirro, a milky maize mix. It’s been 11 hours since she breakfasted on the same thing. She has been awake for approximately 17 hours and is exhausted. “I would like time to play,” she says, but even if there was time, she’d be too tired. “There is always a feeling of pain,” she states simply. Fatigue and pain have become her closest companions.   

Ayanna has the potential to be an extraordinary teacher: patience, strength and a steely determination are virtues that, unlike the water she fetches, she has in abundance. But unless life deals her a better hand, she may never embark on that particular journey.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.