It was just a hole in the ground—no more than two or three feet in circumference, but at least 10 feet deep. Our team from Convoy of Hope peered down into the hole expecting to see water or at least a trace of it, but there was none. The hole was as dry and arid as the landscape around us.
“There’s no water in the camp,” said the man who had led us to the hole, “so, we’re digging a water well.”
“By hand?” one of us asked.
The man nodded eagerly as if to say, of course by hand.
Several weeks had passed since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12. We had gone to the tent city, which had sprung up like dozens of others a few miles outside of Port-au-Prince, to see how its residents were doing and how Convoy of Hope might help.
As soon as we stepped foot into the camp, dozens of people pressed in around us. Each was eager to tell of his or her hardships and show the squalor in which they lived.
One mother of nine children wept bitterly as she told us how she lost her husband and home during the earthquake. Another woman held pictures of family members who died. A little girl cried as she explained that her father had died and she had lost her favorite doll on Jan. 12. Every story we heard was linked to the next with the common themes of death, despair, hunger and thirst.
Like an oasis suddenly appearing in a desert, I saw the hole-digger with his wild eyes and unwavering faith pretend to throw a bucket and rope into the hole and pull them back to the surface.
“Water,” he said in Haitian Creole before waving his hand over the camp as if he could imagine himself serving everyone a cup of the cold, refreshing liquid. My eyes darted from him to the hole and back again as I wondered, “Are you crazy, man?”
After all, he obviously needed to dig much longer and deeper if he ever hoped to reach water—if there was any to be had.
But suddenly I realized something.
The look of disbelief, I was no doubt conveying to the hole-digger, was one I had seen in the eyes of skeptics when I told them about the work Convoy of Hope was doing in Haiti.
For three years, Convoy of Hope had daily fed 11,000 children throughout the country. After the earthquake hit, we diverted some of the food and supplies from our warehouse—which had just been restocked—to desperate families. Since January, we had distributed more than 8 million meals and installed hundreds of water purification units in some of Haiti’s hardest-hit communities. Our plan for the next year is to continue distributing food, water filters, hygiene kits and expand our daily feeding program from 11,000 children to 45,000 children.
Even so, Haiti will most likely remain the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Yes, there will still be more than 1 billion people throughout the world without access to clean drinking water and thousands of people will still die this week because of hunger-related causes.
To some people, our work to help the impoverished in Haiti and throughout the world might seem as worthless as randomly digging a hole in a dry and arid place where there are no guarantees of water.
Why keep digging? the critics scream. You’ll never reach water. Don’t waste your time!
They may be right.
Convoy of Hope and other relief organizations bent on helping the impoverished might not ever dig long enough or deep enough to hit water. But maybe our collective digging will save lives, give countless people hope and inspire others to dig until everyone has some water.
And if that’s even remotely possible, we should keep digging.
Kirk Noonan is the communications director for Convoy of Hope, which was founded in 1994 and exists to feed millions of people in need in the United States and around the world through children’s nutrition initiatives, citywide outreaches and disaster response.