One of the best things about Safe Water September is the opportunity to stand in solidarity with people in rural Zimbabwe and Vanuatu. We give up our hot drinks, our smoothies, our soft drinks—the luxury of being able to choose what we drink—and drink just water for one month.
‘Solidarity’ is a tricky concept, and it’s something that can easily become a bit of a cop-out. Because, really, I can say, “I’m drinking just water this month as an act of solidarity with people who don’t have access to safe drinking water,” but what does that actually achieve? What benefit does my solidarity bring to people in Zimbabwe and Vanuatu?
I was reading Mobilizing Hope by Adam Taylor recently, and he has a chapter where he talks about “pragmatic solidarity”. He quotes Dr. Paul Farmer who says, “Pragmatic solidarity is both the desire to ‘make common cause with those in need’ and offering ‘goods and services that might diminish unjust hardship.’” Taylor continues, saying that “solidarity requires being connected to the experiences and soliciting the views of the oppressed...” (p.93) From that, I want to offer three ways that taking the Safe Water September challenge is an act of solidarity.
- We become connected to the experiences of people living in poverty. Taking the Safe Water September challenge does not mean that I know what it’s like to live in poverty. I have no idea. But, in giving up my favourite drinks and restricting my choices to just water for one month, I can get a tiny glimpse into a life where poverty limits my choices. But it’s not just through the challenge itself: every year we share new interviews with people in areas of Zimbabwe and Vanuatu affected by drought and volcanoes about how access to safe water changes their lives. And people in Zimbabwe and Vanuatu hear about us, and how you and I are raising money to support their projects. That’s an encouragement to them, and they often send the GMP team messages of thanks and encouragement for the work that we’re doing. It’s a two-way relationship. As Taylor says in his book, “It's far too easy to forget and feel distant from the people and experiences that motivate and necessitate our work for justice.” (p.92) Safe Water September is a way of closing the distance between us in Australia and the people who do the work, and are affected by the work, on the ground.
- We make meaningful change for people experiencing poverty. Safe Water September provides, as Dr. Farmer puts it, “goods and services that might diminish unjust hardship” (quoted in Taylor, p.93). The money we raise together as a community goes to our partners—Showers of Blessing in Zimbabwe, and the Churches of Christ Conference Vanuatu—where it is put to use addressing real, immediate needs in communities. We assist our partners in diminishing hardship, which has a flow-on effect for education, health, and economic development, all of which contributes to breaking the cycle of poverty.
- We make ‘common cause’ with people in our partner communities. The idea of having a ‘common cause’ with someone is that what affects them affects us too. And our relationships are not one way. We in Australia don’t have the answers for people in Zimbabwe and Vanuatu; we need to create solutions together. The relationship between the Safe Water September community and our partners in Zimbabwe and Vanuatu, supported by GMP and COCOA, means that we are working with the locals, who are people we know. The solutions to problems—from boreholes to water tanks—are developed in consultation and in relationship with the local community. We are doing this with, not for, people on the ground in rural Zimbabwe and Vanuatu.
Solidarity requires us to commit to the journey. It means developing relationships over time and being ready to suffer the hurts alongside our friends and celebrate the victories all together. By standing in solidarity with people, we reduce the distance between us: we’re not raising money for abstract people way out there, we’re raising money for real people who we know, and who know us.
Commit to standing in solidarity with people in rural Zimbabwe and Vanuatu by signing up for the Safe Water September challenge at www.safewaterseptember.org.au/, and get to know the locals through the interviews and stories at www.embody.org.au/resource/blog.