World Water Week 2020 runs from 24-28 August 2020.
World Water Week is organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), and aims to bring together experts from all over the world to tackle global water issues for a stable and prosperous future.
To mark the occasion, we’re reproducing the story of Linda and Dave Shurlock, who volunteer for WaterAid, a charity intent on reaching everyone, everywhere with clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.
This article was written by Katrina Patrick, and first published in “The People’s Friend” in 2014.
Not having access to clean drinking water is simply incomprehensible for most of us. But for over 780 million people, it is a daily struggle.
In 2011 Linda Shurlock received an appeal form from the WaterAid charity through her door. She read of the plight of children in Burkina Faso, West Africa, who live without water or sanitation, and was moved to begin donating to help them.
It really took off
Little did she realise that this was her first step on a journey to becoming a national WaterAid speaker, and travelling out to meet the people of Burkina Faso in person.
Linda had retired from the civil service a few years previously, and was keen to use her new free time wisely. After popping along to a volunteer drive at her local WaterAid group in Guildford, she was inspired to help out at local fund-raising events.
And she wasn’t the only one.
“It really took off!” Linda tells me. “So many people started helping out that they expanded and had to change the name from Guildford to West Surrey. We’ve made quite a name for ourselves here – and also in the WaterAid headquarters.”
It was not long before Linda had tempted husband Dave into getting involved. When she began giving talks to local groups about WaterAid, she would often practise in front of Dave, who became more and more interested in the subject matter. Eventually he, too, joined as a volunteer.
“I’m a retired school teacher, and my experience of school trips – and Linda’s experience of being a manager of many people – meant we got rolled up into the organising of events like the sponsored walk.
“That has expanded, and the lead-up to it each year is really very hectic! Sometimes we look at each other and think, how did we ever have time to go to work?”
The couple laugh as neither is sure quite how it happened. But slowly over the course of the next few years, both Dave and Linda began doing more and more work for WaterAid.
Helping people to help themselves
Their main aim is to raise awareness of the WaterAid goal, which is not only to provide access to clean water and sanitation, but to work with the local people so that they can keep the pumps sustainable after the volunteers are gone, and make new ones of their own.
The couple’s talks always feature a man called Martin Ouedraogo.
Martin is a native of Burkina Faso who has been trained to design, install and manage rope pumps, bringing safe, clean water to his local villages.
Through their talks he became a symbol of the WaterAid mantra: helping people to help themselves.
“He won our hearts,” Dave explained, “and became our hero.”
This year, Dave and Linda decided to take part in an organised visit to the facilities that they’d raised funds for in Burkina Faso. They saved up and headed out to West Africa.
The couple wondered if they would meet their “poster boy” Martin.
“We did wonder if he was still about,” Dave said. “But before we went we thought about it and realised that we didn’t know how old the photos from our presentations were, so we put it out of our minds . . .”
Dave and Linda arrived in Burkina Faso and were taken on a tour of the facilities in the volunteering office. The Burkina Faso office team is made up of educated local people who were as interested in Dave and Linda’s life as the couple were in theirs.
Luckily, Linda had one of the couple’s presentations with her. After the locals had shown them the sustainable wells and pumps that were being dug, the couple were able to show their work, too.
“We showed our presentation of what we do, and explained we were one local group of about thirty in the UK. We had loads of fund-raising pictures. Us dressed up at various events to collect money, the work WaterAid does, and then Martin’s picture came up and the cry went up around the room – ‘Oh, we know him! That’s Martin!’”
Linda and Dave were stunned.
While they knew the people in the leaflets were real, neither of them expected actually to meet any of them.
On their last day, local volunteers took them to visit Martin, and in the car Linda and Dave simply couldn’t believe where they were going. Their excitement built over mile after dusty mile until, Dave admits, they arrived and were completely lost for words.
Martin stepped forward and shook their hands. Linda speaks a little French, so she was able to talk to Martin and tell him how pleased they were to meet him.
When she began welling up, and Martin told her gently not to cry, Linda replied, “These are tears of joy. I never thought I would meet you.”
Linda and Dave showed Martin parts of their printed presentation with his picture in it. He smiled, saying he was glad people know about the work that’s being done in his area.
He has been trained by WaterAid to use local materials to make pumps and wells for villages. And he now holds workshops to teach others how to earn a living through supplying and maintaining safe water supplies.
It was a very emotional experience
When Martin had shown the couple his work, Dave gave him a WaterAid T-shirt as a souvenir.
Martin was so pleased to have it. And to know that people around the world cared enough to help villages like his.
“Please,” he said, “thank them very much for helping us here in Africa. “They don’t know us, but they help us. Thank you very much because where WaterAid wins, I win.”
Linda and Dave both admit that they were more than a little emotional on their return trip.
“It’s like when people meet idolised pop stars,” Dave reflected. “Imagine our joy when we got to meet him and his family; it was a very emotional experience and I was dumbstruck. He’s such a big man inside; he has such a big presence.”
The trip has certainly brought their talks and presentations to life. Now Linda and Dave are able to say that they have witnessed the work WaterAid are doing first hand.
And are they going to continue their busy lives as WaterAid volunteers?
“I so love what I do,” Linda says, and you can hear the smile in her voice. “I’ve realised that retirement is not an end. We have a choice and there are lots of opportunities out there. I chose to give my time to WaterAid as it’s so fulfilling.
“Now that I’ve seen the reality of everything that I speak about – and the difference clean water and sanitation can make – it’s made me even more passionate about supporting WaterAid’s work. It’s got under the skin and now it’s in the bloodstream.”
For more on World Water Week 2020, click here.
For more great features from “The People’s Friend”, click here.