When the Water Youth Network awarded me the title of Water Youth Leader for September, 2014, I was asked about my motivations for engaging with the field of water. Jokingly, my response to such a question was that because in Danish both my middle and last names translate into the words for lake and pond, respectively, the engagement with the field of water must be in the blood. However, since then, I have come to realise that the Water Journey requires an understanding of its flow path from the source and an examination of all the tributaries that have contributed to it along the way.
I believe the Water Journey started carving its way through the landscape of life some 9 years ago. On March 30th, 2006 I embarked upon my first trip to the Sub-Saharan African region, an experience which started the thirst for further engagement with issues of water and its relations to the environment and international development. I suppose in life we cannot always exactly pinpoint why we choose to do one thing over the other, and often the reasons come in the form of exclusion of other options –and a bit of chance, I suppose. It was not a single drop in time which gave life to the Water Journey, or else it would not constitute a journey but merely an interval of travel with a pre-defined start and an unknown but definitive finish. Rather, like the early rains that leave the dry season behind, precipitation slowly started to accumulate on the surface, infiltrating into the soils and flowing along the slopes being fed by groundwater springs, all leading down some undetermined path, which had its source in the experiences of Zambia – experiences that at the time were so vastly different from my daily life.
My school ran a collaboration with an NGO called the Zambezi Environmental Education Camp (ZEEC) and it was here that I was given the opportunity to spend some weeks on the shores of the Zambezi River in South-Western rural Zambia, engaging with nearby communities and schools in order to learn about the importance of sustainable interactions with natural resources. The specific reasons for engaging with ZEEC came about as a result of it being a fieldtrip option which my school offered. Whereas destinations such as Italy, Bulgaria and France seemed to be the most popular choices for my fellow students, we were on the other hand, a small group of 15 students who were drawn to the only option that was so diverse and geographically different from any of the other destinations. This option also seemed to attract the least amount of interest amongst the more than 200 students in my year. Had this opportunity not presented itself to me, backed by the support of my parents, I may not have been sitting here in Morogoro, Tanzania writing this post.
It is not the aim of this prologue to go into the details of my trip to Zambia, as I think that experiences associated with the reality of having to walk long distances to water sources; wells that were locked off when water in fact was abundant; and narratives of crop failures, all speak for themselves. Instead, what is most important to consider is how one reacts to and afterwards engages with such experiences, as it is this which steered the path of the Water Journey.
Upon my return back home, it was indeed difficult for me to fall back into the old routine – something which I can only find to believe is normal when having experienced massive cultural differences. The images of Zambia were fresh in my head; the questions as to the nature of those locked-off wells were pondering in my mind and it was clear that these issues were not going to be easily answered nor would the journey steer away from them. My sentiments were not associated with one of charity, which is often the reaction voiced in relation to issues and first-encounters with poverty. Instead, my feelings constituted emotions of curiosity and enquiry.
Luckily, fate, randomness or whatever one chooses to call it, had it in store for me that upon my return to school, the remainder of my Geography curriculum for the year would address issues of international development and the challenges associated with the field. Taught by an enthusiastic Irishman whose parents were retired aid-workers in Haiti, a handful of insights were gained into the interactions of natural resource use and international development, during this second part of 2006. It was also at this time that the question of whether or not to go to university, and if so, what to study started pushing its way from the deep and previously unexplored aquifers to the surface and and commenced feeding the flow of the Water Journey.