Autumn is always a busy time with gardens to harvest and a college course on research that needs to be updated. My colleague and I always try to consider what students will need to know for their work with people in the future. This year, we decided to focus on weaving our courses on research and community practice together even more tightly to help reduce confusion and workloads for our students. The shared focus we chose was exploring the connections between access to clean water and healthy communities.
Of course that means I have an opportunity to learn more about research on another topic that is relatively new to me. Fortunately, working collaboratively, my colleague and I discovered a number of important resources that we plan to share with students. Because this topic is so crucial for all of us, I’m sharing some of those resources here, too.
Following is an overview of what we have drafted thus far for our classes.
The focus of our work this semester will be on the connections between access to safe water and community health. Water is essential for life on our planet, yet many of us have grown up in communities where we learned to take it for granted. This is not the case for many people around the world. As climate changes accelerate and water supplies become endangered by pollution from many sources, issues affecting water quality are beginning to affect all of us. The question we need to consider as social workers (and members of communities) is what can we do to assure access to clean water before it is too late.
It is estimated that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within sixty miles of the coastline of an ocean, lake or river. (Wallace, 2014, p. 9)
Coastline communities are profoundly affected by the cleanliness and quality of the nearby water. Proximity to water doesn’t mean that access to clean water is a simple matter, even in countries that are classified as “economically and/or technologically developed,” like the United States. Outdated plumbing and pollution from natural or anthropogenic (human-caused) disasters have threatened water supplies. Communities that are economically or technologically disadvantaged face a host of other challenges.
Picture a day without clean water: You wake up to dirty clothes and bedding, as laundry is limited. You don’t take a shower, you can’t wash your face, and there is no coffee. As a woman in some places, you must take your daughter on a six-kilometer trek to fetch water for the day’s cooking, drinking, and caring of ill family members. To go to the bathroom, you wander deep into the fields, which is not only an inconvenience—it’s a safety risk. Besides snakes, spiders and aggressive animals, there are also ill-intentioned men. Sexual harassment and rape are not uncommon. (WWF, n.d., para. 1)
Wallace’s (2014) research points out that there are deeper connections between human communities and water beyond the physical necessity of water to sustain life.
There’s something about water that draws and fascinates us. No wonder: it’s the most omnipresent substance on Earth and, along with air, the primary ingredient for supporting life as we know it… Water covers more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface [96 percent of it saline]; 95 percent of those waters have yet to be explored. From one million miles away our planet resembles a small blue marble; from one hundred million miles it’s a tiny, pale, blue dot. ‘How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean,’ author Arthur C. Clark once astutely commented. (pp. 8-9)
Our innate relationship to water goes far deeper than economics, food, or proximity, however… [W]e spend our first nine months of life immersed in the ‘watery’ environment of our mother’s womb. When we’re born, our bodies are approximately 78 percent water. As we age, that number drops to below 60 percent – but the brain continues to be made of 80 percent water. (p. 10)
Without access to clean, safe water, life itself is at risk. Research and community practice provide us with a valuable opportunity to learn from the experiences of people in our local region, in our nation, and around the world. Communities both near and far have had to deal with disasters that left them without access to safe, life-sustaining water: hurricanes, droughts, forest fires, wars, toxic chemical spills, or faulty water and sanitation systems. From a social work perspective, access is important for the people we will serve at both the micro and macro levels of practice. This semester, in both research and practice with community systems, we will identify ways to explore issues affecting access to clean water and related consequences, as well as the effectiveness of organized community-awareness initiatives and innovative solutions among communities and community systems.
One of the most powerful videos I have watched about the connection between clean water and community health is the story of what happened to the Pima and Tohono O’odham peoples in southern Arizona when the river that once flowed through their homeland was diverted to provide water for white settlements and cities. After decades of fighting to restore the tribe’s water rights, Attorney Rod Lewis negotiated a settlement with the state of Arizona that guaranteed the return of water and funding to build the necessary infrastructure. The following video clip, from Unnatural Causes – Bad Sugar, tells the story of one of the tribe’s recovery initiatives:
Nichols, Wallace J. (2014). Blue mind: The surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
P.S. – I’m still on my break from blogging, but my muse insisted that I share this post today after seeing the little wasp again. Her return visit reminded me about the photo I took a couple days ago when I first saw her on my side step. She waited patiently for me to grab my iphone and take a number of pictures. I meant to see if I could learn more about her then, but there is always something else that needs doing. This morning, she was walking over the moist ground in my backyard, a gift from last night’s rain, and then flew up with her tiny wings and sat on a bent fern. Her return inspired me to discover more about her and share what I learned.
You have all probably noticed my frequent absences recently. Autumn is always a busy time for me. This year is no exception – except it already feels busier.
The rotting board on my deck has been repaired and the deck floor has a new coat of paint. I think I’ve washed off most of the paint from my hands and arms, and under my nails.
Weeds and branches are secured in large paper bags, waiting to be transported to the local collection site. I still have many more branches to bag, though. Hopefully the bags will fit in my little car (White Pony).
Despite the heat and drought, life has been kind.
There are bountiful gardens to tend and harvest.
Another round of editing has begun for the book manuscript I’ve been working on for years. This time, I have a plan.
Soon I will have a digital copy of an original painting for the cover thanks to a dear friend, Carl Gawboy, an Ojibwe artist, scholar, and storyteller. Here’s the old photo that has now become part of my chapter one rewrite. It illustrates shifting times. Children who were once surrounded by nature and family live on reservations where the original forests were clear cut. The first generation didn’t realize the magnitude of the environmental and social changes that would follow when most of the trees were gone. But the next generation lived with the consequences of yet more losses.
A quick visit today to the on-line site for the class I will be teaching beginning on September 8 was a rather alarming reminder about the amount of work I have yet to do on my syllabus and assignments. Luckily, the new edition of the course text arrived yesterday. Of course, I will be trying something new, again. We’ll be looking at the link between access to clean water and community health. That means some research, thinking, and writing. Any suggestions you have about relevant research articles, online resources, or innovative initiatives would be greatly appreciated.
I hope you all know how much I value your presence in my life. For now, though, I will need to carve out more time to deal with these pressing responsibilities. I can’t predict how long I’ll be gone. I have an unpredictable muse who surprises me now and then with something urgent I need to write and share. Of course, I can’t post something without reciprocating visits and responding to comments (often belatedly). As you all know, that takes a lot of time. Frequently I resist posting until my muse makes my life unbearable.
Ultimately we are all alone
in a universe that seems indifferent
to the suffering of so many
our hearts may sometimes feel the pain
yet we can do little to understand or change
the ongoing forces of destruction and oppression
The only response may be doing what we can
to at least ease distress in the moment
when someone knocks on our door
not asking for healing or sanctuary
but merely a temporary respite
from chaos and imminent threat
The forces of harm remain unabated
attracting those who feel they have no worth
like moths mesmerized by a candle flame
that will surely consume them
unless they wake up in time
Perhaps kindness from a stranger
who asks nothing in return
will be enough to lighten the burden of aloneness
for both the askers and the givers
temporarily revealing the importance of compassion
Inspired by real life and two differing perspectives. The first is a reminder of the work of Albert Camus (1913-1060), who
“… introduced and developed the twin philosophical ideas—the concept of the Absurd and the notion of Revolt—that made him famous. These are the ideas that people immediately think of when they hear the name Albert Camus spoken today. The Absurd can be defined as a metaphysical tension or opposition that results from the presence of human consciousness—with its ever-pressing demand for order and meaning in life—in an essentially meaningless and indifferent universe. Camus considered the Absurd to be a fundamental and even defining characteristic of the modern human condition. The notion of Revolt refers to both a path of resolved action and a state of mind. It can take extreme forms such as terrorism or a reckless and unrestrained egoism (both of which are rejected by Camus), but basically, and in simple terms, it consists of an attitude of heroic defiance or resistance to whatever oppresses human beings. In awarding Camus its prize for literature in 1957, the Nobel Prize committee cited his persistent efforts to “illuminate the problem of the human conscience in our time.” He was honored by his own generation, and is still admired today, for being a writer of conscience and a champion of imaginative literature as a vehicle of philosophical insight and moral truth” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
“When did the world break open for you and reveal its radiant light?
“I’m guessing we all have had fleeting revelatory glimpses of the sublime, the numinous. Sometimes it takes a great loss or crisis to trigger the moment of grace….
“These diamond-sharp moments cut through our haze, yet inevitably fade. We may relegate them to a corner of mind as moments of madness or anomaly, but such non-ordinary experiences seem to be in the increase and may be showing us a world more real than the one we think we know” (Kosmos).
(1) Annette S. Lee, William Wilson, Jeffrey Tibbetts, and Carl Gawboy (2014), Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide: An Introduction to Ojibwe Star Knowledge. North Rocks, CA: Lightning Source: Ingram Spark.
(2) Basil Johnston (1990), Ojibway Heritage. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, p. 93.
Somedays there are too many tasks
demanding decisions and immediate attention
Which one’s a priority and which ones get an extension?
Rather than agonizing over choosing
I decide it may be wiser to avoid choices that are confusing
grabbing my camera and going for a walk instead
a great way to clear my heart and my head
Even when it’s cloudy now with a slight chance of rain
hoping my foolishness will tempt fate again
encouraging clouds to share precious moisture as they hover
showering on my camera lens as I hasten to find cover
Choosing to head home not wishing to be drenched
wondering later if retreating was wise
perhaps the earth’s thirst would have been quenched
instead I watched safely through my window
disappointed by rapidly clearing skies
Ah, who knows what life has in store
Just one day more
Mow the lawn – postponed because it’s been too dry
concerned that cut plants would quickly fry
Then take little Pinto out for his mid-day stroll
As we’re leaving our yard thunder crackles and rolls
Sprinkles start as we walk down the street
Transforming the air – now moist and sweet
Half way home it begins to pour
Soaking us both before we reach our door
Both grateful in our own way
For the surprising storm we encountered today
Acknowledgement – A dear friend recently reminded me how important humor is in our lives, although he spells the word differently – “humour.” I had begun this silly poem and his comment inspired me to finish it. As synchronicity would have it, I had also just found an old video of Loretta LaRoche that made me laugh when I first saw it during a PBS (public television) fund-raiser. I’ve posted the video below. I hope it brings peace and healing laughter into your life, too.
Sitting on my step sipping coffee
listening gratefully as the little oven bird sings
greeting morning once again with sweet melodies
listening to the sound of the train on the western ridge
whirring by then fading
listening to leaves rustling in the gentle breeze
remembering times long past
of setting off alone again and again
to begin anew in different places
like the little chickadee in another song
I would have preferred to live in a fantasy world
escaping to other places in books and daydreams
but I sense that I chose otherwise
long before I was born
Remembering the dark worlds I’ve entered
institutions that mistreated Mickey and Donald students, elders, and communities
beset with oppression they didn’t deserve
Someone had to offer kindness, strength and solace
even if imperfectly
that was the right thing to do
Sitting here now in the morning
remembering past encounters and new beginnings
healing old wounds to my spirit and building strength
to face whatever comes next