Nivesh, an 11-year-old who lives in Simwami, southern Zambia, is afraid of fetching water — a chore she undertakes at least three times a day.
“I fear when I’m alone,” she says. “There are people who will kill you if they find you alone. Then they remove your parts. I’m thinking about this the whole time.”
Her widowed mother, Meloda Simuzingili, 46, now raises five children on her own. She says Nivesh’s worries are well-founded. “As a woman, I fear to fetch water,” she says. “I fear to walk alone.”
But in this community, there is no borehole, so mothers and children have to get dirty water from small streams — shared with pigs, goats, and cattle — to survive.
Survival is all they can hope for. They can’t even collect enough water to bathe or wash clothes.
It’s a huge burden for a small child. Nivesh, a slight girl in cheap sandals — her only pair of shoes — treads nimbly up and down the hills of Simwami, the water from the bucket on her head sending rivulets trickling down her cheeks like tears.
But Nivesh has no choice. Across Africa, fetching water is typically a girl’s job. And it’s not an easy one. “It feels like my neck is sinking into my body,” Nivesh says, referring to the weight of the bucket she must carry.
Meloda also faces problems because of water. Her husband died of a stroke in 2006, and — like her daughter — she fears gathering water alone as a woman. Neither of them can go to church because they have no place to wash their dirty clothes.
Nivesh will spend an entire day collecting water, trying to stockpile it for her family’s use, so she can spend the next day in school. Nivesh loves school, especially her classes in English and Tonga, the local language.
But given her circumstances, even school can be difficult.
“When you come to school dirty, people laugh at you,” says Nivesh. “They say, ‘You can’t even wash your own clothes.’”
With that, Nivesh quietly sings her favorite song: “Give them strength for their souls. Though there is so much struggle being a Christian, there is hope on that cross.”
Mother and daughter both miss going to church. “What I miss most is worshipping with others,” says Meloda. “I miss the Bible.” Meloda’s desires are quite simple: to ensure her children are educated and to spend more time in church.
All they need is water.