Iza Narciso had just completed World Vision’s 6K for water in Chicago last year — she was breathless, sweaty but full of joy: She had come full circle to get out of poverty.
Her post-race video interview captured a moment of profound healing for Iza, who grew up in Angola walking miles every day in search of water. Each step of the 6K in Chicago reminded her of her own struggle and the struggle of millions of women and children who walk for water.
“As a little girl, I was maybe 5, I would have to walk every single day to look for water. That was a reality for me,” Iza says. “I don’t remember how many miles, but I remember that we would try to find water wherever water was.”
When she found water, there were often crowds; people fought to fill their jugs before the source ran out. And walking back, while balancing a heavy jug on your head, other desperate children would ask for water, “but you have to keep walking because your family is counting on you for this water.
“So you get home with a little bit of water,” Iza remembers, “and this water is just so precious. Every bit of it is counted.” She remembers long excruciating nights of going to sleep thirsty as her mother strictly rationed their water.
As young children, Iza and her sister fled civil war in Angola. A social worker at a refugee center in Belgium essentially adopted and raised them, she says. Iza came to the United States to study at Loyola University, receiving a degree in literature. She now owns a daycare in Chicago.
Last year, members of Team World Vision came to her church and spoke about the 6K for water event. Because of her past, she was intrigued and signed up. But she was unprepared for the emotional impact.
“All of those people, warming up early on a Saturday morning, getting ready to run 6K, 7, 8, 9. And emotionally my heart was getting bigger and bigger. I couldn’t really handle the emotions. I was trying to search — why am I feeling this way? Why is this becoming so overwhelming for me?
“And I realize, it was the meaning of what they were doing. Those people in Chicago were running for me. And I realized all this time I was in Africa suffering, didn’t have access to clean water; I realized I was not alone. That there was a team of people trying hard to get water to me. It just means so much because no child should go without water.”
It was a healing moment — healing from the trauma of seeking water as a child.
“It just really means a lot to me that all this time, I was never alone,” Iza says. “Even in suffering, I was never alone. It just illustrates what God says — even in suffering, I am with you. The Bible has become so real for me.”
She looks forward to the upcoming Global 6K for Water on May 6 and has adapted a form of the 6K for the toddlers at her daycare. The children dress in orange, use sippy cups at the water stations and run a lap around the park. Money raised at the event last year was used to sponsor children through World Vision.
“It was so touching because we explained to the kids why we’re doing it,” Iza says. “I remember a 4-year-old looking at me, and she said she was tired and she didn’t want to do this anymore. And I explained why we are running, and I explained to her the picture of Sophie, our sponsored child. And she said, ‘I will finish the race.’ And she ran to the finish line. And when her mom came to pick her up, she said, ‘Mommy! I ran for Sophie because she didn’t have water. I ran for her!”
Photos and videos of children in need of clean water haunt Iza.
“That was me. And it’s painful. It hurts not to have water.”
But the realization that the children walking miles for dirty water were not forgotten and people were walking, running, and doing what they could to care for them is healing the trauma of poverty.
“I just want to say thank you for doing it for me,” Iza says. “You’re allowing me to stay alive. I wish I could do more. But you’re not just helping the kids in Africa; you’re also psychologically helping the adults like me.
“And you’re helping us feel better. And you’re also helping us to see God really. It’s just so powerful. The fact that they are running, it’s so meaningful. I can’t help but say thank you.”