Daniel Takes a Walk in Vianney’s Shoes

Words by Daniel Flynn
03 December, 2013

Just over five years ago, I sat in front of my computer so moved by the stories of young people in Africa who spend hours walking to collect water. They spoke about issues of sickness, time out of school and even watching family die due to water-borne diseases. I was moved to tears because not only were the stories heart-wrenching. But because I had this thought, “What if that was me?”. I wondered what it would be like to spend hours each day collecting water, only to see that same water make my family sick and possibly even cause death. It was this moment that sparked the launch of Thankyou Water, now Thankyou Group.

It’s been 5 years and we’ve funded over 100 projects in 9 different countries. I’ve been blessed enough to travel to a few of these countries, mainly in South East Asia to see the work we are doing. Some of our team have visited projects in Africa, but in October I headed over for the first time – and I’ll never forget what happened to me when I was there.

Meeting Vianney

We visited Burundi, the 5th poorest country in the world, and a place where 58 per cent of children are malnourished. It was here that I met Vianney, a 15 year-old boy. He and his family were one of the beneficiaries of a gravity-fed water system that we were part of funding in partnership with World Vision and AusAid.

When I first met Vianney, he was very shy and quiet. But with the help of a translator we hit it off pretty quickly and after a few minutes of conversation, Vianney shared that he was even certain he could beat me in a running race to which I told him that we’d test that out later (which we did).

I began to ask him what his life was like. He shared that his dad rejected he and his mother when he was born, so Vianney was the man around the house. From an early age he would walk a long distance to collect water in the morning and at night for his mother and grandmother. He would carry the water home on his head and continually got back and neck aches. Because of physical exhaustion, he would be consistently late to school and would often sleep through class. Since the water he collected was contaminated, he would also get very sick which further affected his grades at school. I asked him if he’d be up for showing us how he use to collect water (before his new water source) and I promised that I’d carry the water back while he carried an empty container, and he liked that idea. Our media crew followed so we could share his story with you.

The Walk

We set out for the walk. This part of country was extremely hilly. We walked down the steep hill with the yellow jerry can containers. It was a very picturesque walk but I soon realized that we were actually going to have to walk back up this same hill, with a pretty heavy container of water! We got to the bottom of the valley and there it was. A tiny creek with water that definitely didn’t look clean.

After about 10 minutes, Vianney had finished filling up the container. We were filming the trek back so we both carried containers on our head back to the village – mine full and Vianney’s empty. Vianney laughed most of the way up the mountain as I struggled so much to carry this 15L container on my head – something that he had done twice a day for the most part of his life. The weight was unbelievable for such a small boy to carry. I’m a tough guy so I didn’t think it was too heavy at first. But about 15 seconds into the walk I couldn’t believe what I signed up to. I struggled up the mountain and back to his house. What Vianney had to do just to get water – and water that wasn’t even safe to drink – was mind blowing.

When we got back, we sat down and he shared about all the benefits that the new water source had given him and his family. He shared with us how grateful he was because this water project had truly changed his life. He ended by saying that when he had been told we were coming today and were part of the team that helped him get his new water source, that when he saw our “trucks” (4WDs) coming he wanted to just lift them both right up in the air to show us how grateful he was, but he couldn’t because he was just a kid. Try listening to that and not crying. Impossible.

I’ll never forget Vianney or his story. I’ll never forget the walk we did together. It took me back to that moment five years earlier in front of my computer, except this time I was there for real.

His story is one of literally hundreds of millions, which can seem kind of discouraging. On a large scale you wonder if we’re even making an impact at all.

But meeting Vianney made me understand that impact happens through helping one person at a time. And really, to change just one life makes all of this worth it. With Thankyou supporters, we’re changing the world one Vianney at a time.

— Words by Daniel Flynn