When you got up this morning, what did you do? Brush your teeth? Go to the bathroom? Take a shower? Make coffee? Prepare breakfast for your family? These parts of our morning routine all have one thing in common – water.
Most of us take for granted our ability to simply turn a knob and have clean, easily accessible water there to fill all of our needs. But for more than 2 million people in the United States who lack running water and basic indoor plumbing being healthy, earning a living, and taking care of their family are all a challenge.
Vivian is one of those 2 million people without water – and had been for 9 months. Her home was built in 1973 and, like 15% of all households in the United States, had a private well as its water source. When she bought the property in 2014, she didn’t think the well would be an issue until she went to use it – and nothing came out. “I called a well company that I’d used before, and he came out, and the water worked for about a week – and after a week it stopped working. I called him back, and he told me there was something wrong with the lever [on the pump]…it had rusted.”
She was going to need a new well. Unlike with municipal water, residents with private wells are entirely responsible for maintenance and repair of their water supply – which is difficult if you have limited-income, like Vivian. “He quoted me a price [to repair it], but I knew that I could not afford that….I did try to save…but the money I paid him, that was my savings. I took all my savings to pay him.”
With seemingly no other option, Vivian tried to adjust to living without a source of running water in her home. She carried empty jugs with her, would fill them at work or at the gas station, and then lug them back home with her. “For nine months, I had to carry water…It was very, very depressing, especially during the hot months, trying to carry water – jugs of water and containers. It was just difficult…But I had to just do what I needed to do because this was the only place I had to live.”
The physical challenges someone would experience living without running water are what you would expect- cooking, cleaning, bathing – but there were emotional challenges too. Her lack of water forced her to disconnect from her family. This was especially true around the holidays and when it came to spending time with her grandchildren. “I could not celebrate the holidays because normally my family comes here…my grandchildren could not spend the night like they used to. It was hard to explain to them because they were wondering why we can’t come over.”
To complicate things even further, she had to take time away from working her temp job because of some health issues from a prior stroke. But if she didn’t work, she didn’t get paid. It seemed less and less likely that she would be able to afford the repairs on her own. Vivian wasn’t going to stop advocating for herself though – she knew there had to be someone out there that could help her. “I called around for help, I called this other well company…[they] sent me a link to a grant that was out there that helped dig a well, but I didn’t qualify because I didn’t live in a rural area.” She called every organization in the Charlotte area she could think of that might help her – finally finding the right place when another agency recommended she call her local Habitat.
“I felt like giving up, but something said ‘just try again’ and I called…and thank God I was finally eligible.” As part of our Critical Home Repair program, at no cost to her, we were able to drill Vivian a new well, restore the water to her home, and renew her dignity.
“I got a call, while I was leaving the doctor’s office…I couldn’t believe…it was surreal…I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that when I get home I’m going to actually have water. I didn’t cook the first day because it didn’t feel real. I turned the water on and I thought, is this for real, is the water going to stay on? After spending nine months… it's in your head, you can finally say you have running water. It’s for real. It’s for real. It’s for real. It just happened that my daughter just moved in with her three-year-old, so it was right on time.”
Vivian’s voice cracks as she describes how happy she is to feel like she has her home, and her life, back. “Trying to make it, it was hard. I thank God for Habitat for Humanity for helping me…because I would still be in the same predicament. I would still be sitting here, trying to figure out something, if it weren’t for Habitat.”