The Water of Life

A graduate from medical school in Colombia finds her volunteer calling in West Africa.

Keyla Valbuena, for Adventist Mission
The Water of Life
[Photo: Adventist Mission]

When I accepted a call to work in an African country with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), I had no idea where the nation was located. But it didn’t matter. The important thing was that I had a second chance to keep a promise I’d made to God. 

I had told Him when I graduated from medical school that I would serve Him, and then I got busy with my career and forgot my promise. COVID-19 upended the plans I’d made for myself and gave God an opportunity to reveal the plans He had for me. Now I volunteer at a clinic, helping relieve people from sickness and pain.

When I arrived in West Africa, I immediately faced some challenges. One was the weather. I arrived during the hottest part of the year, which lasts for six months! Every day, the temperature exceeded 100° F [38° C]. The hot, dry desert air melts even the strongest people. The water from the faucet, heated by the sun, comes out nearly boiling, so a shower brings no relief. As soon as you towel dry, you start sweating. But nighttime is delightful, full of cool, caressing breezes. One of my favorite experiences is sleeping on the roof of the house under the light of the moon and stars.

Another challenge I faced was the language barrier. My patients speak Arabic, French, or one of the local dialects. I’m grateful for Abou, a local volunteer who translates for me. He speaks four dialects plus French and a little English. Initially, he and I communicated in broken English while I learned a little French and a few words of the local dialects. Over time, I’ve come to know some of my patients so well that I no longer need a translator to help them.

Every day, I meet people who have numerous needs. Many of them suffer from a variety of ailments and can’t afford to pay for medication. Our clinic helps them get the treatment they need and teaches them healthy habits so they can avoid getting sick.

After I’d been at the clinic for about a month, our ADRA team decided to check on several projects in the southern part of the country. We traveled for eight hours along dusty roads that seemed to wind through the middle of nowhere before finally reaching our destination. We thanked God for His traveling mercies, unpacked the vehicle, and settled into our ADRA offices. Then, exhausted from our long drive, we fell asleep.

The next day, we visited a village where ADRA had set up a well to pump water to the community. The chief greeted us exuberantly. We checked the solar panels that power the well; they were functioning fine. A few meters away, we saw a long line of children and women with their yellow jerry cans, waiting their turn to collect the precious liquid.

The people were excited to have access to clean water. My job was to capture their smiles. Yet a single photo couldn’t capture how precious this resource was to them. They told us that previously they had to travel four to six miles (6 to 10 km) round trip just to get a little water.

The women, who are responsible for obtaining water, demonstrated their joy with dancing and laughter. The children joined us. “Pose! Pose! Pose!” they said to me. Since I had a camera in my hands, they wanted a picture with the foreigners who were visiting.

Many of us take for granted how fortunate we are to have running water in our homes. We aren’t mindful of how much we waste because we aren’t aware of its vital importance in so many aspects of our lives. For this village, having water was a blessing. It was life. Despite the language barrier, no translation was necessary to understand that they were demonstrating how grateful they were to be able to enjoy having water without having to walk for hours under the scorching sun.

Serving as a volunteer has been an answer to prayer, and it has been one of the greatest blessings of my life to see the joy people express when you do something for them with love.

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Mission.

Keyla Valbuena, for Adventist Mission

Keyla Valbuena, for Adventist Mission