Judy Wood has made 10 trips overseas with LifeWater International, and recently returned from her seventh trip to Ethiopia.

By Marylouise Sholly |

Sometimes, determination combines with care to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.Retired RN Judy Wood and her husband, Alan, of Alden Place, have found a way to help people on the other side of the globe. The two are spending their retirement trying to lower the incidence of disease in underdeveloped countries.

The couple have joined LifeWater International, a Christian non-profit group based in California, that travels to the far reaches of the Earth to help people learn how to prevent water-borne disease.

Judy Wood just returned from 10 days in Ethiopia, where she fought an uphill battle against a host of challengers, including typhoid, cholera and shistisimiasis, as well as parasites such as round worm, hookworm and trachoma, which can cause blindness.

“In Ethiopia, rivers and puddles are major sources of drinking water,” Wood said. “Typhoid and cholera are huge because they don’t have clean water.”

Judy was employed as a nurse in the Mechanicsburg School District for 25 years. After retiring in 2008, the couple moved to Lebanon County, near Cornwall.

Photos of a tippy-tappy that Life Water set up in Ethiopia on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.  (PHOTO: Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News)

Photos of a tippy-tappy that Life Water set up in Ethiopia on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (PHOTO: Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News)

Judy Wood has made 10 trips overseas with LifeWater International, and recently returned from her seventh trip to Ethiopia. She’s also traveled to Kenya and Cambodia. Her husband, Alan, a civil engineer, has traveled to Laos and Ethiopia with the group.

Based in San Luis Obispo, California, LifeWater is a “faith-based” Christian group with a mission, Wood said.

“We will not stop until every child has safe water,” Wood said. “They are all about empowering transformation; empowering the people to make the changes that are needed, so it’s sustainable change, not just a band-aid approach.”

Wood and her husband knew they wanted to do something meaningful when they retired. While joining the Peace Corp was considered, the couple decided on going with more of a short-term mission. Alan Wood found LifeWater online, and after a conference in 2008 to learn more about the group, the couple traveled to California for training.

“What I love about it, is the way they (LifeWater) do it; it’s changing through reform,” Wood said.

The LifeWater teams teach “WASH,” which stands for “water, sanitation, hygiene.”

“If they practice “wash” behavior, it will decrease the amount of illness in their villages,” Wood said

The organization is now setting up field offices in several countries, Wood said, which gives them a more secure position to teach hygiene and safe sanitation. The field offices are a base for water technicians and health officers, who are in charge of local “health promoters.”

Each health promoter is in charge of 20 community health workers.

In March, a field office is scheduled to set up in Uganda, in June, another will be in Cambodia, and in September, a field office will be built in Ethiopia.

“They report daily, so there is daily monitoring (of hygienic practices),” she said.

Members of the LifeWater teams go into households with posters and manuals to teach about disease pathways, Wood said.

“It’s all hands-on; we use a lot of posters,” Wood said. “It’s not lecturing, it’s participation so they can figure it out.”

Even though an interpreter was part of the group, a picture is worth a thousand words, and the posters helped to ensure the success of the lessons.

In some rural villages, bathrooms are non-existent and open defecation is the norm.

“We teach them how that leads to disease,” Wood said.

At one time, water-borne diseases were the top two reasons for childhood deaths in Ethiopia, Wood said. After the LifeWater program had been introduced, the water borne illnesses dropped out of the top 10, she said.

Households receive a certificate when they meet certain hygiene requirements. They need to have a drying rack for dishes, a rubbish pit, a household latrine, a device that holds water for washing hands, and a place for safe water storage.

“Keeping water safe is of utmost importance; it has to be safe when you get it and it has to be safe when you store it,” Wood said.

Another important point is that the family’s animals must be contained at night.

In many areas, cows, sheep, goats and chickens are allowed to meander freely, which also creates waste where children and adults walk.

While much of this seems second nature, it’s just different in underdeveloped countries, Wood said.

“These are remote villages we work in; they practice open defecation, they go behind a bush,” Wood said. “You’ve got to start from the beginning.”

“We talk about disease pathways and how do you stop that,” Wood said. “You have to cover fecal matter so flies can’t land on it – it’s very basic knowledge, but basic knowledge saves lives over there.

Picking up a wooden stick she brought home, Wood explains that the stick is an Ethiopian toothpick.

“They have no idea what a brush toothbrush looks like,” Wood said.

When they enter a community, the LifeWater teams meet with the elders or whoever may be in charge.

“You’ve got to win them over, the elder, the school officials,” Wood said. “We’re received very well. Being that it’s a faith-based organization, all of the employees (of LifeWater) are Christian, and some of the school officials are Muslim, but we’ve never had a problem.”

Working with people in the southern part of Ethiopia, Wood said she was never concerned about their safety.

“The people of Ethiopia are beautiful people, and it wasn’t difficult to get the elders to say OK,” Wood said. “They want to make a difference in their countries.”

Her team stayed in a hotel in the town of [Asosa], which she said was “a nice little town” with shops and restaurants. The town had been occupied by Italians during World War II so there were even a few Italian restaurants, Wood said.

The team did drink only bottled water and used bottled water to brush their teeth, too. They were also careful about where they ate, and what they ate. Fresh salads were absolutely out, and fruit was OK only if it could be peeled, like a banana or a mango.

One of the favorite dishes of the Ethiopian people consists of raw meat.

“We didn’t eat that,” Wood said.

Wood’s trips with LifeWater generally last from 10 days to two and a half weeks, depending on the training that has to be done.

“We were a team of four, and we were with the health promoters,” Wood said. “They taught the field office staff and they, in turn, will teach others; it’s kind of a ripple effect.”

While Wood is a nurse, she said the organization welcomes volunteers from all walks of life.

“As long as you have the desire and the faith to do it, you can be a volunteer,” Wood said. “I feel I’ve been called to do it. I think everybody knows when they’ve been called. It’s been a faith-strengthening endeavor for me. But it’s not about me at all; it’s about service and trying to make the world a better place.”

Source: Lebanon Daily News
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