I was on assignment for CWS in West Timor, Indonesia. The team and I had traveled a long way on our first day to visit a village and the surrounding sub hamlets. Our focus was the Timor Zero Hunger project and chicken vaccinations.
When we were in the village we had to drive across a massive river bed that a recent drought had dried out. There were small pockets of water – nothing deep, but enough for 1-2 people to wash dishes or themselves. The river will fill in a matter of hours, but that won’t happen for months. I saw kids running through the river bed jumping on rocks, following tiny streams of water they could splash in; streams being 1-2” wide trickles of water movement. This was not water that could be used to wash anything or any one or gathered to bring back to a village, but rather a hint of what used to flow in this space.
As we drove from the first sub hamlet to the second and then on to the third, we met a group of women. There were four of them and they were all carrying water containers. They walked from their village to an unprotected water well twice a day, once in the morning and once later in the afternoon. There was an older woman, a young girl, about 10, and two younger kiddos, maybe six and eight. The well was two hours from their village. They brought about eight containers and each of them would carry two jugs of water back to their home. The water was not clean as the well did not have a cover. Debris and other things fall into this well, but it’s what they use when the river dries up.
A few days later, we visited Nomuke village to see their newly-protected well. CWS facilitated the protection of the well by providing wire, nails, rope, a pulley system, portland cement and a roof. It was located at Bestobe School where the headmaster, Mr. Marthen Luther Boimau, and his students are in charge of maintaining the well. We spoke to the headmaster at length that the children enjoyed caring for the well and it taught them responsibility. We also spoke about local droughts, flooding and erosion, all of which occur during rainy season and have been getting worse in recent years. The school is the town’s meeting place for when everyone is required to evacuate their homes.
When we got in the car to drive towards the river it occurred to me, I haven’t flown the drone yet and the team was really interested in seeing it in action. It occurred to me that I could help these villagers find pockets of water. I asked if we could cross the river and stop in the middle so I could fly along its path. I had only ever used my drone for aerial photography and videography, but that day it served a more practical, helpful purpose. If we could find where the water was, we could direct the villagers where to walk. Any of the nearby water streams were being used and those were minimal at best, but as I flew farther I could see more pockets. These were only being used by one or two people. Success!
For me, a drone is another piece of equipment in my arsenal of photography gear. My 16-35mm has never saved a life, my 85mm has never ended hunger, but that day I got to use a tool in my kit to find water for a village. It may not have saved a life, but it might have changed one (hopefully many!).
This further proves how we as a society have strengths and we must use them, think outside the box, and figure out how we can solve our world’s greatest issues.
Let’s find more water, together.
*Ryan Shanley is a humanitarian photographer who recently visited several CWS programs in Asia. This blog is part of a series of reflections on her trip. Follow Ryan on Instagram @ShanleyStudio or through her website.