On a hot day, nothing cools down a little boy like playing in cool water straight out of the tap. We have a weensy inflatable pool that our boys splash their toys in. We transport water from the driveway into the yard via the red mop bucket. My 3 year old is very proud to do this task independently.
I let him fill it with about a 1.5 quarts. I watched as he struggled to find the right way to hold the handle so the bucket wouldn’t hit against his legs and splash everywhere. It was awkward and somewhat heavy. He stumbled ocassionally across the 50 feet to where he left his little pool. This is one of those little tasks we give preschoolers to help them build a sense of responsibility and feel as though they are contributing. In the third world, little boys and girls carry buckets of water too, but it’s key to survival.
As I watched him manage the bucket that wasn’t even a quarter full, and 50 feet being of no distance at all, I pictured children in Africa lugging pails that are litres full across 2km, 5km, 10km! From my research on World Vision, most children my oldest’s age are not yet laden with the responsibility of fetching water, but only by a few years.
I tried to envision the Mom waiting in their little home. I could picture her surrounded by other younger children, waiting for the water so she can do things like cook or maybe some washing? For whatever tasks she may need the water, is she impatient for their return? Is she worried that water might spill and be lost on the way? Is she fretting over what harm may come to her children as they journey alone?
As I sit in a comfortable chair on the deck in the shade, watching my son play intermittently between flipping around on my smart phone, it’s an impossible situation to imagine personally. I would be terrified to let my boys walk for hours alone lugging a heavy pail of water.
By the third trip back to the tap, I had that sick feeling. You know the one you get in the pit of your stomach when you realize how privileged you are? My boy was fetching clean water from a tap in our home and dumping it on the lawn. The water isn’t free. We pay for it. But I couldn’t avoid the evidence of waste.
My son begrudgingly returned to the backyard as I tried to explain that there were other children who didn’t have clean water to drink and had to walk so far to get what water they could find. I want to instill a sense of gratitude and responsibility in my children that I freely admit I do not naturally have.
What’s in a red bucket? In our neighbourhood in Canada? A game. Fun. A learning opportunity. A privilege.
In a third world country in another land? A chore. A burden. Survival. A necessity.