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  • Miriam Diaz-Gilbert

Desperately Seeking Water: Help Ethiopian Orphans

UPDATE: March 6, 2018

A new well springs water and joy for the children and villagers.

Photo Courtesy: Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd

Since the blog post below and my interview with Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd was originally published on Dec 5, 2017, 5 wells have been built in Ethiopia. A well has been built in Sassi, Gola, and Adigrat, and 2 wells have been built in Zalambessa thanks to generous benefactors and giving hearts. The Religious Teachers Filippini, children, and villagers are grateful to all who read the post and donated. The need to bring clean water to these communities and orphaned children continues. If wish to donate, please see how at the end of this post.

"We are trying to figure out what to do. The people are without water. They have to walk five kilometers to get water then carry it up the mountain. It’s really hard. The kids do it too. They follow the animals to where they drink. They get sick. They get typhoid," says Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd. The nuns are trying to built a new well so they, the children, and the villagers of Adigrat, Gola, Sassi, and Zalambessa in Ethiopia can have access to clean water.

I met Sr. Mary Beth a few years ago. She is known as the "running nun." I invited her to speak to my students when I was an adjunct professor of theology at Neumann University. She shared the mission of the Religious Teachers Filippini and the needs of the orphan children they care for through out the world.

To help out, every week my students brought their loose change to class, from pennies to a couple of dollars worth of change, and deposited it in an empty hydration bottle of mine. At the end of each semester, we counted the precious coins and sent a check to the Religious Teachers Filippini. In Ethiopia, a dollar can buy 40 rolls of bread.

Sr. Mary Beth with a fellow runner at an ultra event

in Grand Teton to raise money

Photo courtesy: Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd


Sr. Mary Beth describes a typical day for the nuns and the orphans at St. Lucy Convent in Adigrat. “The sisters get one bucket of water each. The older girls, the teenagers, get a bucket of water. That’s their bucket of water for the day. About a gallon of water. They can wash with it, drink it, do whatever they want with it but they only get one bucket of water a day. That sounds like a lot of water but to re-flush the toilet you sometimes need 3 or 5 gallons of water.”

The nuns help the little children get washed with the water they have. On some days they can’t get washed. They don’t wash their hair often because there is no water to do that. They have stopped washing clothes because there isn’t enough water.


The lack of water is profoundly affecting the children, most of whom are orphans and running child-headed households in Adigrat, Gola, Sassi, and Zalambessa. Their parents have died from AIDS. The nuns also care for these children. The children go to the them for food and water.

Child-headed household in Zalambessa

Photo courtesy: Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd

School and access to education also suffers. Sr. Mary Beth says, "Many of the children walk to school. It takes them an hour or two to walk to school and many of them won’t come because they don’t have water and they’re dehydrated. They are too exhausted. They can’t make the trip down the mountain to get to school. Some of them don’t come to school because they don’t have enough water. The older children spend their time going to collect water for their brothers and sisters. The older ones will make that sacrifice. They’ll be looking all day to get a bucket of water or whatever they can get for their family. That’s a heartbreak. Of course, there are some public places in town where they can fill up their bucket. People go there, wait in line, then they carry the bucket back wherever they live. For a child to carry water is very heavy."

A Religious Teacher Filippini nun and two orphans at St. Lucy Convent

fill a drum with well water.

Photo courtesy: Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd

Education past fourth grade is very challenging. Sr. Mary Beth adds, "To go to school beyond fourth grade the children have to walk another five kilometers to Adigrat. They have to walk another four miles from Gola to Adigrat to get to our school in the orphanage."


Today they need food AND water. The orphans and the nuns who care for them, and the village households headed by 70, 000 orphans are in urgent need of clean water. There are 32 girls in the orphanage and 700 children in the school, They all seek water and food from the Religious Teachers Filippini.

The well in Adigrat is not ample and reaching its end. "We have a well on our property that we use for the children but it’s not sufficient enough for the 700 kids in the school. It’s a small orphanage but we serve child-headed households. They’re kids with no mother or father. They have no source of water so they come to us for water, too. There are many people depending on the sisters for water."


American writer Louis L'Amour wrote, "Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on." As a writer, I can relate to this quote. As a runner, without water I will suffer dehydration. Signs of dehydration include fatigue, muscle spasms, fainting, confusion, convulsions, shock, and even death. However, too much water can lead to hyponatremia and cause vomiting, seizures, coma, and death.

I experienced dehydration once - during a marathon. At mile 23, I became disoriented. My legs were wobbly. My arms dangled aimlessly. I felt like Raggedy Ann. I slurred my speech. Luckily, my family was not far from me. A race volunteer came to my aid right before I almost collapsed. She helped me to sip Gatorade diluted in water. As soon as I ingested it, I was recharged. I made it to the finish. I can't imagine the daily struggle for water, the thirst, and the debilitating and life-threatening affects of dehydration and drinking contaminated water that these children endure. These children have no faucet to turn on from which water will flow.


How can we, runners and non-runners, help? Sr. Mary Beth will tell you, "Pray as you run so we can figure this out. And then money is always good. Sometimes we use money just to buy water. There are water trucks. We pay water trucks to come and that helps a lot." But the nuns are not able to drill new wells because of the expense of hiring an engineer and the drilling. Each well costs between $13,000 to $20,000, depending how far they have to dig down. In the meantime, when they are able to pay for it, the nuns buy water from a water truck. The cost - $500.

To help bring clean water and a life-saving well to these children, in the spirit of the season, and always, you can donate as little as a $1. Collect your loose change. Dig for coins in your sofas cushions, desk drawers, and between the seats in your car. Add it up, match it, and donate the amount online here on the Religious Teachers Filippini website using PayPal.

Today the need for this life necessity and what we take for granted - water - is so much greater in the lives of these beautiful orphans. Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, once wrote, "Do small things with great love."


When Sr. Mary Beth spoke to my class, I asked how else we can help. I never expected her response. She said, "The children have no shoes. They could use flip flops to walk on the hot rocks and roads." Something as simple as flip flops. I went to the dollar store and purchased over 70 flip flops in all sizes and shipped them to St. Lucy Convent in Adigrat. A few months later, I received several beautiful thank you photos including this one.

Children sporting their flip flops.

Photo courtesy: the children

To learn more about Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd, the ministry of the Religious Teachers Filippini, and their devotion to caring for orphans through the world, watch Sister Mary Beth - Running Nun - a documentary.

Her book - AIDS Orphans Rising: What You Should Know and What You Can Do To Help Them Succeed - is available for purchase. 100% of all profits go to help child-headed households in Ethiopia.

To donate, click here. You can also send a personal check. Your donation is tax-deductible.

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