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The Boy Who Was Bullied Because of a Lack of Water

Imagine living without running water. Could you survive a day, a week, or even a month? How about 19 years?

bullied for a lack of water

Raising a child without running water

Until recently, 13-year-old Diego from Colombia has never known what it’s like to have running water at home. The water supply was cut off before he was born due to the bills not being paid. The first missed payment turned into a spiral of debt, making it impossible for the family to fight their way out.

With no water supply of their own, Diego's mum Luz was forced to go door to door with a pot and a bottle asking her neighbours for water.

I felt really bad when people told me to send Diego to work. I didn’t [have the opportunity to] study, but I want for my son a better future. When people said that, I just continued on my way, asking at another home. Asking for water each day was hard. There was just one kind woman who, during the 19 years that we had no water, provided me with water.

On the days help wasn’t offered, Diego faced humiliation because he was unable to wash.

“One day, when I was in year four of primary school, my teacher told me I couldn’t go into the classroom because I smelt bad. He said I could come back into school when I was clean,” recalls Diego.

For Luz, this was heart-breaking. “I tried to have the bottle of water for Diego to bathe in, but it wasn’t always possible. It was sad and uncomfortable not to have water and to have to spend several days without taking a shower. I felt so sad when Diego’s teacher did not accept him at school because he was not clean.”

Even in the classroom, Diego felt isolated and alone. His classmates didn’t want to spend time with him and he was bullied because of his bad smell and weight gain due to malnutrition. This rejection caused Diego to become aggressive and he would often get into fights. His school performance suffered and he was forced to repeat year four.

The difference a sponsor makes

While the teachers at school turned their backs, there was one place Diego always felt accepted. When he stepped through the gates of his Compassion project he knew he had a loving child sponsor and dedicated staff who were always there for him.

Compassion in Colombia

In Colombia, children like Diego typically attend their church-based project on a Saturday, or before or after school. Thanks to the support of his sponsor, Diego is known, loved and protected at his project. So, when his behaviour changed, the project staff were there and stepped into help.

“Diego was nine-years-old when he started to have bad performance at school,” says Adriana, the project director. “He was aggressive and used to fight with the other children. I remember telling the pastor, ‘We cannot leave him alone.’ Through RESPOND, we provided Diego and his family with counselling because he was suffering with depression.”

As well as building up his self-esteem, the staff invited Diego to take showers at the project and encouraged him to join the football team to help improve his relationships with others.

I really like the football classes at the project. During this class we pray, and then we train to be better players. I have participated in some competitions and the last year we were champions. The tutors help me with my homework, and they love me. I really like to attend the project, even if I am sick. On a scale of one to 10, going to the project is a 12!

The project was also able to address Diego’s malnutrition by providing nutritious meals and food baskets for the family. As Adriana explains, “I went to the supermarket and bought the healthy food for Diego: fruits, vegetables, meat and other things that he needs. Before the intervention, we invited the family to have lunch at the project Monday through to Friday, and they came to eat at the project for some months.”

Despite this support Diego’s home still had no running water.

The first shower for 19 years

Once more the project stepped in and Liliana, Diego’s tutor, contacted the water company. She arranged for the family to begin paying back the debt in instalments. They were given a pre-payment card so they could get water and pay off a small amount of the debt each time.

running water in Colombia

A few weeks later, Diego’s home received water after 19 years of waiting. Diego was the first to take a shower, “I was so happy when I saw the water. I took a shower and I will take a shower every day.”

Diego’s life has completely changed thanks to this intervention and child sponsorship. He is now able to brush his teeth, wear clean clothes, drink water at his home and wash. These are daily actions we take for granted, but for Diego, he’s waited his whole life to receive.

“I used to ask God to provide water for us,” says Socorro, Diego’s aunt. “To have water is to be rich. Nothing can replace water. Every time that I open the faucet to drink water, I thank God. It’s so good that Diego is part of the project.”

Discover more about how child sponsorship works

WORDS : Lina Marcela Alarcon, Emily Johnstone

PHOTOS : Lina Marcela Alarcon

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