Father Rob Esdaile is parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Thames Ditton, Surrey. For our Lent 2012 Appeal he raised over £2,000 by living on ten litres of water a day for a week. Here is his update on how the challenge went, and how the experience changed him.
Our Lent Appeal aims to bring clean water to people living in poverty. Donate here
Four years ago…
Back in 2012, when talking to members of the parish Justice & Peace group someone produced details of a leaflet inviting CAFOD supporters to live for 24 hours on 10 litres of water, which is all that many people in developing countries have access to for all their needs.
“Why don’t I do it for a week and get some sponsorship?” I said, without further thought. “Why not use a bucket on a rope raised up to the choir loft as the money comes in?” suggested another parishioner. “And how about walking a mile every day from a different home in the parish, carrying your daily supply?” someone else chipped in.
Raising eyebrows, and money!
So it was that every day for a week I timed my water walk (with a five-litre plastic bottle hanging from each arm) to coincide with the ‘school run’, and arrived back at the church (next to our primary school) as 400 young children were arriving – causing much excitement! One odd feature was the solicitous enquiries after the health effects of this drastic action which I began to receive after Sunday mass this week. It turned out that the local paper had managed to give the impression that the only thing that was going to pass my lips in the course of the week was 70 litres of water! I’m sure that this misinformation encouraged donations, even if it was not deliberate deception on my part.
My main memory of the week (apart from the publicity) is how complicated life becomes. Essentially, any clean water has to be reused as it gets degraded. For instance, if it’s been used to wash vegetables, it’s probably clean enough to wash dishes. And after that it gets poured into a bucket for one more use, together with the five litres – garnered from two days’ water collections – which I used to wash some shirts. All of this (decidedly grey!) water then became the daily toilet flush that I allowed myself. (A typical cistern uses 5-10 litres in one flush.) I discovered that you really can wash very effectively in one litre of water – the power-shower being definitely out of bounds! – and you can brush your teeth without reference to water at all, except for a final rinse.
A long-term change
Having raised £2,100 in the course of the week, I was pleased to revert to normal living, but it did change me. I still only shower every other day, washing at a sink in between times (and I hope without any negative consequences for my cleanliness). I still have the bright-red bucket from our fundraising display – a bit battered now; and it stands in this shower on the days when I wash my hair to catch the water wasted while the shower runs hot and to catch whatever cascades off my middle-aged body during my ablutions. At other times it is used to carry my grey water (washing-up water, principally) from kitchen to toilet, where it is tipped into the cistern after the previous flush. And, since I have the good fortune most of the time not to share my bathroom with anyone, the toilet only gets flushed when it needs to be in the interests of hygiene, not every time I spend a penny. I reckon I probably save about 20-30 litres a day by the combination of these measures. That means I also save the electricity used to pump the water and the energy expended on purifying it for human consumption. And, perhaps most importantly, I remind myself how others live and what it is I take for granted, the great gift of water which is the basis for life.
Some would think all this excessive or eccentric. I prefer to think of it as living reverently. As Pope Francis has reminded us, in Laudato Si’:
Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. (LS n.222)
Watch Father Rob’s video diary from his 2012 challenge