There was a saying among the neighboring villages: “Don’t marry a man from Satawm—or you’ll be carrying water the rest of your life.” That’s because Satawm’s residents, all slash-and-burn subsistence farmers, were never assisted by any international development organizations—as were residents of many neighboring villages—with funding for water reservoirs and piping to bring water to their village. From Satawm’s founding in 1860, wives had been carrying water up steep mountain slopes for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing, day after day. It was enough to incline eligible bachelorettes in the region to dodge the eyes of Satawm’s bachelors.
In 1966, an earthquake all but dried up Satawm’s original spring. Another seasonal water source, used afterwards, often produced insufficient and dirty water. So Satawm’s elders did their best to attract help from UNICEF, the UNDP, and several international Christian organizations. In the process they killed quite a few bulls and pigs to “wine and dine” their representatives. But due to changing political winds, funding challenges, and broken promises, they met with only disappointment.
Two years ago, news reached Satawm that Heaven’s Family was helping other Chin State villages with development projects, and so two village elders made a day’s journey to meet me when I was in Myanmar. I was a little surprised to learn that the water source they wanted to tap was twelve miles from their village, thus requiring funding for twelve miles of plastic pipe. So I questioned them extensively about their ability to repay a potential loan, as well as the spiritual state of Satawm’s residents.
I learned that Presbyterian missionaries from India first brought the gospel to Satawm in 1917, when the residents were sacrificing pigs to spirits in the surrounding mountain forests. Just about everyone in Satawm turned to Jesus then, and today, most all of the 300 residents attend one of two village churches, Baptist and Evangelical Methodist.
The Satawm elders were a little surprised to learn that Heaven’s Family was offering loans instead of grants. They returned to their village, however, to inform the rest of the village and conduct a vote on my offer. I suspect that the water-carrying wives and single young men didn’t deliberate long. In the end, everyone agreed to take a group loan of $9,500. Unlimited running water in the village would help them to prosper.
The work started in April of 2012. Because their water source was twelve miles away, the village men had to be away for weeks at a time, carrying, laying and securing the plastic pipe on a zigzag route to avoid a few mountains that stood in the way. Months later, when they opened the valve at the source reservoir, pipe and joints miles away burst due to a miscalculation in water pressure that built up inside the pipe along its length. Stronger pipe and joints had to be imported from India. But in the end, perseverance prevailed. Eventually, all 64 humble homes in Satawm had private faucets.
When I visited Satawm last December to inspect the completed project, I stopped a volleyball game in progress to request a photo shoot of all the eligible unmarried men. Thirteen young guys lined up, and it was no problem to get them to smile when I reminded them that their marital eligibility had been upgraded due to a 12-mile water pipe. All thanks to contributions to Heaven’s Family’s Micro-Loan Fund.