HN 24 | The Power of Running Water

No one expected that Peg Peters—the five-year-old Peg Peters, kicking a soccer ball around with Ethiopian neighborhood kids and eating injera with his hands—would one day be raising millions of dollars of support for Ethiopia alongside thousands of volunteers through the Run for Water campaign.

Peg’s connection with Ethiopia began with his earliest memories. He was a child to Canadian expats there, but in 1974, a violent coup shook the country. All expats were forced to evacuate and the Peters family had six days to leave the country or face imprisonment. “The Canadian embassy helped us get home,” Peg explains.

Run for Water director Peg Peters collects well water with a local girl in Sasiga.

Fast forward three decades, and Peg stepped off the airplane in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was the first time being back in the country since his childhood evacuation. “We landed in Addis, and the smell of burning charcoal and berbere spices… all the emotions came back and I remembered. Something came full circle for me.”

This time, Peg was back with a plan to help Ethiopians end poverty in their communities. The Run for Water campaign would help fund water and sanitation projects in various regions in Ethiopia. First started in Abbotsford, then spread to Calgary, the race hosted runners who would also fundraise for the water projects in Ethiopia. Over the past 12 years, Run for Water has brought in over $3,000,000 of support with the help of around 25,000 runners.

The project was started in 2008, co-founded by Peg Peters and Ken Baerg. The campaign also held personal significance for Ken. Both Ken and Peg have daughters. As parents, they couldn’t believe the plight of Ethiopian girls who spend their childhood hauling dirty water. Hours each day, not in school, not playing, not exploring their talents.

“Ken is big, big, big on social justice! It drives him to advocate for others. He doesn’t like seeing the little guy taken advantage of—whether here in Canada, or in Ethiopia!” Peg says. Since co-founding Run for Water, Ken has been a key leader, serving on the board, even as board chair, for many years.

The Run for Water campaign evolved as it grew. At its beginnings, a staff made up entirely of volunteers ran the event. As the number of participants increased, volunteers no longer had capacity to run it alone. The board asked Peg to step up as director in 2014. After much deliberation, Peg agreed to come on as the cause's first official staff.

In 2015, Run for Water officially began its partnership with Food for the Hungry, created through personal connections between Peg Peters and FH President Shawn Plummer. FH is partnered with nine communities in Ethiopia, so the projects funded by the Run for Water campaign easily integrated into the development programs that were already active. What struck Peg most was the quality of staff FH has working in the community. He comments, “They get it and they empower Ethiopians to help their own people. It’s not Canadians with an agenda telling Ethiopians what to do - it’s local people helping their neighbours.”

During a recent trip to Ethiopia with Shawn, Peg experienced several significant moments. He describes one instance where an eight-year-old girl’s story impacted him deeply. “Prior to the well being constructed, she would go every day with her mother to get water from the local stream. She took us to the stream, a short hike away.”

The water was dirty but boiling it would take too much time and energy. “So, they drank the dirty water and dealt with the chronic sickness and missing school,” Peg continues. “But this well changed everything. I remember her telling me, ‘I now have time to play, to go to school, to help my mom, to enjoy life with a healthy family!’ I saw the cascade effects clean water has on a person’s day-to-day life, particularly a girl!  I mean, think about it, what if someone just magically gave you an extra four hours in your day?!”

A girl in Sasiga enjoys the convenience that a well brings. She no longer needs to hike to a creek for dirty water. She tells Peg Peters: "I now have time to play, to go to school, to help my mom!"

Food for the Hungry has partnered with leaders in the Sasiga region of Ethiopia since 2016. As the partnership has progressed, illness has dwindled and hundreds of children are enrolling in school. “FH is all about graduating communities out of poverty. That takes a few years. But we couldn’t do it without something as rudimentary as clean water,” explains Shawn Plummer. Thanks to the partnership between the Run for Water campaign, Food for the Hungry, and leaders in Sasiga, the community is beginning to thrive.

Yet another meaningful moment emerged when Peg and Shawn visited wells in Sasiga dedicated to Letisha Reimer. Passionate about helping others, Letisha was an Abbotsford student tragically killed in a random and brutal school stabbing. She was a strong supporter and participant in Run for Water.

In response to the tragedy, FH staff in Ethiopia honoured her memory with a plaque. Peg describes the impact this gesture had on Letisha’s parents: “Their biggest fear was that people would forget. You go through a tragedy but then in two months everyone else moves on. I could tell [them] ‘your daughter’s legacy is living on in places where you can’t even imagine its impact!’ An entire community on the other side of the world will remember Letisha.”

The Run for Water campaign is not significant just because it builds wells. Rather, it matters because with each step of the journey and with each evolution of the program, things have come full circle in meaningful ways. The Run for Water campaign continues this year, and this story of significance flows on.

Written by Colton Martin




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Food for the Hungry: HN 24 | The Power of Running Water
HN 24 | The Power of Running Water
Food for the Hungry
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