It was a two-kilometre “water walk” that changed Marissa Druken’s life.
She was 12,000 kilometres from her Barrie home, visiting Arusha, Tanzania and walking alongside a group of women who make the trek in blazing heat, through valleys and rivers, up to 12 times each day to supply their remote village with drinking water.
“It’s really not easy,” Marissa said of the experience. “It was a tough walk and I think it is incredible that the women do it every day, along with all the other responsibilities they have.
“I wanted people to see and understand what they do.”
Marissa left for Tanzania to help build a school, expecting her volunteer work would change lives.
She was right about that, but she says she didn’t realize exactly who would be impacted.
“I went over there with the mindset that I was going to change their lives, and they ended up changing mine,”she said
“I really want to thank them for what they did for me.”
Students worked alongside villagers to dig the foundation and begin building the school.
“They told us that we were the first ever white people they had seen,” Marissa said.
“The children would look at us and giggle.”
Women worked on the construction site dressed in skirts, tank tops and flip flops or bare feet. Village elders came to lift the heavy bricks.
There was a traditional song and dance to welcome the Canadians and celebrations throughout the visit.
Back home in Barrie, Marissa was inspired to create her own daily water walk to raise money that could help build a much-need well in the tiny remote Tanzanian village.
Since the end of October, she has carried a 43-pound jug of water around school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, along with her textbooks and other belongings.
A strap across her forhead and the water jug on her back remind her of the women she connected with so far away.
“The strap they use is actually homemade from a plant root,” she said.
“I remember trying it on for the first time and hearing the moms laughing at us,” she said.
As the school semester wraps up, so does the fundraising effort – with close to $5,000 heading to the struggling African village.
A teacher from St. Joseph's keeps in contact with the local priest who says a year -ong drought has made retrieving water for the village more difficult than ever.
Marissa trusts the donation and the school that she and her fellow students helped to build in Tanzania will have a lasting impact.
“It was really sad on the last day when we were trying to say goodbye for the last time,” she remembered.
“It’s not like I can Facebook them or text them, so they are only in my memories and my pictures.”