“My mind is about to explode!” said Samuel Ojok, smiling widely as he scanned the hotel’s tall glass walls and blown-glass chandeliers with wonder. A bit chilled by the refrigerated indoor air, he was a long way from his Ntungamo, Uganda, home. He was even farther from the war-torn Gulu of his youth, where he lost two sisters and an aunt to cholera.
It was Sam’s first time outside of Uganda, and he was on his way to address an audience of 1,300 in Houston’s biggest ballroom. We were spellbound when Sam took the stage at Living Water’s 2012 Gala, Immersed, to share his journey from not even knowing the name of the disease that killed his sisters to organizing entire communities to plan and locally sustain their own water programs.
Under Sam’s direction, some of the world’s poorest people finance their own maintenance programs. He is brilliant at inspiring and empowering his fellow Ugandans to manage their water systems. He and the Community Based Organizations (CBOs) he forms and works with have been so successful that the local government has handed two of their water points over to the CBOs to manage. There was such dignity in his belief in his fellow Ugandans.
Sam’s story, along with Jairo Salazar’s from Nicaragua and Susan John’s from India, helped Living Water International raise $2.5 million at Immersed, our most successful gala to date.
“The experience was a little overwhelming!” Sam said nearly a year later. “When I was finished, Jairo was so happy for me, and we rejoiced.”
Everything about the United States was otherworldly to Sam. “This thing of road toll—this is amazing!” he marveled. “And nobody was walking. I didn’t know there was a place on earth where nobody was walking!”
I asked what else made an impression on him. “The 24th floor up,” he said, “that was the highest I have ever gone to sleep. And the bed was very comfortable. I wanted to try so many foods I cannot remember their names. I remember something called ‘fish tacos’ and ‘crab cake.’”
Speaking nearly a year later, he remembered that the woman who showed him around at the Bible Museum was named Dianne. He had never learned that dinosaurs once existed until he saw an exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. He visited NASA and saw how people traveled in outer space—outer space! But there was something else at NASA that impressed him even more than space travel: the water fountain.
“I was surprised your water is so well treated,” Sam reminisced from Uganda via Skype. “I remember you demonstrating how you could drink water from the kitchen sink or the public fountain.” Kids in his world don’t dream of being an astronaut when they grow up—they dream of having things like clean drinking water.
“The first thing I did when I got back was I told everyone what a struggle people go through to raise money for our work. I have seen your sacrifice, and that makes us work harder to make sure our interventions are sustainable. If someone gives even $5 we will use it to bring lasting impact even 20 years from now. We are more deliberate and devoted than ever now.”
So are we, Sam. Thank you for your inspiration.