In 2003, I dropped out of college, laced up my hiking boots and found myself wandering the Himalaya of Southern China. My assignment? Trek across the mountains of Yunnan, going village to village to find and map a relatively unknown minority people group called the Nosu. The Nosu were subsistence farmers, eking a living out of the mountainsides, living well below the poverty line but somehow making it. I was 19 years old, and with every step I took and every new village I encountered, my worldview seemed to expand.
We carried no meals, traveled light, hiked until we encountered a new village, and slept wherever we were invited. This usually meant staying up late into the night, talking, laughing and connecting with Nosu people, ending up asleep curled up on the dirt floor by the dying embers of the fire. This life the Nosu lived was such a stark contrast from anything I had known all my life in middle-America. I saw how the Nosu lived. I ate what they ate and I slept where they slept. I observed first-hand the struggle of a dignified people mired in poverty. And I was deeply changed.
One night in particular was a crisp, clear night. I lay on the ground after the last embers of the fire had gone out, and looked up through the roof slats to see the stars peeking through. Those stars were the same ones all of my friends back home looked at each night. In fact, they were the same ones that everyone was looking at from their back porches or dirt stoops all over the world. I remember thinking that each one of us looks up to see the same sky; in the same way, we all have the same deep, intrinsic value. We all live the human experience, and we all struggle but in different ways. And no one chooses the situation they are born into. Just like I didn’t choose to be born into relative opulence in the United States, the Nosu didn’t choose to be born on a mountainside to poor, potato-farming parents.
Fast forward a few years – the seed had been planted, and ignited with big dreams of changing the world, I had gone back to school and earned my master’s degree in Engineering for Developing Communities. I learned all about international development work, the silent wreckage that so many good-intentioned organizations leave in their wake after they finished ‘helping’ people, about Africa being littered with broken wells and abandoned boreholes, and the failure of 60 years of hardware-based approaches to really empower and help people. I had become well versed in development discourse, gained more experience working in Central America, and even had a few big, innovative ideas that I thought could change things.
With a baby on the way, however, a family to support, and a mountain of student loans to pay off, I started working nine-to-five as a Water Resources Engineer. Each day at the office, as I punched away at my computer trying to minimize distribution system water loss or snapped out lines in AutoCAD, a gnawing feeling grew inside me. I knew this wasn’t where I was meant to be. The feeling worsened week after week, month after month, until I knew I had to make a change. With no promise of dependable income, a big dream and a lot of big ideas, I made the change. I jumped.
I finished the big water loss project I was in charge of, put in my notice, and I quit.
I remember the morning I walked out of the office for the last time. It was snowing, and my footprints tracked me all the way from the office to the car, almost showing me the way back should I desire to take it. I wrote down that day the following:
“I am terrified, but confident. Confident in the vision, that this is what I was made to pursue, and that, God-willing, we can make it happen.”
I knew that morning, just like I do today, that I had placed myself exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m terrified, but fully alive, knowing that this is what I was made to do. Seeking to live a better story always seems to come along with taking some big risks.
Second Mile Water was born out of the desire to positively shift the paradigm of what it means to do water, sanitation and hygiene development work. With accountability at every level, innovative programs, and a literal Mob of people supporting us, we hope to do just that. We strive to make a real and permanent difference in the life of one person at a time – people such as Mariela, to the left – through providing them the opportunity to access improved water and sanitation. In the process, we’re also helping people here live a better story through becoming a part of a bigger adventure with their lives.
We aren’t interested in simply going the first mile to see people gain access to clean water and adequate sanitation. We don’t go village-to-village, region-to-region sinking boreholes and taking photos like we’ve just solved a problem – we go the Second Mile to ensure they have access to clean water and proper sanitation forever.
There’s a verse in the Bible – it’s in the book of Matthew, and in it Jesus tells his followers that if someone compels them to walk with them one mile, walk with them two. He tells them to go the second mile. I am compelled. I was compelled the first time I set foot in a Nosu home. We, as Second Mile Water, are compelled. We are driven and moving forward because we know there is a better way to engage in communities and effect long-term change. And we won’t stop until we’ve gone the second mile with each community we work with.
Travis Ramos, Founder & CEO