From West Africa to West Michigan, family walks for clean water

HUDSONVILLE, Mich.– When siblings Abraham and Jacey Rappuhn were little, they were living in Liberia and had to fight for their lives every day. They didn’t have to imagine a day without water, because they were living it.

On Sunday, they gave people an idea of what it’s like to go without clean water, hoping it makes a difference for the 780 million people in the world who don’t have access to clean water.

“The kids, like 5-year-olds have to do this every day,” says 15-year-old Abraham.

As orphans in Liberia, walking several miles per day to get muddy water was a reality for Abraham and Jacey.

“We walked for water and the water there that we had was dirty but that’s all we had there,” says Abraham.

Seven years ago, when Abraham was 8 years old and Jacey was 5 years old, they were adopted by the Rappuhn family in West Michigan. They moved from Nimba County, Liberia to Hudsonville, Michigan. They gained parents, two new siblings and access to clean water.

Abraham remembers what it was like to suddenly be able to get clean water from a kitchen sink.

“Just like get this glass of water, be like, ‘Oh my word, this is so clear!’ And it tastes cold, too because the water we had there was warm and brown,” says Abraham.

Abraham and Jacey love their life in Michigan but know that back in Liberia are three of their siblings who were too old to be adopted. They had a fourth sibling, Anthony, who died three years ago because he didn’t have access to clean water.

It started with a simple cut on his leg.

“Basically the cut became septic on his leg and it ended up taking his life,” says Tammy Rappuhn, Abraham and Jacey’s mother. “The sepsis ended up killing him.”

Tammy says she and her husband did what they could to send Anthony money to go to a hospital but there wasn’t much they could do.

“Something that we can fix so simply here is just not available to them there, it’s just, it’s gut-wrenching to think that it’s a cut on your leg and you’re gonna die from it,” says Tammy. “That’s just wrong.”

The heartbreak of Anthony’s death was part of what motivated the Rappuhn family to work with a group called 20 Liters, which provides water filtration systems to villages in Rwanda, where like Liberia, clean water is scarce.

The group held a 2-mile “Walk for Water” on Sunday where they encouraged people to carry sandbags, which symbolize the weight of a baby.

“A lot of the women who are the ones, and the children are the ones who do the walking,” says Tammy. “And so you don’t leave your baby at home, you tie your baby on your back.”

Walkers also carried 20-liter jugs that they filled with water from a pond halfway through the walk.

“We’re trying to teach people what it’s like,” says Tammy. “This is what people have to do every day even if you have a water filtration system, you still have to go somewhere to get your water.”

Tammy says being Abraham and Jacey’s mom has enriched her life. She says she thinks they have taught her more about life than she could ever teach them.

The added challenges of Sunday’s walk were not meant to ask for pity, just perspective, encouraging others to imagine life without excess or an abundance of material things and consider what’s truly important in life. This is a lesson Tammy says she learned from her kids.

“They understand that being happy doesn’t have anything to do with how much you have or whether you have enough food or clean water or anything like that. It comes from inside,” says Tammy. “The joy that’s in them doesn’t come from stuff.”

In the years that the Rappuhns have volunteered for 20 Liters, they’ve raised over $25,000.

For more about 20 Liters and to learn how you can get involved, click here.