It is 6:15 p.m. and Christina Franklin, a 30-year-old mother of five, must begin warming water to bathe her children and have them in bed before 9 p.m. The task takes an astounding 2 1/2 hours and about 40 gallons of bottled water to complete. It requires Christina to pour water into pots for warming and then transfer it to a storage tote that she uses as a temporary bathtub for her children. She began using the storage tote as a bathtub because it requires less water to fill than a traditional bathtub. She repeats the task for her 9, 4, 3, 2-year- old, and 7-month-old several times a week. Water bottles can be seen stored throughout her home.
The reality is sad. Christina lives in a high-crime area where the National Guard will not deliver water. That meant she was responsible for driving to her local fire station to pick up water. The problem: she could only receive one case of water per day. The city stripped her of a basic human need and then told her family to survive on 24 bottles of water a day. Divide it by six and that means each family member was allotted four bottles of water throughout the day. Still, she gratefully accepted her portion. She also received water occasionally from brave volunteers who would enter her apartment complex to deliver water.
At first they thought they could bathe in the tap water. Then rashes began appearing on her children. Several were diagnosed with skin conditions and the three-year-old was taken to urgent care. Too many chemicals had been placed in the water trying to control lead and other issues.
It was then that Christina realized that she must rely on bottled water for all daily activities. A new reality now exists: what was once a basic human right has become a sacred, but scarce commodity.
Christina quickly became exhausted from making daily trips to the fire department. That’s when she found out that many churches would give as much water as needed. Now she makes her water pick-ups on Saturdays. She drives to a church and gets enough water to last her throughout the week. While grateful for the water, many activities have become a major inconvenience. Not only does bathing require additional hours but so does everything else.
Paper plates, cups, and plastic forks are now a staple at the dinner table. Combine them with tin foil pans that are used for baking and the need to use precious water for cleaning dishes is reduced.
A NEW REALITY NOW EXISTS: What was once a basic human right has become a sacred, but scarce commodity.
But many cannot afford to constantly spend money on paper products. The financial burdens added to the potentially devastating effects that the lead already has had on their children is simply too much to bear. It has become a major source of stress for Christina Franklin and many others in the community.
And many elderly or disabled don’t have the capability of lugging cases of water. Many don’t have cars and
must take buses to distribution points, then wait in long lines to get buses back home, several times per week. It’s exhausting just to survive, let alone hold down jobs and care for children and their education.
Yet, life continues for Christina Franklin and other residents. She can only use city water to wash clothes and flush toilets. “I don’t know what to really trust anymore. I think the water is safe to use for laundry . . . I hope it is.” And while Flint residents want those responsible for this man-made disaster held responsible, they primarily want justice to be served through the provision of safe drinking water again.
Life has changed. Tests have shown that untold thousands of children here have had lead exposure sufficient to cause concern about developmental problems. Many Flint children will need additional educational resources to be successful in school. Others will face behavioral problems. Families will need to enroll in family therapy in order to cope with the anxiety and added responsibilities that are a direct result of the water crisis.
In Christina’s family, the crisis does not prevent hearty laughter from flowing throughout her home. She refuses
to let the situation keep her children from playing outside or enjoying their childhood. “We are doing the best we can with what we have been given,” she said. “I simply pray that we will be able to use our water again soon.”
The Wesleyan Church is heavily involved in responding to the crisis and has founded the Flint Grassroots Initiative. Hundreds of volunteers are providing intensive assistance and the Initiative is expected to be in place long-term.