On World Water Day, One Family’s Fight for Clean Water Could Bring Their Daughter Home

Doctors warn the toddler won’t survive without running water, but a charity’s water installation project could make her homecoming possible.
Baby Lisa Teller. (Photo: Courtesy Dig Deep)
Mar 22, 2016· 1 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

When Baby Lisa Teller said “Mama” for the first time, it was to a nurse in a medical facility three hours away from the Arizona town where her family lives. Her mother, LaTanya Dickinson, would have been the first to hear these words if their home had the running water needed to keep the 18-month-old alive.

Because Lisa was diagnosed at birth with microvillus inclusion disease, which requires her to have a feeding tube and eventually an intestinal transplant, the hospital won’t release the young girl to her family until they have access to clean water at home.

Her family lives in a remote area of the Navajo Nation, where the nearest water line is 10 miles away. Lisa’s mom and four siblings pump water every week for cleaning and bathing, but the family doesn’t have a sink, shower, or toilet. Instead, they use a bucket on a shelf as their wash basin and fill their tub with hauled water to wash themselves. Because the water isn’t safe to drink, Dickinson also drives an extra 30 miles to buy jugs of drinking water.

“Most people think of Africa or Southeast Asia when they think of water scarcity, but there are American kids that need our help,” George McGraw, founder and executive director of human rights nonprofit Dig Deep, told TakePart. “Baby Lisa makes this problem real to people who may not know it’s happening in the U.S.”

Lisa and her siblings are some of hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. without access to clean running water at home. Most live in the Navajo Nation and Southwest regions, according to McGraw. About 40 percent of the children living on the reservation don’t have running water.

Right now, Dig Deep is working to bring running water to the Teller’s home so she can one day return to her family. The organization is asking for $50,000 within the next three weeks to build a water line from the home to the nearest public utility line as well as install a bathroom, a new septic system, and an electrical line.

If they raise more than $50,000, McGraw says the organization plans to establish a Baby Lisa Fund so it can start building water systems for other families in need.

“Working with Baby Lisa’s family has been such a gift,” he said. “It’s so easy to get jaded in this situation, but they’ve stayed positive throughout it. Hopefully in the future, no American child will have to go without running water.”