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Eating an Elephant

An old African proverb says, “The best way to eat an elephant in your path is to cut him up into little pieces.” That’s exactly how the Clean Water U (CWU) instructors were encouraged to transform the CWU in-person experience into a virtual format, so that we could continue this vital training during the COVID-19 pandemic. The task seemed so gigantic that none of us could imagine how it could be accomplished!

None of us except, of course, our fearless Director of Education, Kendall Cox. Using her disarming conversational charm, she asked us just to take a single lesson and see if we could create a video. “Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect. Maybe take the easiest one first, and see how it goes.” No pressure, right? Just take one little bite of that elephant!

Joanie leading worship during the virtual Clean Water U in April

As a 102 Health Education Instructor, and an old dog who has trouble with new tricks, I was skeptical, to say the least. But we all agreed to give it a try. Each of us agreed to take one small part of the instruction and make it virtual-friendly. Armed with no more equipment and skills than an iPhone and a tripod, we took a stab at the request. We were really surprised to discover that we could do this, and it wasn’t half bad! When we shared our newly created videos with one another, we were delighted to see that each of us had done a very acceptable job of it.

Kendall was happy with our first attempts. We made suggestions to each other about possible improvements, and polished up the videos a bit. Having been thrown into the deep end of the pool, we discovered we could indeed swim! Encouraged, we agreed to tackle a few more videos, each one a little bit easier by virtue of experience. And so it evolved until, miraculously, we had recorded all of the lessons that we deliver at Clean Water U.

Is it as good as the “real deal?” No, not really. Nothing can replace the in-person experience of being surrounded by and interacting with a large group of passionate people in a camp environment for five days! There is some magic that occurs there, some chemistry that imparts a special zeal for the ministry of Living Waters for the World.

BUT, we know that ministry must be flexible. In the face of the COVID danger and travel restrictions, we had two choices: one was to come to a screeching halt – no trainings going on, no new students, no opportunity for new students to catch the vision; the other was to attempt to give a virtual training using the alternative magic of Zoom.

Clean Water U #64 in session April 20-24

To our great surprise and joy, we found that our students were truly delighted with their virtual experience, and although they may have missed the deeper personal interactions with instructors and fellow students, they expressed confidence that they had learned what is necessary to form partnerships, install water systems, and educate communities about the use of purified water.

So, will we abandon our in-person CWU in favor of this good-enough virtual experience? Absolutely not! In fact, we hope to be able to offer in-person training in October, 2021. So, when we can offer in-person training on a regular schedule again, will we abandon the virtual format? Absolutely not! Why? Because there are folks who are unable to take the time and added expense to travel to our training location. And there are others who have taken one of the three workshops at CWU in the past, and now want to experience one of the others. It is likely that we will offer the virtual training in the future as often as the need or demand arises.

April 2021 Clean Water U staff

So that’s the story of “Virtual Clean Water U,” or “How our LWW Instructors Ate an Elephant.” And found it to be a satisfying meal!


Joanie Lukins is a health education (102) instructor at Clean Water U. She attends The Presbyterian Church in Danville, Kentucky and is a member of the Transylvania Presbytery water team. Her team has installed numerous systems in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.


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