Precious Access

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By Sophie Cooke, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Posted on 3/2/2011

Children wash their hands.

 From left, Adelina, Jerlino, Elias and Angelina.
“Before, the water was far,” says Elias, 12, “but now we are happy because it is close.”

Millennium Development Goal 7 seeks “to halve, by 2010, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” The world overall is moving in this direction, but rural Africa and Asia lag behind.

In Timor-Leste, one of Asia’s poorest countries, Maliana District is typical. More than half the households have no access to clean water, over 70 percent have no access to sanitation facilities, and over 80 percent of households are not aware of preventive measures for diarrhea. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation is a typical concern expressed by communities, and it’s not hard to see why. In a country where health services are often inadequate and infant and child mortality rates remain high, prevention of waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea is one way to significantly improve the health of infants and young children.

ChildFund Timor-Leste, working with its local partner Hamutuk and supported by funding from ChildFund Taiwan, has undertaken a water, sanitation and hygiene (or WASH) project in Goulolo village, Maliana. Before the water project, diarrhea was prevalent in half of all children under age 5. Villagers typically had to walk up to 2 miles to the nearest water source, a river, for their household and hygiene needs. They did their laundry at the riverbank, and children would carry back plastic containers full of water for cooking and household consumption. The water wasn’t clean enough to drink and needed to be boiled for the families to avoid illness. The ChildFund project was designed to respond to the community’s expressed needs for access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

The project takes a two-pronged approach of both improving water and sanitation facilities and providing health education. Three water wells, complete with areas for washing and laundry, already have been constructed. The second phase of the project involves the construction of community sanitation facilities, as well as training parents and children in the community about diarrhea prevention and hygiene practices. The community members will act as trainers and advocates within the community, sharing their knowledge and information with others by conducting health information campaigns. This combination of improved facilities and increased community knowledge should help to significantly reduce the dangers posed to young children by diarrhea and easily preventable illness.

At one of the newly constructed wells in Goulolo, children and community members were happy to share their enthusiasm for the project that has brought fresh water to their community. Now, 28 households use the well as their main water source. They no longer have to haul heavy containers of water from the river. “Before the water was far,” says Elias, 12, “but now we are happy because it is close.”

Better still, the water is clean and can be drunk straight from the well. Eight-year-old Angelina is happy to be able to drink fresh water without first having to fetch it and wait for her mother to boil it.

Adelina, 12, understands the importance of water to the community: “We use it to drink, cook, bathe and wash clothes. It is important not to waste water, as otherwise children have to fetch more water to use.”

Five-year-old Jerlino and his friends already understand another important aspect of the project — making use of the water to improve hygiene practices and decrease disease. Jerlino always makes sure to wash his hands before he eats, and Angelina explains, “It will stop us from getting sick.” Elias adds that children will get stomach bugs and fevers if they don’t wash their hands.

The community has already worked hard on this project, with residents volunteering to dig and build the well, while technical and material support has come from ChildFund and Hamutuk in coordination with the Water and Sanitation District Unit of the Ministry of Infrastructure. Now they look forward to the next phase of the project, which will bring not only sanitation facilities but also the knowledge and training to ensure that the community is able to manage and maintain their new and precious resource. 

Make a Difference

At any given time, ChildFund is planning or implementing water and sanitation projects all over the world. Fund a Project is one way our supporters can make a difference in specific efforts. Did you know that access to water and sanitation can even promote education? New latrines for an elementary school in Mexico , for instance, will allow children privacy and protection from disease, making it more likely that they will stay in school.

In Ethiopia, some schools have no access to water at all, a problem that also keeps children away. ChildFund’s Fund a Project to install water catchment systems on the roofs of two primary schools will remedy this for 430 children.