Over the years, we have learned many important lessons about how to effectively and sustainably bring water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to a community. The key? Raising up local leaders and mobilizing the community to take total ownership of the project.
In the volcanic region of northern Rwanda, there was not a water source nearby, so each day community members walked six hours to reach the nearest lake. But through a mobilization program, women in the community started building water tanks. We partnered with them to start a rain tank project to support and extend the work they started. Within three years, the project had completely ended the water crisis in the area!
With water available, the community turned its focus to improved latrines for healthy sanitation. The rocky soil in the area made traditional pit latrines impossible to construct. So we met with the local water committee to present various solutions. Together, we opted for ecological latrines. These latrines not only improve health through safe sanitation, but also provide compost to allow community members to farm, which the local soil typically makes very difficult.
As the sanitation project advanced, the community joined in to provide local material, labor, infrastructure maintenance, and peer education. Because the community members who would be using the latrines had been trained and involved in the project design, the new techniques were fully adopted. Community members are continuing latrine construction to this day. This is something worth celebrating!
It’s hard to imagine life without water. It’s intertwined with our existence every single day.
Dominah and her children’s lives were changed forever when they received access to clean water for the first time.
Dominah is a single mother of four. Her husband died 10 years ago, and she works hard to make sure her kids are fed. But for the longest time, there was one worry she was helpless against: getting clean water.
The nearest water point was far away, down a steep hillside path. Because the journey took so long, there was no time to fetch water in the morning; instead, the kids would have to go after school. The walk was incredibly difficult (think of an expert-level hike…then add a few gallons of water), and as the children grew tired, they’d drink some of the water they had fetched.
This was problematic because the water they worked so hard to get was contaminated and made them sick, so they ended up in the hospital multiple times each month. And even when everyone was healthy, the water often wouldn’t last through the next morning, which meant Dominah and her children went to work and school thirsty.
Now, we are thrilled to report that, through our partnership with many local community members, Dominah, her children, and 900 of her neighbors don’t have to make that walk. They now have access to safe, clean water in their community!
Could you laugh and carry on a conversation balancing 40 lbs of water on your head for a mile and a half? Bosco goes to GS Kizi Primary School and wants to be a doctor after completing high school. Students like this always have big dreams, but few are lucky enough to complete high school, let alone go on to college and pursue a career of their dreams.
Part of the reason students aren't able to make it through high school (or even primary school) is because they miss 3-5 days every month from water-related illnesses. Others miss class because they have to walk long distances to get water. Teachers tell us that students often struggle to concentrate in class because they haven't had anything to drink during an entire morning session.
In these rural conditions, it's easy to feel powerless. Schools often have 500-1,000 students, and teacher ratios of 50-to-1 and 75-to-1 are not uncommon. In spite of low pay and poor conditions, I'm always amazed by how hard teachers work to benefit their students, making huge sacrifices in their own time and comfort to ensure their students are able to have a good education. These are often the best places to invest in water and sanitation programs, not only because of the impact it can have in a child's life, but because these teachers are committed to making sure that the work is sustainable. Every time we visit our school programs we listen to student-led health clubs sing songs about good hygiene practice, while teachers proudly show off latrine facilities for boys and girls and newly installed water points. It's these seemingly small things that have ripple effects across communities and countries.
This year we are helping over a dozen schools have safe water. Bosco's school is one of them. We are just one small part of his journey, but we hope and pray he is able to realize his dreams.