Water is now money
By Rodolfo Pereira, UNICEF National Officer for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
Lauana, Timor-Leste, October 2008 - Esperança Maria da Silva used to fetch water from a spring source located downhill for the family’s daily household needs.
Being a mother of five children, she prepared meals, fed her children and attended to all the washing and cleaning. Her husband was responsible for earning money for the family. Often, Esperança saw how things were so difficult and wanted to help her husband improve the family’s income but she did not know exactly what to do. She also had not much time since a big proportion of her time was used in collecting water for drinking and other domestic needs. Indeed, Esperança barely had time to take care of herself and her children – what more of undertaking economic activities.
It was not only Esperança’s family who was facing the water and sanitation problems. The whole village of Lauana was affected. In 2006, the village chief along with members of the community approached the District Water Supply Office (SAS) in Ermera with a water and sanitation improvement project proposal. They told SAS that they will commit to provide contributions, not in funds since they did not have money, but “in kind” to make the water and sanitation possible for Lauana.
The SAS office submitted the proposal to UNICEF.
“It was the enthusiasm and commitment of the village chief and our families that I think influenced you at UNICEF to decide to help us build our water and sanitation system,” Esperança noted as I interviewed her.
She recalled that a national non-government organization (NGO) called HIM was sent to the village to support Lauana.
Esperança continued, “We all actively participated in all the meetings regarding water, sanitation and hygiene activities facilitated by HIM. The NGO staff lived in our village during the construction period and guided us.”
She also said she is proud of her husband as he has become a pipe technician and is the leader of the Water Supply Management Group (GMF).
“My husband is now the chief of the Water Supply Management Group (Grupo Maneija Fasilidade- GMF). I supported him and his team during the construction of water supply and sanitation project. Aside from my regular work in the house, I was also involved in the collection of stone, wood and other materials. I helped because the lack of a good water supply system affects us, women. Women ultimately suffer. This is why all the women actively participated in all the activities.”
She said that during the construction period, she attended sanitation and hygiene education sessions organized by the NGO staff. “I have learnt about the importance of hand washing, proper storage of water at home and proper use of toilets,” said Esperança.
Before the project, Esperança’s family did not have a toilet and they had to go far from the house among the bushes where they could get privacy to defecate. It was always more difficult during the night time and rainy season Esperança said.
“Our dream has become true!”, she added.
“Now we don’t need to go to the bush anymore. We have our own toilet. I clean my toilet daily. I teach my children to wash their hands and use our toilet properly. I can also offer visitors to use my toilet! ”, Esperança proudly said while showing her newly built toilet to me.
Aside from the toilet, there is a public tap close to her house. She no longer needs to go downhill to fetch water. Esperança said she has saved so much time as she does not need to walk far to fetch water.
She proudly relates how water has improved her family members’ lives.
One day she told her husband that she wanted to start a vegetable garden by using the water that overflowed from the public tank. She cleared the area and planted vegetable seeds. She tended her garden everyday. When people saw her vegetables, they came and started asking and buying vegetables. Because of this she was encouraged to expand her garden. Now the garden is about 35 square meters.
Other neighboring families gradually started their own vegetable garden for their home consumption. But Esperança, aside from providing vegetables for her family for each meal, started augmenting her family’s income by producing more vegetables and selling these in the local market.
Earning money from vegetables in a remote village like Lauana is good income for a poor family. This year, she earned US$70 from her first harvest in June and another US$80 from her second harvest in August. She was very delighted and is now waiting for the third harvest which is approaching soon.
“I pay for notebooks, clothes, food and other daily schools needs of my children. My elder son goes to secondary school in Atsabe town and everyday he needs to walk about 10 kms to go to school. Now I can pay for his bus fare.” She said. “Be nakfila ba osan- water is now money."
Esperança noted that her neighbors are growing vegetables only for their home consumption. They do not expand their gardens due to lack of information on vegetable production. She said she will start promoting producing more vegetables by starting to help her neighbors use waste and surplus water effectively so that her neighbors can also sell vegetables.
Esperança said she will try to get more information from the Agriculture Department on how to improve the quantity and quality of vegetables. She has already invited the district government officers from relevant departments and other organizations who are interested in women development activities to visit her village.
“Thank you to UNICEF. Now we have water and good toilets. We surely need other programmes in our village but you have made a change in our lives here in Lauana !”, Esperança said with a teary smile.