“Water is everything one could ask for”

A solar powered water scheme brings relief to women and girls in Ethiopia

Demissew Bizuwerk
In Serkema, where the sun is abundant, the solar system is a sound investment.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Nahom Tesfaye
29 March 2022

The little village of Serkema, in Kombolcha woreda (district) of the Oromia region, is surrounded by a dry and rugged mountainous terrain. Serkema is prone to recurrent drought. Most of the community are reliant on food aid under the productive safety net programme. Water is so precious to the community and women and adolescent girls spent hours fetching water from a faraway river putting them at risk of exploitation. But that is changed now. UNICEF and its partner CARE have installed a solar power system, rehabilitated the water scheme and installed water points, thanks to the generous support from the US Government (USAID). Clean water is now easily available to the community serving over 6,500 people.

“Water is everything one could ask for”
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Nahom Tesfaye

For 16-year-old Urji Abdusemed, this is a great relief. She knows what it means to have clean water in school and at home. We spent a day with her and followed her routines.

Urji starts her day by fetching water
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Nahom Tesfaye
Urji remembers the time when she had to walk for two hours to fetch water.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Nahom Tesfaye

Urji starts her day by fetching water from the nearby water point which is just minutes away from her home. “Water is life…everything one could ask for. It means a lot to us [women],” she explains.

Urji remembers the time when she had to walk for two hours to fetch water. “I used to leave home early to the river.  It took hours to get there and by the time I came back, it will already be late for class. If I need to fetch water, that means, I have to miss at least two periods each day. That had affected my education.” 

Somedays, Urji had to do the burdensome task of fetching water twice, before and after school. She got so tired and getting back to her studies was almost impossible. Besides, as the first-born girl child, she is expected to cook, clean, wash clothes and look after her younger siblings.

After Urji brings water home, she helps her mom cook breakfast and cleans the dishes.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Nahom Tesfaye

After Urji brings water home, she helps her mom cook breakfast and cleans the dishes. Then she rushes to school. Her mother Amina Abdurrahman is proud that her daughter is in 8th grade despite all the challenges she faces.

“Before the water was built here, my daughter didn’t even bother to have breakfast first. She just rushes out with her jerry can to the river. It made me sad to see her tired and unable to focus on her education. But now I am a happy woman. We are all happy.”

In class, Urji sits in the front and focuses.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Nahom Tesfaye

In class, Urji sits in the front and focuses during a math class. Urji needs to concentrate. In June this year, she will take the grade 8 national exam before she can join high school.  

Clean water is also available in Serkema primary school benefiting nearly 2000 students.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Nahom Tesfaye

Nearly 1,000 children now access clean water in school which Urji attends. In break time, the water taps are quite crowded as many students assemble to drink and wash their hands. The water also brings dignity to adolescent girls. Hygienic mensural practices in schools start with the availability of clean water. For Urji and fellow adolescent girls, this means a lot. Insufficient access to clean water in schools and lack of handwashing facilities are some of the challenges girls face when they are menstruating.

 Urji is also actively participating in the school’s gender club.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Nahom Tesfaye

Urji is actively participating in the school’s gender club. She and fellow adolescent girls discuss menstruation hygiene and other gender issues. Their teacher Fedila Beyan encourages the girls to overcome their fears and discuss openly the taboo issue of menstruation. “Because we have water in school, we are setting up a separate room for girls to change their pads and rest for a while.  We are also setting up a system to replenish sanitary pads and soap supplied by UNICEF. It is encouraging to see girls participating. I also show them how to properly wear pads,” says Fedila.

Fedila encourages the girls to demonstrate what they have discussed back to their peers. This way, the girls develop skills and confidence. They can also teach their friends. 

After school, and after having lunch, Urji now finds time to study her lessons.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Nahom Tesfaye
Urji wants to continue her education to the highest level possible.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022/Nahom Tesfaye

After school, and after having lunch, Urji now finds time to study her lessons. The water scheme came at a time when she needs it most. She is now preparing well for the national exam.

Urji wants to continue her education to the highest level possible.

“I want to join high school and then college. My dream is to become a doctor. We have no health facility nearby. But if I become a doctor, I can provide my services here,” she says.