A Dreams Comes True
By Benti Ejeta
Mintamir Muche, 35, is still regretful and resentful that her chance to go to school slipped away more than two decades ago. “Lack of access to safe water might have played a part in that misfortune,” she contemplates now. She was born and grown up in Yetiratir kebele, Bahir Dar Zuria district, Amhara region, a place where water was a scarce resource.
By the time her peers had gone to school, Mintamir was left behind assisting, among other things, her parents in collecting water from Enkurkaz spring in Yeloma, the neighboring kebele. Many people from the surrounding three kebeles were using this water source.
It could take her an hour to get to this spring. When that was added up to the amount of time spent there waiting for the turns, collecting water would take her half day all together. “Usually we were waiting for our turns for 3 hours. Sometimes, particularly, during the days that lead to holidays, it may be much more that,” recalls Mintamir.
In 2002, Mintamir got married to Tewachehu Wale, who was the resident of Debre Duda village of Yeloma kebele. She joined her husband there. Now, they have six children. Nevertheless, nothing had changed since the days of her childhood regarding the provision of safe water.
The unrelenting challenges
Mintamir’s story could be the story of many women in this community. They share the same experience and tell the same story.
It was ‘business as usual’. Enkurkaz spring was still overcrowded with a number of users who would start lining up for the turns as early as 5 am. Sometimes the scene at the spring might become aggressive when contentions broke out over the turns. The dispute arose when users perceived somebody was violating the turns. “Apparently people have already grown weary with too much waiting time. They were frustrated and anger had been simmering for a while. And if an act of violating the turns was to be perceived; that would definitely instigate the fighting,” says Tewachewu Wale who has known this situation since his childhood.
Waiting for the turns for too much time might also be an issue at a household level. The wife, who is usually responsible for collecting water and other household chores, could not get back from the spring at the earliest possible to help start the daily household businesses.
This could be the source of arguments between the wife and husband. “Though this was largely very private, we all had gone through such experiences. Now it may sound small and irrelevant matter but there were times when this resulted in unwanted consequences,” says Mintamir.
When viewed from the broader perspectives, these practices undermined the capacity and resource of a household to make wealth. Family members got less time to deal with their respective occupations. In other words, the livelihood of the family was at stake.
Another pressing challenge was the health hazards related to drinking unsafe water from the unprotected and highly infected spring. Acute diarrhea, one of the waterborne diseases that adversely affects the children and women, was very common among the users. Itching were other commonly encountered health problems. They also suffered severely from eye disease such as trachoma that causes blindness.
These were recurring diseases. That made the cost of the medication unbearable. “A household such as mine who has a large family size with small regular income was not able to afford these costs. Sometimes, when we thought it was not a life threatening illness, we would decide not to visit the health center,” says Mintamir. Eventually, that situation created an unhealthy and unproductive family.
In September 2013, the news that communities can get support to build their own water supply was heard in Debre Duda community. It was good news to Mintamir and others. They happened to learn, through promoters, that they can indeed initiate, plan and execute not only their safe water supply schemes but also their improved sanitation and hygiene facilities. This modality of implementing rural safe water supply is called Community Managed Project (CMP) approach.
After couple of months, this community committed to this implementation approach. They elected Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committee (WASHCO) with five members of which three were women while the remaining two were men.
In short span of time, community contributed the required upfront cash which would be used for the future operation and maintenance. Elected representatives were also trained in the implementation and management of the approach. “Safe water in our village was a dream comes true. Thus why we wanted to move things a bit faster,” says Mekuwanit Gedefu, chairperson of the WASHCO.
On 23rd of December of that year, the construction of safe water supply scheme was started. Mintamir household’s contribution, just like any other household’s in the village, was very essential in the course of the construction. “We provided sand, stones and water. In addition, we worked on the site daily with the artisan until the end of the construction,” says Tewachehu Wale, also the secretary of this WASHCO. Finally, the construction of the new water supply scheme was completed and inaugurated on 7th of March 2014.
The aftermath story
Since the first day of operation of the new water point, the entire neighborhood has been drinking safe water. Over the period of more than two years, outbreaks of waterborne diseases have been less frequent. The WASHCO chairperson says, “Cases of diarrhea have not been reported.” Itching of the skin which is usually caused by lack of proper hygienic practices is also decreased significantly. Another major hygiene related disease that is on sharp decline is trachoma. This community has become healthy. The payments of treatment has reduced substantially.
Getting access to safe water supply right in the heart of the village is another thrilling achievement that this community would like to recount. The amount of time spent on collecting water has incomparably reduced. “Now we can run and get water even in the middle of cocking,” says Mintamir.
The economic value of time is of great essence here. Now members of a household have all the time for important businesses. For example, Mintamir has got enough time, which otherwise would have been used mainly for collecting water, to work out in the farm land on equal footing with her husband.
Mintamir’s family have made tremendous progress in wealth production. In addition to cultivating cereal crops, this household is also growing cash crops such as Khat, a plant whose dark green leaf is chewed to stimulate the mind. “On average, we get as much as € 90 a month from Khat. We are also doing pretty well with fattening the goats,” says Tewachehu.
They, thanks to this conducive situation, are sending all but one, who only one year old, of their children to school. Furthermore, they are planning big. “We want to buy a house in Meshenti (i.e. the nearest town) for our children. When they move Meshenti to attend high school, they will live there instead of rented house,” says Tewachehu.
Starting grain mill business is another grand plan that Mintamir and her husband are looking to. To generate the needed capital, the household is engaged in raising and saving money. They are contributing about € 870 to Ekub, a saving pool in which each member takes the amount in turns based on monthly lottery draws. Similarly, every month, they deposit € 5 in their personal saving account at the regional microfinance institutions.
It is true that Mintamir did not make it to the school. That was partly due to lack of access to safe water supply in her birth place. Today, however, her children are in the school. On top of all these, she and her family are looking beyond the horizons which was once only a daydream. That has been a sweet vindication to Mintamir. A retaliation which only be possible with the provision of safe water.