It’s the 13th of January 2018, around 7:30 A.M local time, in the highlands of Sekota, Amahara region of Northern Ethiopia. The sun is shining brightly over the mountains, but its strength hasn’t reached us yet, so to compensate, we are wearing thick jackets and scarves. We are on our way to the Gurumba Spring water-point constructed by DanChurchAid (DCA) in collaboration with the local NGO Mekene Yesus (EECMY-DASSC).
Even though it is early, we can see numerous women on their way to the water point to collect clean water for their households. In contrast to us, they are wearing the traditional Wollo dresses, which are made of thin cotton. When we reach the water point, we meet the two neighbours: Denkayehu Kassahun and Enbere Fentaw. Together they go to the water point every morning, luckily only being ten minutes away from where they live, compared to the over one hour’s journey before the construction of the water point (corresponding to 5km). Twice a day the two neighbours come to the water point and fill up the yellow plastic jerry-cans they carry on their backs. The jerry-cans can carry around 20 liters of water, and when asked Enbere smiles and says, "They are a bit heavy, but we are used to it and it keeps us warm to carry the jerry-cans. Life is easier now that the water isn’t far away."
Before the construction of the water point, the water they collected was unprotected, meaning that the people would collect the water directly from the ground, and use the same water accessing point as their cattle. Consequently, the springs were easily contaminated by human and animal induced bacteria, causing various stomach diseases to flourish in the area, also due to open-defecation. "Before the water was brown, dirty and far away. Our animals would drink from the same place, where we would collect the water and our children would get sick of drinking the water. Now the water is clean, and close to where we live." says Denkayehu proudly when asked about the biggest change the Gurumba Spring has brought to herself and her family.
Denkayehu has never been schooled, and therefore lives off farming the small land that she owns. Her husband died of an illness several years ago, since they didn’t have the money to go to a doctor. Therefore, she has brought up her four children (one girl and three boys) on her own, struggling to bring food to the table. Her eldest son migrated over a year ago, and when asked about him, she said: "I don’t know where my son is. If he is dead or alive, or even how far away he is, I don’t know. He left because I couldn’t provide food for him. Living here is very hard. My three other children help me with the work, when they are not in school. I am so happy that they go to school, since I don’t know how to read or write". Denkayehu’s story represents many lives of women in the area. Accessing clean water can by the minimum assist in clean food preparation, as well as, proper hygiene and sanitation for herself, her family and the rest of the community around the Gurumba Spring.
The Gurumba Spring builds the community
To reach the second goal of the project, DCA implemented a Community-Lead Total Sanitation and Hygiene (CLTSH) approach, to increase knowledge and awareness about water collection, storage and use. This involved training on sanitation, personal hygiene, cattle awareness and environmental hygiene, to reduce water contamination and open-defecation. Furthermore, a class about children’s and environmental hygiene was introduced in the local schools. Apart from this, the communities learned how to store their water in a manner to avoid contamination. When asked about what the water has brought to the community Enbere comments that "We all received education in how to store our water, and how to use it for many purposes. Also, the community has formed a system where there is a guard protecting the water point from people destroying it. Since we don’t have a lot of money, we all pay 2kg of grain to the guards every year." As Enbere explains, all beneficiaries of the nine water points, pay a small fixed monthly fee to the local water care-takers in their community. This goes to maintaining the water point, if any damages should occur. The care takers have received a training, concerning how to uphold the water point, so it can become a local long term solution. Thereby, the local community increase both their knowledge, as well as, their capital and gradually become a self-sustaining community.
Enbere is a very shy young woman. When asked about her age, she smiled and look at the ground, finally admitting that she doesn’t know her age. She got married recently and therefore doesn’t have any children yet. "I am so happy that my future children won’t become sick by drinking dirty water. Instead my children will have clean drinking water, and will be able to wash themselves with clean water. I plan to send my children to school so they can get a better life than me."