Today we spent the day in Ojili village with Deborah and her family. Deborah is married to Michael, who is a teacher at the local school, and they have three children. Pirus is 6, Oscar is 4 and Thomas is 8 months. Deborah could not speak much English so we were joined by Sarah and her baby Daniella, who is 4 months old. Sarah attended school until she was 19 and speaks very good English. Whilst I spent time with their children I couldn’t shake one shocking fact from my mind: 500,000 children die every year from lack of safe water and toilets. I couldn’t help but worry about whether this would be the future of the children in this village.
We started the day the same way Deborah usually does, by gardening. Deborah gardens from 6am-10am when it is coolest. Gardening is really important as they are completely self-sufficient when it comes to food. We were weeding around the cassava which is a root vegetable, similar to sweet potatoes but with the texture of coconut. Deborah also grows ground nuts (peanuts), sweet potato, leaf vegetables, sorghum and maize.
After the gardening we swept the compound with brooms made out of grass. Wateraid’s hygiene awareness programme puts great emphasis on the importance of keeping living areas clean. We then took the goats to graze. Deborah has four goats, as they are an important source of meat (along with a few chickens).
The next job on the list was collecting the water. We took a short walk to a well. I was shocked when I got there and realised that the murky swamp was the ‘well’ they were talking about. We had to lean over the slippery bits of wood to fill our jerry cans. After seeing my pathetic attempt at housework I was only given a small jerry can, with a capacity of around five litres. I found this hard enough to fill and lift over the wood – but Deborah did the same with 20kg worth of water and baby Thomas strapped on her back. When I was filling up the jerry can I could see terrapins and newts in the well, the water was cloudy and murky, and it certainly wasn’t anything I would want to use.
I found out that as Deborah is married to a teacher, they can afford a bike. Every evening she takes the bike on a six mile journey to a borehole, she loads it up with four jerry cans (80kg) and then pushes it back to her house.
Once back at the house, I tried to balance my baby jerry can on my head! I couldn’t balance it and when I removed my hands it fell. I was absolutely gutted, as it was such a waste of the water we had worked so hard to collect. We also got to see how they use this water. They said it’s only for bathing and washing so it’s ok to use. However, I couldn’t help but notice some of the water was going into the mouths of the small babies while they were being bathed; they had to wash up their cooking utensils and cutlery with this water; and washed their hands in it, before they prepared food. I asked them about the containers they use, and they said they use the same containers for the water from the well and the borehole. From my background in water quality, it worries me there is a big risk of contamination from the water from the well.
In the afternoon we visited the local school. They don’t have any water there, so the children bring in 500ml of water to last the day. They have just two latrines for 438 pupils. Yes, two latrines for over 400 pupils! We had a chance to talk to the pupils and play dodgeball with them. After 10 minutes of playing dodgeball (with a pair of rolled up gloves as they have no ball) I was gasping for a drink! The 500 ml of water they bring in simply isn’t enough, they still get thirsty. They do not have any crops at school so the children can’t have a meal whilst they’re there. I spoke to them about where they get their water from, and about half said they use the swamp water to drink. They also told me that only pregnant or breast-feeding mothers have breakfast, so they wont eat until they get home. I asked them how often they get ill, and one boy said he gets sick at least once a week. I found this really difficult and had to hold back tears. They know the health risks from drinking this water but they simply have no other choice or alternative…yet.