It was a cold day on our first visit to Shivembe. We had to park our motorbike outside the village because the dirt paths are much too narrow and must be traversed on foot. Bananas, maize, and vegetables are planted on small farms along the path. Community members have semi-permanent houses made of mud.
This is such a rural area that's peaceful throughout the day. It only gets noisy around the spring when children go to fetch water after school, and when people come into the village for church on Sundays.
Tea farming is also popular here, but the farmers don't earn much from their crop. Women tend vegetable gardens from which they both get sustenance for their families and excess to sell in the local market. Some of the men specialize in making bricks that are sold to those undertaking construction projects in the area.
A normal day is filled with numerous chores, one of which is fetching water. The 161 people living here make numerous trips to Murumbi Spring to get water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, washing, watering animals and crops, and many other things.
Our search for Murumbi Spring led us to Mr. Ikudwa's home, and he immediately started taking us there. After walking for about five minutes, the sight of a person standing in a stream mixing mud with a spade appeared around the corner. Some logs were placed across the stream, and I assumed they act as a bridge for those walking along the path. They looked so weak that we wondered whether they could hold my weight.
Mr. Ikudwa greeted the man with the spade and of course we did the same. After standing there in silence for a minute, we asked Mr. Ikudwa to lead us to the spring. "It is here, this is the spring and this is how we usually clean it," he responded. His response was shocking. How on earth could this muddy place be where people get drinking water?
We began to converse and learned this is what the community calls 'cleaning the spring.' They push mud out and downstream. The man finished his cleaning job and stepped out. It took about 30 minutes for people to start arriving with their water containers, and it was so sad to see them fetch this water for drinking.
This visibly dirty water is affecting the health of its consumers. Community members report diarrhea as a common problem that needs to be treated with medication from the local clinic. The time and money spent treating a sick family members is inhibiting the community's ability to be productive and experience development as they should.
"We have many cases of stomach distress, most of which are dealt with locally. This challenge leads to wastage of our money and time when we move about looking for treatment. The community members will appreciate your contribution in protection of our spring because it will rescue us from diseases," said Mr. Ikudwa.
What we can do:
We will protect the spring to ensure that the water is safe, adequate, and secure. Construction will keep surface runoff and other contaminants out of the water. There will be stairs down to the collection point and a pipe that can easily fill water containers. With the community’s high involvement in the process, there should be a good sense of responsibility and ownership for the new clean water source.
People are not aware of steps they can take to better care for themselves and their environment. Mosquito nets were not seen hanging over beds, but instead fencing in gardens to keep the chickens out. Trash is just thrown at the edge of the farms, which can be blown back around the community when it's windy.
Community members will attend hygiene and sanitation training for at least two days. This training will ensure participants have the knowledge they need about healthy practices and their importance (including the use of mosquito nets!). The facilitator plans to use PHAST (Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation), CLTS (Community-Led Total Sanitation), ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development), group discussions, handouts, and demonstrations at the spring. One of the most important topics we plan to cover is the handling, storage, and treatment of water. Having a clean water source will be extremely helpful, but it is useless if water gets contaminated by the time it’s consumed.
Training will also result in the formation of a committee that will oversee operations and maintenance at the spring. They will enforce proper behavior around the spring and delegate tasks that will help preserve the site, such as building a fence and digging proper drainage. The fence will keep out destructive animals, and the drainage will keep the area’s mosquito population at a minimum.
Most homes have a pit latrine made of mud and wood. These cannot be cleaned with water since it affects the integrity of the materials and puts the user in danger of falling through the floor to the pit. Those without a pit latrine of their own have befriended neighbors and user theirs instead.
On the final day of training, participants will select five families that should most benefit from new cement latrine floors.
Training will also inform the community and selected families on what they need to contribute to make this project a success. They must mobilize locally available materials, such as bricks, clean sand, hardcore, and ballast. The five families chosen for sanitation platforms must prepare by sinking a pit for the sanitation platforms to be placed over. All community members must work together to make sure that accommodations and food are always provided for the work teams.