The Machemo area is evergreen with a cool and wet climate. Most community members here farm and keep cattle for their livelihood. What makes this community unique is the way they have manipulated their natural environment to their advantage. As it is a naturally swampy area, community members have dug trenches that they use to collect and spread water used for crop irrigation.
The road to the Machemo community is not tarmacked, thus it is in very rouch shape during rainy seasons. Almost no vehicles other than motorbikes are able to get into and out of the village in the wettest months. Machemo is away from the market and main road thus lending to a quiet and peaceful environment.
Here there are only a few months each year that create a short dry spell. For the 175 people in Machemo who depend on Chitiavi Spring for all of their daily water needs, they know this spring never dries out during these months. But there a lot of problems with this unprotected spring.
As it is well known, water is an essential need for every human, and most daily chores depend on water. The people in this community begin their day very early - around 6:00 am each morning - by going to fetch water before doing anything else. This first round of water is usually the cleanest of the day, so it is reserved for domestic uses like drinking, cooking, and washing eating utensils.
If anyone tries to fetch water too quickly, they risk stirring up the muck at the bottom of the spring. As a result, long lines and wait times are a daily occurrence at the spring, stagnating the rest of the day's activities until each person has sufficient water.
The spring looks like a large open puddle where community members must submerge their jerrycans to fill them. The spring is already filled with contaminants such as farm chemicals, residues from animal waste, and soil that pour into the spring with runoff. Algae, insects, and rotting leaves line the bottom of the water. By submerging their containers, people also deposit any soil on their jerrycans and hands directly into the water they fetch.
Communtiy members report that the major health consequences after drinking this spring water are waterborne diseases including cholera and typhoid. They have noticed many cases of diarrhea among young children, too, they said, and they believe all of this is linked to the unsafe water from their spring.
These water-related illnesses are expensive to treat and they rob people of the time and energy for other activities. Adults miss work, and kids have to stay home from school, often falling behind in their classes. But the cost to treat their water at home is also too high to pay. Boiling water before drinking it requires too much extra firewood and hours in the kitchen for women and girls who are already losing so much of their day to fetching water. Market-bought treatments are out of the question financially for a majority of families, especially when they are already losing the money that goes toward treatment when a family member is sick.
"Personally, I have been affected by this current situation in that some of my family members up to date have been treating typhoid that is not ending. When seeking medication, we were told to be boiling water before drinking it. But at times, you find it difficult, especially when it is rainy season - there is no firewood to enable that," explained 55-year-old farmer James Andaye.
Accessibility is the other major challenge at the spring. In addition to their submerged containers, sometimes people's shoes and toes dip into the water as well, further contaminating it. There is just a small access point to the spring made of rocks and sticks, and it is very narrow and slippery. Falls into the water are not unheard of, especially among children. The elderly and women who are pregnant have a particularly hard time accessing the spring.
"Getting water from this spring is very difficult, especially during rainy season. During school days, it becomes very tiresome to get water after school and at the same time do house chores and school work. At times, I get to school before doing assignments and this makes me perform poorly in my academics," said secondary school student and teenager Margret.
What We Can Do:
Protecting the spring will help provide access to cleaner and safer water and reduce the time people have to spend to fetch it. Construction will keep surface runoff and other contaminants out of the water. 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.
Fetching water is a task predominantly carried out by women and young girls. Protecting the spring and offering training and support will, therefore, help empower the female members of the community by freeing up more of their time and energy to engage and invest in income-generating activities and their education.
Training on Health, Hygiene, COVID-19, and More
To hold trainings during the pandemic, we work closely with both community leaders and the local government to approve small groups to attend training. We ask community leaders to invite a select yet representative group of people to attend training who will then act as ambassadors to the rest of the community to share what they learn. We also communicate our expectations of physical distancing and wearing masks for all who choose to attend.
The training will focus on improved hygiene, health, and sanitation habits in this community. We will also have a dedicated session on COVID-19 symptoms, transmission routes, and prevention best practices.
With the community’s input, we will identify key leverage points where they can alter their practices at the personal, household, and community levels to affect change. This training will help to ensure participants have the knowledge they need about healthy practices and their importance to make the most of their water point as soon as water is flowing.
Our team of facilitators will use a variety of methods to train community members. Some of these methods include participatory hygiene and sanitation transformation, asset-based community development, group discussions, handouts, and demonstrations at the spring.
One of the most important issues 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 is consumed. We and the community strongly believe that all of these components will work together to improve living standards here, which will help to unlock the potential for these community members to live better, healthier lives.
We will then conduct a small series of follow-up trainings before transitioning to our regularly scheduled support visits throughout the year.
Training will result in the formation of a water user committee, elected by their peers, that will oversee the operations and maintenance of the spring. The committee 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 channels. The fence will keep out destructive animals and unwanted waste, and the drainage will keep the area’s mosquito population at a minimum.