"We have been taught the dangers associated with not having a latrine, not having a hand-washing station, not having animal houses and walking barefooted."Kadiatu Kamara
Ebola has been a tragic reality for the people of Sierra Leone over the last two years. Though considered stable at the moment, the country is still very cautious.
Our teams have remained safe and are on the front lines of Ebola prevention through this water, hygiene and sanitation program. Your support acknowledges and celebrates their selfless work and bravery.
The entire team continues to express their gratitude for your support of communities in Sierra Leone, and we can’t wait to celebrate safe water together!
Please enjoy the following report comes straight from the field, edited for clarity and readability:
The meaning of Rowal is “a place of rest” in the native language of the Bullomites, a tribe that is slowly disappearing. This Kaffu Bullom Chiefdom was founded by this peaceful tribe. Since then, they have been taken over by the Temnes and the Susu peoples, two of the most aggressive tribes in northern Sierra Leone. There is little left that even remotely resembles the Bullom tribe, whether it be the tribal customs or language. In a village of 149 people, only three people can speak the Bullom tribe’s language fluently.
The Bullomites are mostly dependent on fishing and swamp farming. This part of the chiefdom does not have enough dry land for any other type of farming. For people in this community, farming is life. They spend most of their days in the swamp laden with leaches and all kinds of creeping insects and worms. Children as young as seven have a big role to play in the swamp. Standing in water for hours at a time has turned their young feet into those of an old man or woman. Athlete’s foot is normal, the constant itchy and flaking skin. Early in the morning, young and old head for the swamp. The rainy season is the time to nurse different types of fruits and vegetables.
The scene is one to behold, a unique stretch of land going far and wide, as far as the eye can see. A river runs alongside the village until it eventually reaches the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s about a fifteen-minute walk to the swamp. When a woman or child arrives, they normally dig a whole next to a palm tree. The tree normally keeps the water and ground a bit cooler in the shade. The person will either step into the hole or bend over to scoop water, careful not to agitate the dirt at the bottom. After filling a plastic container, it is left to sit until dirt settles to the bottom. From an early age, children become accustomed to carrying large, full five-gallon containers on their heads.
Water used for household chores is normally left outside the kitchen. Drinking water is normally brought in, covered, and put up on a table.
There is no doubt this surface water from the swamp is contaminated. Tadpoles, fish, water snakes, and leeches live in the water. The floor of the swamp is extremely muddy, too! If you step in the water, you’ll get sucked down about two feet. There are a lot of people with skin rashes and bloated stomachs. Locals often suffer from diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, and fevers. This population has decreased drastically over the years because there is no clean water and no suitable healthcare facility.
Pa Saio Kamara, whose picture is included in the “See Photos & Video” section, expressed his frustration. Life with dirty water is the only life he’s known, and it has caused a lot of grief. He said, “We are tired of drinking water, but what can we do? We don’t cry anymore when someone dies, because our children die on a daily basis. I have buried my children and grandchildren, but I am still alive. That is why we bear a lot of children because more than half of them end up dying anyways.”
A little over half of households have a native pit latrine. These are made of palm leaves braided together for walls and a roof. There is a hole dug in the middle anywhere from six to eight feet deep. Two boards are often suspended over the top on either side to stabilize those who want to use the pit. These are always very difficult for the elderly to use. None of the latrines had a place to wash hands for after their use. We found one hand-washing station in the entire village, locked inside someone’s home.
Under a quarter of these same families have a room dedicated for personal hygiene. We didn’t see many helpful tools like dish racks or clotheslines, either. Some families had dug small ditches in the back of their property to dispose of garbage. When too much garbage piles up, they burn it.
Training will be offered to the community for three days. At least one representative of each household is required to attend. The facilitator will use the PHAST (Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Training) method to teach participants how to make their own hand-washing stations, wash hands, construct proper latrines, and many other topics. By the end of training, each household that participated will have their own hand-washing station. The training will also prepare a water user committee that will oversee and maintain the new well.
The well will be drilled in the center of the village, right next to the mosque. It is far from latrines, burial grounds, and restricted areas. We are so excited to bring safe water to this village because these people are serious about development. When we first visited, we told the headman that every household would need to have and use a latrine if they want to fetch water from the new well. By the time of this report, every single home that didn’t have a latrine now has one newly built! We know that with our united efforts, we and the community will make huge strides.
Mariatu’s Hope works with vulnerable communities and individuals to inspire hope through Maternal Care, Infant Nutrition, Safe Water Access, Proper Sanitation and Health and Hygiene promotion.