By Zitu Fernandes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
For most of us, drinking a glass of water is a simple undertaking. Yet for women like Estela in Timor-Leste, it can take the better part of a day to fetch and prepare water to drink.
Estela lives in Maliana, a remote town near Timor-Leste’s border with Indonesia. Every morning, Estela walks about a kilometer [0.62 miles] from her house to the river to collect water. “In the rainy season, the water in the river is very dirty.… Then in the dry season we sometimes can’t find water in the river,” she says. “We must dig a little bit into the bank of the river in the early morning to get water.”
Once Estela collects the water, she filters it for four to five hours. She then collects wood to build a fire on which to boil the filtered water. Finally, sometime in the afternoon, the water Estela collected in the morning will be ready to use for drinking and cooking. Even then, she admits, “sometimes, we can’t filter it enough.”
When her children get sick, Estela worries that it’s because of the water. “For many years we have lived in Maliana…and the water we use is dirty. We never get clean water,” she says.
On the whole, water quality is steadily improving in Timor-Leste. In 2009, 66 percent of the population had access to an improved water source, compared with 48 percent in 2001. However, there are still many people, usually women and children, who spend hours each day trying to source clean drinking water.
ChildFund Timor-Leste has been working with communities in Maliana and surrounding villages to build long-lasting water and sanitation systems. In the last eight months alone, 42 toilets have been built in the district with the active participation of community members. In addition, ChildFund has rehabilitated and upgraded one school water supply system, benefiting more than 400 schoolchildren. ChildFund Timor-Leste has also held hygiene promotion sessions attended by around 400 schoolchildren and community members.
Now, ChildFund is planning the next phase of its water and sanitation program, which will include establishing water access in Estela’s village. Each new water system will save many women and children hours of work each day, while also improving their health. “We hope someday that we will have clean water in our village, the same as people in other villages… [that] we are not alone,” says Estela.