I was lucky enough, in January, to visit Nepal with WaterAid, our fundraising partners for Aveda Earth Month each year. We visited two communities in a remote region of Western Nepal called Surkhet Palate is a semi urban community of 304 households and 1637 people. The government water supply is over 20 years old and the two taps in the village very rarely work. The water from these taps is not a safe source of water and leads to many diarrhoeal diseases in the village, the water is dirty and often contains dead worms and insects.
Most days the women have to walk down to a second water source a 40-60 minute round trip below the village. This water is also not clean. We met Rekha who is 22 with two children, aged 7 and 4, who lives in a family home of 11 people. Unable to use the village tap point, she usually has to go 6-7 times a day to collect water from below the village, a journey of almost an hour. The weight of the jugs of water she brings back were almost too heavy for me to lift, let alone carry back up the hill. Aside from taking up large parts of the day the trip can also be dangerous. Jackals have bitten 25 women in the past year visiting this water point causing one woman to die. If Rekha can’t collect water early enough for cooking, the children either have to go to school without eating or miss part of the school day. They also suffer from diarrhoeal diseases. Last summer Rekha spent 3000 rupees per child on treatment (more than most families in the village earn in a month). Her husband has had to travel to Mumbai in India to work in a hotel to send back money to help the family.
Palate has set up a WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) committee that will work with WaterAid’s local partner NEWAH to implement a clean water project in 2012. They have already been declared ODF (open defecation free) an important part of ensuring both clean water and sanitation. The committee will work with NEWAH to ensure a safe clean water supply for the village as well as training local masons, caretakers and hygiene facilitators to ensure the long term sustainability of the project. Rekha is looking forward to the new, safe water source for the community as she says she will be able to spend more time with her children, ensure they get to school on time and have more time for housework and looking after her domestic animals.
The following day we drove to a village called Lamidamar that started work with NEWAH and WaterAid 18 months ago. We were greeted with flower garlands by the WASH committee headed up by Gauri. She spent a long time appealing to government organisations and regional committees to try to get a clean water source established for her village, before she heard about NEWAH. 18 months ago there was no safe water source, women collected dirty water from the river and there were no toilets so people would defecate anywhere in the open. With money from WaterAid, NEWAH helped to facilitate the building of a safe water source, pipelines, reservoirs, irrigation, 100 toilets and 25 tap stands in the village. They also trained masons, caretakers and health facilitators in the village to maintain the work. Lamidamar is a beautiful rural village and they are hugely proud of their achievements. There is no more open defecation and households have access to clean safe water. This has made a huge difference to the school. There are two taps, a low one for the smallest kids to reach. There are also separate toilets for boys and girls. Having girls toilets is key to ensuring they have the privacy to remain in school into puberty. Ceramic tiles at the tap stand remind the children to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating. We also met a disabled girl, Babisera who is 12 years old. Unable to use the traditional pit latrines she had nowhere to go but in her bed or her wheelchair. NEWAH helped to construct a special toilet for her use with a seat so she is able to have the dignity of using a toilet like the rest of her family. It was hugely interesting to be able to visit the communities that our Earth Month money is helping in Nepal and talking to the individuals whose lives are benefitting. It was also an experience to learn how much planning goes into every project and how important the village communities are in implementing the projects and ensuring they are sustainable in the long term.