Monday, November 17, 2008

Water means life

When we arrive in the village, we see the new pump right in front of us. There are children all around it, happy children who are busy pumping water into basins and containers. They laugh when some of the water is splashed on their hands and legs. They know that water means life – and this well is giving them much water, much life.

But this is not the way it used to be in this village in the Mulanje area in southern Malawi. Up until about one year ago, this village had to rely on a well which is situated close to a small stream that runs through the area. Every litre of water that they needed had to be carried from that stream, and as usual, it was the duty of the women to provide their families with water.

The villagers tell me that they want to show me the well. “It is not very far,” they say, “in other villages, the women have to walk much further when they are bringing home the water.” So we set out along the road that leads from the village to the well. After a while I start wondering what the women mean when they say that it is not far. As a boy, I lived on a farm and I had to carry water to our animals every day, so I know how heavy it is to carry water. But I never had to carry it as far as this. And we just keep walking and walking, on and on …

At last we arrive at a steep ravine that has been created by the stream. The banks are muddy and they tilt sharply downwards, so it is not all that easy for an elderly and slightly overweight gentleman like me to manoeuvre my way down the slope to the stream. It is hot in the ravine, hot and moist. Ahead of me I can see a short pipe sticking out from the mud-wall. A small stream of water is coming out of the pipe. This is the well that has provided water for a village of some two thousand people. Until they got the pump, this was the only water source that they had.

Two women are filling their containers with water. It is a slow process. The women must have done this many times before, so they are patient and wait for the water to fill their vessels. But suddenly they look up at the trees above us. All the people around me suddenly become very quiet.

“There is a snake up there in the trees,” whispers my guide from ADRA Malawi. “It is a green mamba.”

I look up, but I cannot see anything. My untrained eyes cannot distinguish the snake from the foliage.

“Last year,” whispers my guide, “a girl was bitten by a snake when she was carrying water back to the village. She died.”

I shiver. I hope that the snake will find us uninteresting and disappear. And after a couple of minutes, the women start talking to each other again. The snake is gone. It has slithered off into the grass and disappeared somewhere along the path where we walked just a few minutes ago.

One of my companions tells me that some of the women have had to spend eight hours a day carrying water from this well. Many of them had to get up at 3am in the morning in order to bring home enough water so that the children would be ready and fed in time for school. But now the village has a deep well with a pump, and life has become different. The time that they had to spend bringing home water can now be used for other activities. It has become possible for them to start kitchen gardens and grow their own vegetables. This gives them more varied and nutritious food, and any surplus they get can be sold for cash. Now they can also set aside time for the adult literacy classes that ADRA Malawi has started.

The wells, kitchen gardens and literacy classes are all part of a project that ADRA Malawi is implementing with support from ADRA Sweden and the Swedish government. I am impressed with what I have seen. Just one well – and life has become so much easier for a whole village.

From: Per Bolling, ADRA Sweden

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