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Rationale: There is no point building a water project if it is in a location that leads to it not being used or that inadvertently increases religious or inter-tribal conflict over power or control.
In 2004, Lifewater introduced Health and Hygiene workshops as part of its well drilling program. The goal is to have these training workshops happen upfront, as part of the community mobilization effort. Empowerment through knowledge leads to immediate health benefits and motivates beneficiaries to actively contribute to planned water projects.
This training provides direct and immediate health benefits by covering topics such as "What is disease?", "How is Disease Transmitted?", "How do you break Disease Transmission Pathways?", and "What do you do with young children who have Running Stomach"? Ultimately, different water-related diseases all have the same symptom: diarrhea (or "running stomach") that causes rapid dehydration and can lead to death.
Education is important for ongoing well maintenance. If people see clean water as being vital to the health, they will be willing to occasionally spend a little time and money to keep their water supply safe and functioning reliably.
Application Story: Spoonful of Death
In 2007, Lynda Gehrels (now Lifewater Canada's president) used her 35 years experience as a Registered Nurse to help prepare Health and Hygiene lessons to share during her first trip to Liberia. But all her preparation didn't prepare her for what would transpire in the middle of her disease transmission class.
Twenty-five men and women, with several toddlers and a few babies wrapped around their mom's bodies, attended the three full-day training sessions. The information was simple in concept -- offered through skits and stories using photos, and presented with constant individual participation required. There was lots of hands-on training, and by the end of the second day, people were getting pretty comfortable with each other.
"I was sharing again how unsafe drinking water was the reason why so many suffered from running stomach (diarrhea), with the wee ones and the elderly especially prone to get ill and often die," Lynda recalls. "It was a lesson I had covered numerous times before, but this time I noticed one of the older women in the class start to silently cry, tears running down her cheeks.
"Later, I shared a taxi home with her daughter-in-law. Her tears started to fall as she explained that in the class, her mother-in-law had realized that the tradition to give every one-month-old baby in her family their first drink of water had directly led to the death of two of her grandchildren. They had spoken together after the class and she had found the strength and faith to forgive her mother-in-law. My tears were the only consolation I could offer as I listened to the grief and pain in her words.
"My second trip to Liberia painted a bright rainbow around that painful memory. I met with these two women and they were so happy to share their success story. When visiting a relative, a child had gotten very ill with diarrhea. The village was far from a clinic. But they were able to use the information they'd learned in the workshop and the child was able to regain his strength and live.
"Although it didn't dim the sadness (of the two grandchildren's deaths), it offered some balancing joy that this life would be spared to grow and bloom! That's pretty great fruit from a simple hygiene lesson!"
Wells need to be located in a place that balances technical factors along with social and cultural considerations. To learn more about these factors, see Lifewater Well Drilling Manual Section 2 “Deciding Where to Drill”
Application Story: Too Many Men!
From 1995 to 2003, all Lifewater wells in Liberia were drilled in town squares. In 2004, a well was planned for the Margibi area but local women objected when they saw the drilling team setting up in the town square. It turned out that the time spent gathering water was an important social gathering for those women. Away from husbands and children, they could share and encourage each other without being overheard.
The well location was changed to near a big tree just out of sight of the village huts, so the women did not have to walk far, but could still have their private time to relate together
Application Story: The Lions will Eat You!
An even more memorable story about the importance of community involvement in determining where a well will be drilled comes from Kenya. Lifewater Canada's Harry Oussoren was there to help villagers who had to walk very far for safe drinking water.
With a very generous donor funding his work, Harry rented a big rig and tried drilling where the community wanted him to -- at the top of a big hill close to their houses. Despite long hours of drilling to great depth, the borehole was dry. The rig was moved over with the same result. And the third attempt was also unsuccessful.
Finally Harry reached the end of his patience and explained to the people that the next attempt had to be at the bottom of the hill because the big trees there signaled the presence of water. The community leaders said the well could not go there.
So Harry tried to explain some hydrogeology. He talked about aquifers and that at the bottom of the hill, they would not have to drill as deep to find the water table. Again, the community leaders said the well could not go there.
Harry tried one more time -- finally raising the issue of his depleted budget and how the most likely place to find water would still be at the bottom of the hill. Again the leaders said the well could not go there.
Finally Harry lost his temper and demanded: “Why can't the well go there?” The chiefs said “Because the lions who live there will eat you.” They found a better location for the well!
Lifewater is mindful of the United Nation’s “Agenda 2030” (The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals) which set out a universal framework for action and global goals that are based on sustainable development principles. Target 6.b calls on development agencies to "Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management."
Lifewater has done this for years and, as discussed below, we have learned that this is a critical part of successful long-term project maintenance. It is emotionally difficult to require a community to contribute when they have so little. But contribution of effort, materials and cash money creates the sense of ownership needed for long-term project maintenance. Further discussion on this can be found in our Water Well Drilling Manual
Application Story: "Your Well is Broken"
From 1995 to 2004, Liberia was racked by bloody civil war. During this time, wells were gifts, fully funded by Canadian donors. Villages did not have to contribute to the new project.
In 2004, the war was over and a team of volunteers was helping drill a well along the Robertsfield Highway. Nothing went right, and it was a long, frustrating process.
To end the week on a positive note, the team decided to visit a village where a well had been drilled two years earlier. They envisioned being greeted by happy parents, playing children, and safe water flowing from the well.
When the team arrived, the pump was draped with drying laundry and the pump pad was parch dry. The chief greeted the team with a scowl instead of a smile, and angrily asked “Where have you been? Your pump has been spoiled for many months now and our children are getting sick from drinking the swamp water again!”
Sure enough, the team watched women coming back with coloured water from the stagnant swamp. But they also saw dried fish for sale at roadside stalls and new soccer nets on the community play field. Clearly, there was a disconnect between spending priorities and health impact.
Further discussion revealed that the villagers believed the pump belonged to Lifewater, not to them. They had no sense of ownership and felt like it was not their property. This was a watershed moment for Lifewater as the team realized that if they covered the entire cost of fixing the pump, it would be used until it broke and then sit spoiled until they came again. This was emergency relief rather than sustainable development.
We told the chief our team would come back in four months -- by which time the village could save $20 to pay for the repair. The Lifewater workers would then fix the pump. The town people had a private impromptu meeting, and all the Lifewater volunteers could hear was loud male voices replaced after a period of time by loud female voices.
When the chief came back, he said the Lifewater plan to come back in four months was “no good.” Instead, the town would have the money saved in only one month, so they wanted the repair team to come back then!
When we came back and repaired the pump, the chief asked if his town could pay $20 in advance so when the pump broke again, the team could bring parts and fix it right away! This led to the start of a “pump insurance” program in Liberia that enables communities to pay an annual flat fee so Lifewater workers will quickly repair a well whenever it breaks.
In rural Kenya and Liberia, there were no problems with the communal nature of wells. Communities are based on social circles of support and the water clearly benefits everyone and is shared by all.
But in more urban environments in Liberia and parts of Haiti, disputes sometimes developed over well ownership. Some wells were even “expropriated” and became private water supplies. Water was made available at the whim of the land owner, sometimes even at a price.
As a result, Lifewater teams now require assurance from community leaders, with affirmation from local residents, that the land is community land and that the well will remain communal.
Application Story: The Disappearing Pump
In parts of northern Haiti, development can be quite dense and there is very little land available on which to drill a well. Following the devastating 2000 earthquake, there was limited community consultation and Lifewater teams gladly drilled wells on whatever land was offered.
In 2004, volunteers auditing wells in Haiti had a problem. One of the wells that had been drilled several years earlier had disappeared! First the team thought that maybe the pump had been stolen so they looked through tall grass for the borehole and pad. The GPS coordinates told them they were in the right area, but there was no sign of the well.
Then a gate in the wall of the adjacent private home opened -- and the team found their missing well! It hadn't moved. But after the well was originally drilled, a landowner built a security wall around his property -- which included where the well was. The well effectively “vanished” as a source of communal water for surrounding residents. The landowner was a powerful political figure, and no one dared protest to him or to complain to Lifewater.
After discussions with Lifewater, the landowner agreed to have his watchman keep the gate open for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon for surrounding residents to come and draw water.
This taught us the importance of spending time and effort to be assured that land on which we drill is communal land, with a small parcel being severed off for this purpose if necessary. Since then, no further problems like this have arisen.
When we buy a house in Canada, we receive a property deed. When we buy a car, we receive a title and a bill of sale. These legal documents assign us as owners of the specified property, and help instill in us a sense of ownership and responsibility for its upkeep.
In the same way, the teams in Kenya and Liberia have been having “well dedication” parties since the very first wells were drilled in the 1990’s.
Since 2009, the team in Liberia has been issuing “Pump Deeds”, which have been presented to village chiefs at well dedications to clarify to all that the pump now belongs to the community.
The back side of the deed lists tasks for the village Pump Repair Technicians and Well Caretakers to do on a daily, monthly and annual basis.
Application Story: The Widow's Well
By 2005, Lifewater had learned the importance of local communities truly "owning" a well and hand pump. We stopped putting sponsor names or dedications on wells unintentionally identified those names as the well owners. It was part of the deliberate effort to ensure communities invested in, and were committed to, long-term project maintenance.
Earlier that year, two elderly widows decided to sponsor a well in memory of their beloved husbands. They sent in the sponsorship funds, and then went one step further by wanting to go to Kenya to see the well and participate in its dedication.
The well was drilled, the widows flew to Kenya and were thrilled to see the well and meet the people who were receiving the safe drinking water. As part of the well dedication ceremony, they produced large framed photos of their husbands, told the villagers about them, and then placed a memorial plaque beside the pump. They came back to Canada thrilled with the whole experience.
A few months later, Lifewater received a panicked phone call from the women. They had just received a long-distance phone call from the villagers. They were calling to inform the widows that their husbands' pump was broken, and could they please come back to Kenya to fix it!
Our Kenya team helped fix the pump, but it took years for the villagers to adjust their thinking from the well being owned by those white-haired Canadians to the well being owned by themselves. Even after the widows died, the villagers still did not consider the pump as their own. It was only when a “Deed of Pump Ownership Transfer” with official stamps and seals was made and delivered to the village chief did they finally take responsibility for maintaining the pump!