Drilling the Wishing Well

Children in Niger show their joy as clean water springs from the first time from the water point drilled by World Vision.Photo: ©2009 Dana Palade/World Vision

Children in Niger show their joy as clean water springs from the first time from the water point drilled by World Vision.
Photo: ©2009 Dana Palade/World Vision

This month our country of focus is Niger, where World Vision’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Program is working to improve the health and well-being of 350,000 rural community members by 2016. The following story was contributed by Dana Palade, World Vision.

As you approach the village of Mekaka, the first thing you notice is the chatter of women’s voices. Women and girls are gathered around the village well, and their lively conversations match the fast pace of arms pulling up heavy water containers from a 40-meter deep well. The sighs of women’s strenuous effort are mixed with the crying of the young babies carried in fabric pouches hanging by their mothers’ backs.

“I started to draw water from the village well when I was eight years old,” remembers Hadiza Moussa, now 50. “When a girl is strong enough to help her mother fetch water, they come together at the well and work side by side.”

In average, a woman from the village of Mekaka spends four hours a day drawing water from the well. She comes accompanied by children, so they can bring home more containers full of the precious liquid.

“It is important to be fast in drawing water,” explains Hadiza, explaining that this vital quality a man is looking for when prospecting for a wife. “This is how men recognize a hardworking woman, one who can be trusted with all the house chores.”

Again and again they pull up the rough plaited rope that measures 40, sometimes even 60 meters, at the end of which balances a makeshift bucket full of water. Each time the rope cuts down into their hands leaving marks.
But for Hadiza and the other women in Mekaka, there’s immediate relief to their struggle to get water. The village is part of World Vision’s Kornaka West ADP, and two water pumps will be soon drilled here.

“We’ve seen the change in people’s lives, in other villages where there is already a water pump,” explains Hadiza with a spark in her eyes. “Women spend less time fetching water, and it is less tiring, so they have more time and energy for their families.”

Hadiza says that, once the water pumps are built in Mekaka, they can dream about more improvements.
“We can hope that one day we’ll even have running water in our own homes – why not?” she adds and all women gathered around her laugh. “We can do other activities like producing vegetables or selling food items, and have an income for us and the children.”

The wishful thinking of Mekaka’s women is already a happy reality for the 500 villagers of Zakara Hannou, located in the same ADP.

“If you could see this village as it was five years ago, you’d realize how much our community has changed,” recounts village chief Saidou Abdou. “We received help in the way we practice agriculture and manage our harvests, and the three boreholes in the village now that made our life so much easier!”

Chief Abdou appreciates that peace is returned to the village since the construction of the water pump.
“Before you could hear women’s voices, raised loudly when they disputed over their place in the waiting line at the well. Many problems between neighbors started from there,” remembers Saidou Abdou. “Now it’s peaceful – no more quarrels at the well, and women are getting along again as they don’t have to argue over water anymore.”

Before the construction of the boreholes, women in Zakara Hannou had to draw water from traditional wells. It took them more about three hours of intense labor. Now the same task can be accomplished in only 30 minutes and it is much easier.

“Their hands were rough as tree bark, because the cords hanging over the well edge with heavy water loads cut their skin deeply,” recounts the chief. “But you have to see our wives’ nice, smooth hands now!” adds the chief with a smile.

The health and well-being of the villagers of Zakara Hannou improved significantly since they got access to clean, safe water. “The well water was smelly and unclear,” says chief Saidou Abdou. “When we used to drink it we were always sick, and our children had stomach problems.”

“The water that we pump out today is crystal clear, it tastes good, and you don’t even have to put it through a sieve to take out insects and dirt. Now we can drink to quench our thirst,” says Abdou.

Chief Abdou’s wife, Ai Harouna, is holding their six-year old daughter Mariama in her arms. With a soft voice, the mother encourages the girl to talk but Mariama shies away. Seeing the girl’s big brown eyes, it is hard to imagine that before the pump was built in the village she was suffering from trachoma.

“It was because of the dirty water,” explains mother Harouna. “She got a painful infection in her eyes, and she was crying and hurting all the time.”

Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. Globally, about 41 million people in developing countries suffer from trachoma, and 8 million became visually impaired. Two thirds of those affected are girls or women.

Mariama, who became a World Vision sponsored child four years ago, received the right medical treatment that saved her eyesight, but it took a whole year to completely heal.

“Many children in our village were sick with the same eye disease, but now that water is clean we don’t have problems anymore,” says mother Harouna.

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