Written by Suzy Vickers, Public Relations Manager, WaterAid
This morning 13-year-old Ze got up and went to school. This might not sound very remarkable, 13-year-olds girls go to school all the time, don’t they? For Ze, this was a truly momentous day.
I met Ze a year ago in her remote village of Antohobe in Madagascar. Perched a mile up in the highlands, our Landover lurched from side to side as we climbed the steep dirt tracks to her home. I could see why the village name means ‘a place with a view’.
When I arrived I was immediately struck by two young girls – Solo and Ze. Bright, chatty and confident, these best friends were eager to show me where they lived. They had few belongings, just one toy between them, a cherished doll they delighted in playing with. Their home was a simple two story building, with livestock kept on the first floor.
Conversation took a more somber tone when they explained their daily chores to me. These young teenage girls had to worry about more than cleaning their bedrooms – they had to collect water, up to five times a day. They had to walk down a treacherous trail surrounded by spiky cactuses, to a small muddy pond full of insects and algae.
Just six foot in diameter, this ‘spring’ served the 400-strong population of the village for all their water needs – washing, drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning. I could see movement under the surface. One word – ‘tsingala’ – is used to describe the plethora of insects living beneath.
I wince as Ze lifts up the huge 40-pound jerry can full of water.
“We fall down quite often, I sprained my ankle two months ago. It really hurt, I couldn’t walk. I was crying and I had to crawl back up the path to the village, when my parents saw me they helped me into our house. Sometimes I still get pain there. After the first time I couldn’t walk for one month”. – Ze
When I met Ze last year she had been forced to drop out of school – her five daily hikes to collect water meant she simply did not have time to go any more. Water collection is seen as a domestic task, so it commonly falls to the girls in the family. I was shocked to see such an energetic bright young girl stopped in her tracks and committed to such back-breaking chores. Her future cut short all because she didn’t have access to clean water.
Over 748 million people in the world still don’t have access to clean water – for many, many girls their lives are just how Ze’s was. They too spend hours every day collecting heavy jerry cans of dirty water. This water can be very dangerous to drink, it frequently makes people sick, meaning they are forced to take time off school, or worse. In Ze’s village, sickness and diarrhea were rife. Globally, it is estimated that over 700 girls die every day from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
Solo and Ze now have clean water in their village. They no longer spend hours every day carrying heavy jerry cans of water, stumbling down dangerous paths.
“There is lots of fresh, clean water coming from the pump. It’s so easy to get water here. Thank you for making it happen.” – Ze
WaterAid worked with local partner organization Association Miarintsoa (AMI) to install clean water in the village. A deep electrical well pump was installed, hitting water after seven long days of drilling. Ze’s father has been trained as a local caretaker and is in charge of maintaining the water pump.
This village is moving towards Community-led Total Sanitation – this means toilets are being built, showers are being constructed and people are being educated about hygiene. Facilities are also being extended to include Ze’s school.
Last month Ze was able to return to school. A truly triumphant day for her. And real proof of the power of clean water. Her future is now alive again. Clean water isn’t the end of Ze’s story though, it’s only the beginning.
Sign our petition today so that more young girls like Ze can realize the dream of clean water and return to school.
Visit www.wateraid.org to learn more about how clean water impacts women’s and girls’ lives.
Cover image: Solo and Ze celebrate clean water arriving in their village; WaterAid / Ernest Randriarimalala