As a young girl in rural Tanzania, Immaculata Raphael’s life revolved around fetching water.
Like many women and girls, she was one of her community’s water carriers, sometimes making up to 10 trips a day to a nearby pond.
The water she brought home wasn’t always safe to drink, but it was all that was available.
Today, this former water carrier is a water engineer for the regional government of Geita, in the northern part of Tanzania.
Raphael is part of a team that installed a water tower in the village of Kakora in May.
Kakora is the first of 12 communities in the Geita region scheduled to receive clean water by 2020, through an initiative funded in part by the Canadian government. Six projects are currently underway.
Raphael is determined to change the lives of women and girls in her country by making sure they have access to clean water. She believes bringing clean water to rural villages is “100 per cent feminist,” because if women and girls have to spend hours every day collecting water, it’s harder for them to go to school or work.
“When the water is there, you have uplifted a woman so much, because the time consumed on collecting water is so much,” Raphael told The Sunday Edition’s Alannah Campbell.
The United Nations has decreed that every person in the world should have access to clean, safe water by 2030.
But right now, at least 844 million people live without it, including approximately 23 million in Tanzania.
5 hours a day fetching water
In 2016, Global Affairs Canada announced it would invest $4.4 million over four years to help get clean water and sanitation to Tanzanian mothers and children, as part of a larger maternal and child health initiative in East Africa. (WaterAid, AMREF, the regional government of Geita and private donors are also contributing money to the projects.)
The Canadian government’s contribution is part of the “feminist international assistance policy” announced in 2016. International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said its aim is to “make sure that women and girls are empowered to reach their full potential so they can earn their own livelihoods, which will benefit families as well as the economic growth of their communities and countries.”
At 17, Godriver Harrow is all too aware of how water — or the lack of it — can come to define someone’s life. As one of her village’s primary water carriers, she spends five hours a day fetching water.
She lives in Bugulula, a Geita village with roughly 7,000 inhabitants. So far, it is not on the list of communities slated to receive clean water.
Every morning, Harrow walks two kilometres to a tiny, murky pond. She fills a 20-litre bucket — weighing about 44 pounds — and balances it on her head on the way back home. She and the other water carriers make this trip four or five times a day.
The pond is the perfect breeding ground for waterborne illnesses. It’s often contaminated by animals who drink from it and defecate nearby. Cholera, typhoid, malaria, serious diarrhea and skin infections are common in the village.
But this is the only water available for washing, cooking and bathing babies.
During the dry season, Harrow will travel as far as 10 kilometres for water — often in the dark, when both human and animal predators pose a threat.
Through a translator, Harrow said she’s too busy to dream of her future. Without an education, she doesn’t have much hope of finding employment.
Girls in Bugulula start learning to carry water as young as six years of age. The young ones usually attend school, but once a girl gets her period, it’s more complicated.
It’s a long walk to and from school, and there is no easy place for them to wash themselves. According to a number of women in the area, many girls stay home four or five days every month because they’re embarrassed to sit in little classrooms reserved for girls who are menstruating.
Cases of waterborne illnesses down
In Kakora, just two hours down the road, it’s a different story. A bright white water tower stretching into the sky holds enough clean water for each of the village’s roughly 3,000 residents.
Women fill their buckets at a community tap, and the hours the water carriers used to spend looking for water are now spent working or going to school.
Campbell visited Kakora in June, four weeks after the water tower was installed. At the local primary school, lessons in hand-washing and hygiene are part of the new curriculum. The community has also installed a what it calls a “tippy tap” — a simple yet ingenious station for hand-washing near the primary and secondary schools.
Three sticks and two pieces of string hold two jugs of water. A third string holds a bottle with liquid soap. Tipping one water jug produces a flow of clean water. A foot pedal and pulley system keep dirty hands from contaminating the water jugs.
Eight upgraded outhouses are a few steps away. Soon, ceramic drains will cover “squat” holes in the ground, and students will learn to pour a cup of water over the drain each time they use it.
As a result of this new water system, cases of waterborne illnesses have been reduced. According to the local clinic, cholera is down by 90 per cent in Kakora since January. The local headmistress says girls who used to stay home from school during their periods are now remaining in class.
Kakora resident Leonida Elias, who is 29 and a mother of three, told Campbell hours “disappeared” every week as she walked back and forth to fetch water. But she believes her seven-year-old daughter Angel is walking into a very different world.
When her children were born, Elias had to deliver them without clean water, an experience she described as “horrible.”
Until May, the price of a baby’s delivery at the local clinic was two buckets of water. Labouring mothers had to bring their own water to wash themselves and their newborns. The single delivery bed was often smeared with another woman’s blood. Sepsis and post-natal infections were common. Many infants died.
Now, safe water runs in the sink. Instead of bringing pails of water, new mothers bring soap and clean clothes for their babies.
When Dr. Ibrahim Kabole, the director of WaterAid Tanzania, visits places like Kakora and witnesses the changes that come with clean water, he relates on a personal level.
“My mother walked that walk a million times,” he said. He believes that when water isn’t readily available, women are denied the chance to participate fully in their communities.
“In essence, women are cut out because of their need to walk for water,” he said.
Immaculata Raphael, the former water carrier, is now looking to the Tanzanian government to make clean water accessible to everyone. By 2025, she wants to see water available in 90 to 95 per cent of rural Tanzania.
Raphael said she has already noticed a difference in the way girls in Kakora talk about their futures.
“Every time I go to the village, I always say, ‘Who is studying science subjects?’ ‘Me!’ ‘Who is going to be an engineer?’ ‘Me!’” Raphael said.
She hopes they will follow her path. “I said it to four girls: ‘Please, come and take my chair. Just walk in my footsteps.’”
Raphael believes that as more girls get access to education, it will change life for everyone.
“You educate the women, you educate the country,” she said.