It is not only one person that makes the difference, it is the entire community

Published: 19 April 2013 18:36 CET

By Ombretta Baggio in Zimbabwe


It is early morning in Tornhill village, Mt Darwin district, and the water pump at the center of the village surrounded by women patiently waiting for their turn. White, blue, yellow and black buckets are all lined up to be filled. John Takodi, the caretaker of the Water Pump Committee is returning from the water pump.

John is one of the many Water Point Committees’ members trained as part of the 200 water points constructed or rehabilitated in the district by the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society over the period 2006 - 2010. “I go very early in the morning to check if the pump is working. I am the first one to spot if something is not working and have to report to the Water Point Committee,” he says.

“Before the work on a water point even starts, it is really important to get the community prepared for the reality of looking after it,” says Lucky Goteka, acting Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society. “From making sure the area is kept clean, to maintaining it or even paying for repairs, there are always jobs to be done.”

In Thornhill village the community decided to elect a committee to take on these responsibilities. One of the first things they have to do is to understand how their well will work, how it is built and how to fix it.

Mussiwa Gatsi, secretary of the Water Point Committee, looks after finances, making sure there is money available to pay for any emergency repairs they cannot do themselves. “I was chosen by the community because I am able to read and write,” she says.

“I grew up as an orphan and could not complete school. My older brother could not afford to pay for my school fees. But I decided to keep on using every learning opportunity to grow and get better in life. I was trained by the Red Cross and since I have been proudly carrying on my task as the WPC Secretary ever since. I can also teach hygiene. I love teaching. As a woman, I feel empowered to be in this position.”

John sits close to Mussiwa under the tree next to the water pump. Both tell the story of when a couple of months ago the water pump had broken.

“It is not easy when we need to change a spare part. The pump minder trained by the project could not solve the problem,” says Mussiwa.

John says the issue was raised with the committee and the community. “Many cannot contribute money but they would give a chicken or some crops. Since the beginning of the project we have sensitized the community about the importance of getting together and contributing towards the functioning of the pump,” he says. “The pump is ours and we need to take care of it.”

Red Cross operations have come to understand that unless villagers themselves are fully engaged in the project, unless they choose what they need and how to do it, the project won’t be theirs and it won’t last. They need to participate in its design and construction, and most people believe that villagers need to pay to use it, just a little bit.

This participatory approach paid off in Mt Darwin. According to a recent study, 82 per cent of water points are still functioning and 96 per cent of latrines in schools and clinics are still in use, with significant improvement in hygiene practices as well.

The project is part of the Global Water and Sanitation Initiative launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 2005.