A valuable commodity; clean water

I was standing at the top of the hill near my small house in Fundong, watching kids as young as three years old carried bowls on their heads filled with water from the dirty stream below. The women and older children marched up from the stream, balancing like circus performers large five gallon containers on their heads. There were also women and a few young men climbing up and down this steep hill to the stream to do their laundry. This was the only available source of water for most of the village. They washed their clothes on one side of the stream and took their cooking and drinking water from the mouth of the stream. As I watched the parade of people as they reached the top of the hill, I asked if they were going to drink the water they were carrying. Most said yes and I began my sermon on boiling all drinking water taken from the stream. Some of them laughed and some just stared at me with a blank expression. I did have one convert, a young girl of about seventeen who I had met the other day when I went to investigate the conditions at the stream. She surprised me when she said she had started boiling her drinking water.
I visited the Catholic primary school and lectured to kindergarten age children such simple concepts as cover your mouth when you cough and bring toilet paper to school to wipe your nose. Most of them wipe their noses with their arms or on their clothes and cough at each other. When I mentioned to my neighbor Vivian, the single mother of three children, that I recommended that each child bring a piece of toilet paper to school, she said she couldnt afford to buy toilet paper which cost 250cf or fifty cents. Until I arrived a month ago, she was sending her children down to the stream for water. She said she did boil the drinking water but I dont know if I can believe her. Most of the villagers cook with wood fires and cant afford extra wood to boil water. I told her to ask me for the key to the outside faucet when she needed to fill up her water jugs. The strange part of this story is that her uncle Eugene owns the house I am renting but doesnt give her access to the water. Eugenes mother lives next to me in a stone hut with a dirt floor, one electric bulb in the ceiling, her wood cooking pit in the center and her bed pushed against the stone wall. She is somewhere in the range of eighty five years old, is still farming her land and chooses to live in her primitive housing. Breathing in wood smoke in the room where she sleeps hasnt shortened her life and she definitely doesnt boil her drinking water. She is an anomaly of someone surviving this harsh unforgiving life.
When we visited the village of Ngawinkume, about 10 miles up a bumpy rutted dirt road outside of Fundong, we were told that even the stream where the women took their water dried up during the dry season which lasts about 5 months. The government had given a private contractor money to dig a well and run pipes down to the village. When the villagers met with person he told them he had run out of money before he had completed 50% of the job. Everyone knew he had stolen the other half of the money but most of them are uneducated people who speak only their traditional language and have great fear and frustration of dealing with the government. Every community I visited had the same serious situation. No source of clean water and sometimes no source of water within walking distance of their town. The day I visited the government bi-lingual high school, the principal showed me a proposal he had sent to the government, asking for funds to bring water from a major access point about half km away to the school of 1500 pupils. During the dry season the water cachement that supplies some water to the school dries up and they have no water at all. He mentioned the condition of the toilets was unsupportable during this period. Typically at the end of all the stories I hear, I am asked to find an NGO(non governmental organization that is usually foreign) to solve their water problem. In the town of Fundong in the streets there are a few water tap stations where kids are sent everyday at certain hours when the tap is unlocked to fill up 5 gallon jugs with water. Today as I passed I noticed it was 5 pm and the tap was still locked while twelve to fifteen children waited until the man with the key would come to unlock the tap. I had video taped him a few weeks ago as he explained to me that he opened the tap four hours a day, two in early morning and between 4-6 in the evening. I never see grown men carrying water, working in the fields or cooking. They do a lot of hanging around while the women and children work. Many of the residents believe that the tap water is clean and safe to drink. A week after I arrived, I turned the kitchen faucet on and the water that ran out was a cloudy white color. After questioning several people, I was told that at the beginning of each month the government puts a chemical like chlorine in the tap water to make it safe. I asked people if they knew exactly what the chemical was and if it was chlorine, how many of them would drink water out of a swimming pool.
I have the luxury and fortune to drink and cook with bottled water, boil my bathing water as well as the water to wash my dishes. But I have the advantage of being able to afford to buy gas burners and spend $25 a week on bottled water. In the western world clean water isnt a luxury,it is part of our
normal lives.

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