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The weight of water: lightening Miranda’s burden

As a girl growing up in a developing country, 10-year-old Miranda knows the true cost of water. She lives in a rural area of Timor-Leste, where clean water is scarce and, as such, she has already had to sacrifice much of her childhood in exchange for this life-giving resource. Miranda collected water 3 times per day from the nearest river, which meant a total of 3 hours of walking every day. To contain the water, she would use 2 bottles – each holding about 5 litres of liquid, once filled.

In addition to these bottles, Miranda would also have to carry heaps of clothes on her commute, as she was required to wash dirty clothes in the same river. With the heavy load of 2 filled water jugs and the soaked, clean clothing, Miranda found the journey home particularly challenging. She would often need to take multiple breaks along the route. “Sometimes I’m tired, but we need the water for drinking, cooking, showering, etc,” she said.

A girl walks down a long, rocky path in bare feet as other children look on. She carries two large water jugs in each hand, and balances a clear jug on her head.

Like Miranda, many girls in Timor-Leste must collect clean water for their families, struggling to transport it the long distance home.

Miranda collected her first batch of water early in the morning before she attended her fourth grade classes in school. “Sometimes, I am late going to school because I have to collect the water from the river,” she said. After school, she would collect the second load of water, and then venture out a third time in late afternoon.

Miranda ended up exhausted from her long and physically exerting journeys. She was left drained of time and energy, which not only negatively impacted her health and well-being, but also caused her studies to suffer.

Ultimately, she had little opportunity to learn or play and was, thus, denied her right to be a child. “I just have time in the late evening to do my homework and study, but I am tired already because I collected the water and prepared our dinner in the afternoon,” Miranda explained.

A child’s hand grasps a green water jug, scooping up water from a sandy and shallow river.

The river that Miranda collected water from was also used to wash dirty clothes and frequented by animals as a drinking spot. It would become especially dirty during the rainy season.

The water that Miranda collected, and that she and her family consumed, was sourced from a river that was also used as a drinking spot for horses. “We only have access to water in the river. It is close to my village and it is the only water source that we have,” she stated. Along with being a hosting ground for bacteria and contamination from other animals, the river becomes particularly dirty during the rainy season.

“We have to anticipate the rainy season by collecting the water in advance and saving it just for cooking and drinking. But for washing dishes, clothes and showering, we just use the rain water,” Miranda explained.

Miranda’s mother, Paulina, boils the water several times to ensure it is as safe as possible for consumption. Yet, even with taking every safety precaution, the water was still not a viable and healthy drinking option. “Sometimes, my family and I have coughs because we consume this water,” said Miranda.

Unfortunately, illnesses linked to inadequate sanitation and unclean water pose a serious threat for the children of Timor-Leste. In fact, diarrhea remains one of the country’s top causes of infant and child mortality.

Miranda stands in a tropical area, holding a bucket under a blue water tap. Her mother dispenses water from the tap by using the handle.

Miranda and her mother, Paulina, collect clean water from a tap near their home – a result of the newly constructed community water system. Now Miranda can attend school and Paulina can better manage her family’s health.

In spring 2013, Plan (and Plan’s partners) held a discussion with community members, establishing the need for the new water system. Together, they identified optimal access points for water taps and determined what roles, responsibilities, and resources were required for effective construction and maintenance.

“It was the community that built their own water system and will maintain their own system. We just supported the community on technical matters,” said Maria, a local hygiene promoter and Plan partner who aided in the project. These collective efforts helped ensure the project’s successful completion, as well as its long-term sustainability.

“I’m happy now because we have clean water,” said Miranda, who now has water taps located in close proximity to her house. Through this Plan-supported initiative, Miranda now has more time and energy to dedicate to her education, and her mother can rest assured that the family is using clean water.

A young boy holds his hands under a large flow of clean, falling water that collects in a bucket below.

With the new water filtration system, not only does Miranda and her family benefit, the entire village does as well.

“The new water system reduces my burden, and I don’t need to walk long distances. Also, I do not need to be late for school, and I will have more time to study,” said Miranda.

However, it wasn’t only Miranda and her mother who were able to improve their lives thanks to this new water system – the benefits also flowed down to the families and children located in surrounding areas. In Miranda’s village there were 10 water pumps installed, meaning that – with the ratio of approximately 6 houses per pump – about 60 houses can now access clean water. In total, the entire water system, which spans both the Aileu and Lautem districts, now serves almost 3,000 people in about 600 households.

You can improve the life of a child like Miranda by helping them access their right to clean drinking water and the childhood they deserve.