|Women spring into leadership in Burundi|
|Thursday, 08 March 2012 11:57|
Générose, who returned to Burundi after 13 years of exile, is helping her community stay healthy and proud.
For years Générose Nyambikiye has collected water for her family, a traditional and time consuming role for women across Africa and the developing world. Access to clean drinking water is crucial to avoid water-borne diseases.
Having returned to Burundi in 2008, she now heads the Water Committee in her Hill community in Giharo commune. Elected for a second term her responsibility is to ensure the newly protected water spring is constantly maintained and that the importance of cleanliness and hygiene is conveyed to every family.
3 Members of Water Committee left to right Jeremie Ndereyima,Générose Nyambikiye, Dorothee Nahimana as lady in the background is collecting drinking water.
“You know, for us, water is life! It affects everything! To get clean water it used to take us an hour!” she says.
Before the community had a protected spring they were unable to keep their clothes and even their utensils clean, meaning they suffered from illnesses such as diarrhoea. It was a vicious circle. Women still carry water home on their heads twice a day, but at the spring a 20 litre jerry can be filled in 10 seconds - a UN requirement - and it’s less than two miles home which is considered short.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes since we’ve had access to clean drinking water. There have been fewer illnesses in the community and we’re able to keep ourselves, our clothes and our homes cleaner and more hygienic,” said Générose, who is 53 and married with five children.
“Because we’ve had training from Cord, as Water Committee members, we can help our community understand how to transport and store water properly in their homes, and how to use it safely in cooking.”
Protecting a spring is simple and costs less than £500. The water source is protected with clay, gravel is used to filter dirt out of the water, and a twig fence prevents animals drinking in the spring and contaminating it.
Committees collect $1 a year from families who use the spring in order to fund repairs; local ownership leads to sustainable success.
It’s not only people’s health that has improved because of the Water Committees. Women’s involvement in the committees is quite radical. Women are not usually in positions of leadership so Générose knows how it is boosting their self-esteem.
“Every committee should have two women and two men and gives us women a chance to show men that we can do a good job,” Générose explains.
Seeing this, younger girls are encouraged to get an education. Générose’s committee requested T-shirts with the French words “Touts les filles à l’école" which means “All the girls should go to school,” to emphasise the importance of education for girls, as learning about nutrition, birth control, personal and domestic hygiene and can be a bridge to a better life.
Cord’s field team say Water Committees have improved advocacy at Hill level and that this in turn can contribute on a national scale too. In Burundi’s national government 30% of roles are occupied by women.
More than half the 770,000 people who left Burundi following years of conflict war have returned but need vital assistance in starting their lives again.
After testing 77 springs in January, communities working with Cord established 26 water committees to maintain 60 springs in Giharo and Mpinga Kayove communes in Burundi. More committees will be set up over the coming months.
The scheme is part of a larger Burundian government programme to provide clean water. The President of Burundi has committed to protect 25 springs per commune across the country.