Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Walk to Water

During my time at Ikafe, two words were repeated more than any others: welcome and water.

From the moment I arrived, it was made clear to me that water was the most pressing concern for all: those in the camp, those living in the surrounding communities, even the staff of the various aid agencies. The water was in short supply, the water was not enough, the water was too far....

In most rural African villages, as elsewhere in the world, it is perfectly normal for people (usually women) to walk to the borehole each day to collect and carry the water back home. Often, women do this twice in a day, as the water must be used for cooking, cleaning, drinking, bathing, growing, and, well, living for the entire family. The borehole is often a social spot, and walks to and from the borehole a time for chatting and catching up with neighbors. This is normal. This is Africa.

But sometimes the borehole is too far. It is generally thought that a walk of under 1 km is an acceptable, normal distance to walk for water. 2 km is just too far. And this is about what the women of Okubani walk each day to water: 2 km there, 2 km back. As you can imagine, this causes a myriad of problems.

When water is too far, basic hygeine often gets ignored. Health drops. Wounds fester.
When water is too far, work does not get done. The walk and wait takes up a significan portion of the day, and other critical tasks aren't completed. This can lead to family stress, and bigger problems at home.
When water is too far, conflict often errupts at the borehole. People fight over limited resources.

And the problem repeated to me over and over and over again by women and men alike?
When water is too far, girls are raped and sexually assaulted.

This one was a shock to me.

It seems that in order to address the serious problems caused by the long walk to water, families started sending their daughters to the well at night, where they could sleep. The young girls would wake at dawn, be among the first to gather water, and be home in time for the day's work to get done (by their mothers), and (usually) to get to school themselves. However, recently, there has been a series of "defilements" at the borehole.

It is probable that a very small percentage of these girls were actually meeting "boyfriends", but in many cases (and I was unable to determine how many there had been) I was told, girls were being raped.

And why? A long walk to water led them to vulnerability and compromised safety.

This has disturbed me for weeks now. I think about it constantly. I have been told that another borehole is not really an is just too dry. It is true: in Okubani, dry, sealed boreholes lay like tombs in plain sight.

A series of community discussions took place in an effort to get families to think of alternative means of collecting water. Perhaps even (!!!) sending men. No longer in Okubani, I can only hope that they find a solution. I am sure that they will. In a place that does not need more pain or problems, rape has deep, long lasting personal and social consequences. One need only speak to a group of child-mothers to get a profound sense of what this means...but that is another post.

I'm in Gulu now, and will probably stay here for some time. There is a lot going on, and a lot to learn here. Still figuring it all out...more soon.

Until then, wishing you all fresh and steady streams of water,


1 comment:

tyson said...

you are amazing, older sister.