By Jhonny Perez, Sustainable Sanitation Officer, Water For People Bolivia
This blog was a finalist in our first Water For People blog competition among all of our colleagues around the globe. Congratulations Jhonny!
Versión en español aquí.
I am a civil engineer by profession, and eight years ago I joined the Water For People team in Bolivia. Water For People is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to reach Everyone with water and sanitation. In the model, equity and social inclusion take precedence, leaving no one behind.
I want to tell my story within the world of water and sanitation development in Bolivia, as a young professional wanting to gain experience.
I immersed myself in the sea of water and sanitation needs, and the first story I came across is that of Doña Vicenta. She is a blind elderly woman from the community of Uchuci Cancha in the municipality of Tiraque. This woman told me about the daily journey she would take to get water from a spring in the middle of the community. She traveled about two km, which took about 90 minutes of her time. She walked carrying two ten-liter cans in her aguayo1, a five-liter can in one hand, and a cane in the other. The cane is her guide to cross that long road, with obstacles due to the terrain and, even more so, the difficulty of not seeing. The need for water outweighs Doña Vicenta’s physical limitations.
With a lump in my throat, I continued the work with the moral commitment to improve Doña’s quality of life so that she would have better days. After the technical and social work in coordination with Tiraque’s Municipal Sanitation Department, the project was validated by identifying all the families that are permanent residents of the community. The project was implemented with a mixed water system, including catchment work, a pumping system to a storage tank in the upper part of the community, and household connections with micro-metering, thus guaranteeing the sustainability of the water system. At present, all the families in the Uchuchi Cancha community have access to water regardless of their physical or social condition or the topographic location of their house. There will always be a technical solution to provide water, either through a piped system, a protected spring, or by harvesting rainwater.
In Convento Pampa, a community in the municipality of Arani, I came across another story. An elderly couple who, despite their age, participated in community works together with the other families in the community. If you wonder what motivated this elderly couple in their 80s to carry out excavation work, it is simply the desire to have a water faucet right on their property.
After several days of work and fatigue, the community decided to hold the inauguration ceremony for the water system at the elderly couple’s house. After words of thanks from the authorities, there was a scene that remains engraved in my mind. It was something that perhaps went unnoticed by others, and it was seeing the joy of the elderly couple when opening the faucet and… wow! What for them was unattainable came shooting out – a jet of water. At the same time, tears from the old woman fell, making her eyes, already tired by the years, shine. With wrinkles on her hands, she brought the first stream of water to her face to refresh her skin. She was clearly pleased to have a faucet on the property at more than 80 years of age. But it wasn’t just her eyes that were bathed in tears, but also those of us who could feel her gratitude when she saw the water coming out of the faucet. She called us yacu runas (water man) and finished by saying: "Thanks to you, I have water."
Without a doubt, water and sanitation work is exciting. It is comforting to help improve the quality of life of many families and ensure that all people on earth have water and sanitation services. This must be what moves us all to work with the objective of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially the one I am most passionate about: SDG 6.