This is the story of a life transformed by a water pump.
Once there was a woman called Lucy. She lived in Kandiga, in Ghana. She still lives there but today her life is quite different from the way it was more than ten years ago.
It was the women’s job to fetch water. It had always been so. There was no choice. Unless a woman fetched the water for her family, her family would have none.
In those days, the women in the village set off at dawn. The need for water determined everything, their thoughts, their plans, their daily lives, even their dreams.
As early as three in the morning, when the day was just emerging, between dark and light, the women set out to walk the three miles to the river.
As they walked the women thought about the soft beds they’d left, and their sleeping children who would soon wake. And they thought about the weight of the empty water pots and the weight of the full ones, and they thought about the sound of water being drawn out of the well, and the sound of it pouring into the cooking pot, or being splashed by the children washing. And they thought about those quiet moments they longed for when they would bend over their own washing bowl and splash the water over their arms and backs.
Sometimes they hummed or sung quietly as they walked the long path to the river. That helped them to feel stronger, less intimidated by the sudden movements or sounds. They hoped their voices would frighten away the snakes which loved the dry scuttling paths and the thick clumps of grass. Sometimes a woman might slip or stumble on the uneven road, or someone’s ankle would twist climbing over the steep river bank. Often, water pots would fall and break.
There was another fear which the women hoped their songs would frighten away. The bad strangers that sometimes assaulted a women when she went into the bush to go to the toilet. That was the worst fear. To sing was to make them feel braver.
In the long dry season from November to March there were other problems. Water in the river became scarce and quarrels broke out, and people fought for the water. There were quarrels in the family, beatings and divorce. Children became malnourished. And in the rainy season came diseases: diarrhea, dysentery, guinea worm, cholera.
Fetching water took a long time. Sometimes Lucy’s children waited and waited for her to come back, but for one reason or another she was held up and they went to school late, without washing and eating breakfast.
And then Lucy would be late for her job. She was a teacher at the local school, the only woman teacher. How she worried! There was so much at stake. Being a teacher was a great joy and source of pride. In rural communities only one woman in every thirty men was educated. Because women had to fetch water every day, most gave up any idea of having a job outside the home. They dedicated themselves to their role of water carrier.
But for Lucy it didn’t seem right. She thought hard, and felt sorry for herself and all the women and families in her village. She became depressed and wearied by the constant struggle. She began to think, ‘Am I not capable of achieving anything in life but the fetching of water? To carry a water pot for three miles without spilling a drop – will that be my life’s achievement?’
One day as she waited her turn at the river, someone told her about hand pumps and how an organsiation called Water Aid might help her buy some for the village. Imagine what it would do to our lives, she thought. And knew at once she would find a way to get one.
Over the next months she contacted Water Aid, and one thing led to another until a time when the local people were shown how to dig two wells. Water Aid helped them raise money to buy the pumps, and provided skilled labour to line the wells.
On the first day after the hand pumps were installed Lucy woke up suddenly at 6 am and cried out ‘Oh, I’m too late to fetch water from the river.’
Then she heard her excited children outside – they’d woken early and filled the water pots with clean water and were already preparing breakfast.
How simple. A pump. A tap. A toilet. And so life became more peaceful. Now everyone fetches water. And more children go to school. And the school is fully staffed because teachers like jobs near water pumps.
And the women have time to look after their families and earn money by weaving or farming. They’re seen as equals and take part in decision-making. They’ve become community leaders. And the local community manages its resources. So living conditions are improved and health.
Lucy says all their lives have been transformed. She listens to the sound of the tap water pouring into the pot and sings with joy.