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New water source allows girls to focus on school

El Niño-induced droughts have caused many Timorese girls to miss classes and take risks while collecting water across the country. In this one community in the far east of Timor-Leste, a new water system installed by Plan International allows girls to focus on school again.

Girls are happy they don't need to spend their time fetching water anymore.

“Before we had to travel one to two hours. When we went to fetch water we had to use a cart to carry the jerry cans, but not anymore. Now we feel better,” says Betti, a young girl living in a remote area of the Lautem municipality of Timor-Leste.

The impact of drought

This area has been one of the most heavily-affected areas during the El Nino weather phenomenon, causing severe drought across Timor-Leste. With the local spring source completely dried out, residents were forced to collect their water from other open sources about three kilometres away.

When Plan International first visited this community, women and girls were forced to trek down the steep, rocky road to collect water. The return journey was daunting, as they had to haul up the hill several jerry cans weighing up to 25 kg. How much water could be carried back to their household depended on how much they could physically carry or push by hand cart.

Women and girls had to trek down a steep, rocky road to collect water.

Building resilience

Providing this community with an easy and safe access to water was only a first step. Plan International Timor-Leste and its local partners also had to ensure that water shortages would never represent a risk for them in the future. That’s why in addition to developing a new water source and installing several water points in the area, Plan International also closely worked with community members to ensure the sustainability of the new facilities.  

Local water committees were formed and have been trained in water safety planning and maintenance and operation. “Each household has agreed to pay USD1.00 per month to cover the operating cost of the system and have savings for necessary repairs,” reports Alex Saporas, Head of the community’s water committee. 

As the project is soon coming to an end, Plan International Timor-Leste’s staff is confident that this community will be able to handle future droughts on its own.

Women and girls at the centre

Water filters and storage containers were also distributed to all households in the community, making life much easier for all women and girls who are usually responsible for collecting and treating the water. The filters mean they now use less firewood as they don’t have to boil their water, and the containers allow them to store the filtered water, thus minimising the time spent collecting water.

Now my mornings are easier and I can concentrate on school

This means that girls have more time to focus on school.

“Before we had to go take water in another area, but now that the water supply is close to our home we feel happy,” says Guida, a 16-year school girl. “I am no longer late to school as I don’t have to spend time fetching water,” she adds.

As her friend Fernanda also explained, “with the water filter, I don’t have to busy myself boiling water each morning. Now my mornings are easier and I can concentrate on school.”


*This project is supported by the Australian Government, the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission.