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Water source allows Timor-Leste girls to focus on school

El Niño-induced droughts have caused many Timorese girls to miss classes to collect water. In one community, a new water system installed by Plan International is allowing girls to focus again on their education.

Young girl in Timor-Leste with a water storage container provided by Plan International
Young girl with a water storage container provided by Plan International.

Betti is a young girl who lives in a remote area of the Lautem municipality of Timor-Leste. During the drought, it fell to her to collect water for her family.

“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.”

The impact of drought

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

I am no longer late to school as I don’t have to spend time fetching water.

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 25kg. How much water could be carried back to their household depended on how much they could physically carry or push by hand cart.

Building resilience and sustainability

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 not represent a risk for them again in 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.  

New water tank built by Plan International in Timor-Leste
New water tank built by Plan International in Timor-Leste.

Local water committees were formed and have been trained in water safety, planning, 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 comes to an end, the community is confident that it will be able to handle any future droughts.

Women and girls reaping benefits

Water filters and storage containers were also distributed to all households in the community, making life much easier for the 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 time spent collecting it.

Girls in Timor-Leste collect water from their new water source
Girls in Timor-Leste collect water from their new water source.

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

“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.”

Her friend Fernanda added, “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.

More stories from Timor-Leste including '100% Ready' - a film about women taking the lead in Timor-Leste.