A community group formed through a CARE water, sanitation and hygiene project in Ethiopia are bringing new opportunities to their remote village.
In the highlands of Ethiopia, a group of 19 people sit in a circle in their communal field. In the middle of the circle are four coloured plates and a tin box with two locks.
This is the village’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committee. They formed through CARE’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene project in late 2010.
Despite their name, this group does much more than improve access to clean water and sanitation in their community. With these simple tools, this committee and the woman leading them are also bringing new opportunities to their remote village.
It all began when the group built a new water pump with CARE’s assistance. The pump has given women more free hours in their day and reduced the amount of illness in the community, particularly the children.
Belea, a mother of four, is the chairperson of the group. She explains, “Before the construction of the water pump, I would walk for one hour to collect water from the river. I lost time collecting water – walking and queuing because water is scarce. My children drank this unsafe water and had diseases. Now, the water is safe and my children can go to school and be healthy.”
The water pump was developed through a close partnership between CARE and the community – CARE provided skilled labour and the majority of the materials for the pump, and the community provided their own labour and sourced some local resources like sand and rocks.
The committee developed by-laws to protect the pump – if anyone breaks a law, they have to pay a fee. This money is then managed by the group to cover maintenance and other related costs.
That is just one of the funds the committee manages today. The committee also operates as a community savings group, with each member contributing 5 birr (30 cents) every month. As the total sum grows, members are able to take a loan out for income-earning activities, which is then repaid with interest.
The money is kept safely in a tin box under the security of two separate locks. Belea holds one key, and the committee’s treasurer holds the other.
“I am saving money, and starting to change my life,” says Belea. The group has taken a loan already, to purchase salt and then on-sell it at the local market, making a profit of 55 birr ($3.20).
When the group meets, the money is divided amongst the coloured plates – with each one indicating a different ‘account’ within the savings group. The green plate displays the groups’ savings, yellow is the interest paid back from loans, red is the punishment fees that are paid if someone breaks a by-law; and blue is the social fund that all members contribute to and is available for anyone in the community to borrow from if they find themselves in urgent need of money.
Belea’s role as leader of the group is another first for this community. Before, women were not usually allowed to speak in public or be involved in decision making. Now, she is leading this group of women and men towards creating a better future for their entire community.
“I am happy to be the chairperson of the group. I manage the meetings and have the power to speak in front of others and make decisions. I received training from CARE about speaking publicly, before I only ever spoke in church. Now, I speak in meetings and community discussions.”
The gender division of labour and opportunities is seen in Belea’s home as well as her community. She explains, “In my home, my husband would only spend his time on farming and I would work in the house. Now, my husband shares the household chores like cooking and making coffee and there is improvement in my home.”
Now, with the opportunity to learn leadership skills and the ability to save money, the opportunities for women in the village are flowing as freely as the clean water from the village’s water pump.’
*Names have been changed to protect identities.