By Lenny Baer, Ghana Program Director
We’ve been training WATSAN committees in Fielmuo area communities in the Upper West Region of Ghana. Say it with me once, dear reader. WATSAN.
Michael Anyekase of the NGO W.A.T.E.R. (Water in Africa through Everyday Responsiveness) asks trainees to say the word with him, too, just like you did now. He explains that the word has two parts, water and sanitation, or WAT-SAN. WATSAN committees help their communities take care of water and sanitation in and around borehole sites (you might think of most boreholes as community wells with metal handpumps) and they help educate community members about water and sanitation more generally. WATSAN committees have chairpersons, pump caretakers, hygiene promoters, organizers, secretaries, and treasurers, and they are all volunteers from the local area. They work with their communities, traditional authorities and the District Assembly to maintain their boreholes.
As one part of the training, Michael advises committee members to take pride in each borehole, clean it, and make the handpump shine. Committee members do shine throughout the training, too, but they’re not shining handpumps. They’re applauding with a ‘shine’ when someone has a good idea or a notable accomplishment. “Make it shine, shine, shine,” someone will say during any of the 3-day workshops, rubbing both hands together and smiling. Make it shine. Everyone, sometimes over 30 people at once, rubs both hands together as if shining an invisible object and then, somehow, claps once at exactly the same time.
With the help of W.A.T.E.R., we’ve trained 21 communities in December and January, with about 12 more to be trained next month. I say “about 12” because, to put it mildly, there’s a lot of interest from communities in the training. We keep learning about more people who want to be trained, all wanting to help their communities. Lately, we have been training four committees at a time, each with seven members in it, to reach all communities in the Fielmuo area.
Thus far, women have made up over 50% of all WATSAN committee members in the communities we’ve trained. No WATSAN committee has fewer than three women out of seven members. This is important because the burden falls on women to work with water. It is primarily women and girls who trek long distances, wait at borehole sites for their turn, pump the water, and carry heavy bowls filled with water on their heads back to their homes. In the local context, this is clearly defined as women’s work, and that also means that women tend to be the first to notice problems with handpumps. Women also show more commitment to helping their communities than men do. So it’s important that women are well represented on WATSAN committees.
After the 3-day workshops, we follow up regularly on each WATSAN committee to see how well people are implementing what they’ve learned from the training. We don’t want communities to face problems with handpumps breaking down but it still happens sometimes. With the WATSAN training in place and other strategies we are using, communities will soon be able to repair problems with their own boreholes within a matter of days. It’s up to the WATSAN committees and their communities to achieve that, and we’ll keep monitoring how well they’re doing. In addition to reconstituting and training WATSAN committees, we are training community members to work as area handpump mechanics and, among other activities, we are opening a handpump parts store in Fielmuo soon so that WATSAN committees will be able to get needed parts. We want communities to be able to take care of all of their water needs without outside help. We’ll get there, with WATSAN training one part of a larger strategy to help the Fielmuo area with water and sanitation.