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Our Blog: Water
March 8, 2013
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.

February 21, 2013
Community celebrates launch of Vibrant Village projects in Northern Haiti

By Matt Van Geest

As the sun started to set, the crowd was buzzing, excited for that first goal.

The players fought tirelessly for the pride of their team so they could emerge champions. Finally, a goal!  A few minutes later, another goal and the first half ended tied 1-1. The players went into the half tired, but eager to get back out on the pitch. The halftime show was fun for all. Beyoncé wasn’t available, but the singing contest with themes on cholera prevention, the foot races and the musical chairs competition kept the crowd excited.

Haitians love soccer and this event was no exception. Hundreds of people came out to watch the final championship games of the week, one in the village of Phaeton and one in Paulette, the two communities where Vibrant Village is focusing its efforts in northern Haiti.  The event was designed as a celebration, both of the coming Carnival season and of Vibrant Village’s projects. We had spent the past few months in weekly meetings with community members to work on identifying their hopes and dreams for the future. This event was an opportunity to share those dreams with the broader community, to celebrate the completion of the revitalized water system, our first project in addition to our regular feeding program, and to just to let go for a day.

The community was grateful for the day. It was an endless flood of “Mesi Mesye Matye’s” or “Mesi Fondasyon Vilaj Vivan” (Thank you Mr. Matthew, Thank you Vibrant Village Foundation). A group of women who had been very active in the community meetings also made the extra effort of getting matching t-shirts that said “Merci FVV”, or “Thanks VVF.” That was a highlight for me.

The event marked new projects and the beginning of the newly established plans for 2013, as well as strategies and ideas for the next five years for both communities, and we intend to be working in these communities for the long haul.

The final score . . . well, it was a tie and went into shootouts . . . but what really matters is that this was a celebration of the hopes and dreams of these two communities for their future.

January 28, 2013
Repairing water systems in Haiti
by Matt van Geest 
On the road out to Phaeton, a small village in Northeastern Haiti where Vibrant Village has been supporting a nutrition program for three years, my three-year-old son Niko asked me to tell him a story.
It was a long and bumpy drive and I knew I needed to keep him occupied. I was excited to take him on this trip since there were no formal meetings, just a group of community members getting together to move some big water tanks. So, I began to tell him a story about a group of villagers getting together to move water tanks and how a little Canadian boy helped them out! He was thrilled.
The story was really about what I was hoping for the day – a clear and demonstrable show of community support and engagement in the first phase of this water project we were beginning together. I've come to expect that community organizing and mobilization is one of the hardest parts of my work, and deep down, I was worried that the day was going to be a flop.
It wasn't, and just as my son was thrilled with the story, so I was thrilled with how the future story of Phaeton is being re-written. There were 25 guys helping move the three massive water tanks. It took a lot of hard work and we were working under the hot sun and in the middle of bunches of thorny bushes. But we persisted and got it done . . . well, THEY persisted and got it done, all with the smiling encouragement of a three-year-old boy and his proud dad.