Access to safe water still a challenge in Sierra Leone


These are problems the people of Sierra Leone are all too familiar with. ABC7 traveled to the West African nation to see the progress being made, in part, thanks to the generosity of people in the Bay Area.

It is hard to believe in a country where the rainy season lasts half the year, that water is such a challenge. In rural areas, two-thirds of people sitll don't have access to clean water. Women wash clothes in the same streams they depend on for cooking and drinking. In the slums of Sierra Leone's capitol city, children collect water from the same dirty creek where pigs roam.

"People often don't see water as their issue. We say, 'OK, when was the last time one of the children here had diarrhea?' and it's like, 'Well, it was last week,' or 'It's constant,' or 'It's right now,' and we say, 'OK' and then we educate people and say, 'This is why children are getting sick. It's from drinking bad water,'" Jennifer Harold explained.

Harold is World Vision's national director in Sierra Leone. The challenge is not just providing clean water, but also sharing strategies about hygiene and sanitation.

"If you don't have that, the impact of having clean water, 75 percent of it is lost. So, it's really about hand washing, getting rid of mosquitoes, getting rid of standing water, so it's a whole package approach," she said.

It's a package approach referred to as "WASH," short for Water, Sanitation And Hygiene. Communities like Mokondo are proof of what a difference that training makes. For years, there was only one source of drinking water for the village of about 150 people and with it came problems like severe diarrhea. Now though, things have changed and this water is only used for doing laundry.

"Now, we are not getting diarrhea," one man said, giving credit to a pump made possible by donations from the Bay Area and beyond. World Vision provided the technical support and training, but the villagers themselves built it and now maintain it. They have even created laws like prohibiting shoes to keep the water pure and clean. The community built a fence to help keep out animals and one woman is responsible for regularly cleaning the pump. In village after village ABC7 visited, communities with these pumps have formed health committees.

"They move around the communities. They educate the households. Sometimes, they call the communities together and talk to them," Catherine Sillah said.

She explained that simple changes like keeping food and clothing off the ground and away from animals are already helping limit the spread of disease.

"You saw the clotheslines. You saw the plate racks and you saw them properly keep it clean and safe," she said.

Sillah overseas World Vision programs and projects in 64 villages, impacting nearly 38,000 people. She explained the importance of people taking ownership rather than taking handouts saying, "If you go and give it to them, you are not empowering them to be self-reliant."

Villagers are seeing the impact firsthand.

"Clean water is life," Sillah said. "They know that."

Clean water and the improvements that have come with it are life changing.

ABC News is partnering with groups like World Vision for the Million Moms Challenge, a way to connect millions in the U.S. with millions of moms in the developing world.

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