Empowering women in Madagascar through clean water

It’s early-morning in Ambodiranonambilona, a small isolated village in central Madagascar. The sun is hot, the air is dusty. The local community is engaged in their daily activities; some men are heading off to work in the rice fields, the children are playing together, and the women are working – many are weaving basket, some tending to small animals and others hanging washing out to dry. This village in Madagascar is where the team from AVEDA Canada and I met two remarkable women, Mama Lenenia and Mama Justine.

Lenenia outside her family home with her four grandchildren
Photo: WaterAid Canada

Lenenia is a sweet and gentle woman in her mid-60’s. Her husband died many years ago, her five adult children work outside the village and she is the sole caregiver to her four grandchildren ages 3 to 11. As we sat in her family’s two-room home, we spoke about her daily life and the many challenges she faces. Like many women in Madagascar, Lenenia is the family’s water-carrier. Five times a day, Lenenia walks barefoot to a remote water source from where she carries water back to her family home. As her grandchildren grow, so does their daily need for water; she shares with us her concern about having to, make the water trek as she grows older. We asked Lenenia what she hopes for the future. Her answer heartfelt and concise was, “for my grandchildren to have clean water so they won’t endure what I have gone through”.

A short walk away we met Justine in the shade outside her home, crouching on one of her homemade mats, her fingers moving steadily as she winds the grass into intricate patterns. Since she was a young girl she has been weaving, a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. Justine sells her woven baskets and mats in the local market to support her husband and eight children. Weaving provides Justine an opportunity to earn an income. However, because she must fetch water three times a day, her time spent weaving is limited and so is her ability to earn an income. I asked her what she hopes for the future, she responded, “time.”

With access to clean water she will be able to spend more time on her craft. Justine is incredibly strong, resilient and determined. She epitomizes the great potential of Malagasy women and girls, if they were relieved of the daily, time-consuming duty of collecting water. These women would have time to start small businesses; learn to read and write; and spend time with their families.

A long and bumpy road connects the village to the nearest town, Moramanga, which seems like a lifetime away. The drive takes three hours, winding through beautiful, lush, and rugged terrain. Ambodiranonambilona, like so many villages in which we work, is remote, neglected, extremely poor and it is the women and girls who disproportionately bear the burden of collecting water.

We walked with Lenenia, Justine and four other women through the village, along a dirt road, into the bushes and down a steep hill on their daily water trip. About one kilometer away, we arrived at the local water source. The water source is a murky watering hole. The water runs down the side of a hill through several villages before arriving in Ambodiranonambilona. This is where the community women collect water for drinking, washing, cooking, and bathing. The water is contaminated, inevitably making these women, and their families, especially the children ill. Every day, they walk to this water source located more than 20 minutes from their home and then back home again balancing a 20-pound plastic water jug on their head.

As we walked, the women shared with us their worries and their hopes for the future. Their wishes were simple: they only wanted good health and education for their children and grandchildren so that they could work towards their own dreams. Access to clean water is the first step in achieving this; access to clean water transforms lives for the better. Since they were young girls, these women, and millions like them, have spent countless hours walking for water. In the developing world, women like Lenenia and Justine collectively spend as many as 200 million hours fetching water every single day.

For most of us, in Canada it is difficult to imagine what it is like to live like without clean water. Most of us take for granted being able to drink a glass of clean water. Having access to safe, clean water is transformative. It opens doors to education, health, nutrition and offers women and girls opportunities to fully contribute to their communities.

wateraid volunteers with a local woman
Photo: WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

The good news is through the support of AVEDA’s Earth Month Campaign, WaterAid is currently working on bringing clean water to Ambodiranonambilona with a gravity fed water system that will bring water to hundreds of people for the very first time in their lives. By March 2020, all residents of Ambodiranonambilona village will have access to safe drinking water as well as access to toilets.

The arrival of clean water in Ambodiranonambilona will bring relief to Lenenia and Justine  from the daily labor of collecting water. Moreover it will be their children and grandchildren who will greatly benefit. With clean water, Lenenia and Justine’s dreams for their children and grandchildren will soon be a reality.

WaterAid Canada is a member of WaterAid, an international non governmental organisation. Our mission is to transform lives by improving access to clean water, improved hygiene and sanitation in the world's poorest communities.