Access to Safe Water
Excerpts from overseas phone calls
Each year Peace Corps Volunteers around the world participate in overseas phone calls with U.S. classrooms during Peace Corps Week. In many of the phone calls, the volunteers describe their daily routines and their work. For many of the volunteers and the people they work with, water—how they get it and its quality—is a huge issue. The following excerpts of calls from Vanuatu, Gambia, Swaziland, and Paraguay stress the importance of access to safe water in everyday life.
The first call is from Springview Elementary School in Florida and Peace Corps Volunteer Andrew Scheele, living in Vanuatu.
- Do you have plumbing, or everything is from the, from the land?
- Everything is from the land. At the school, there's a water supply which is just behind the school up on the hill, and it comes from a natural spring. And on Maewo, we're really lucky because there's a lot of natural springs and streams that are, that are here. Whereas a lot of the other islands, they just use rainwater, and they collect rainwater in large cement tanks, or immense wells which are buried in the ground. But on my island, there's lots of little streams, and rivers, and springs, so we actually have a, kind of a plumbing system here, but it's just outdoor spigots; it's outdoor taps, so....
- So it's really living life out in nature?
- The next call is between Pella Middle School in Iowa and Heather Dixon, Peace Corps Volunteer in Gambia.
- Pella MS
- How is the quality of the water in your village, and do most houses in the village have running water?
- No one in my village has running water. Not a person. Not even the really rich people. Everyone has to go to the pump to get water, or the well. There are a few open wells, meaning it is not covered; it's just a round circle with a rope and a bucket that you drop down and you pull it up. You know, just like you'd see in old movies or in novels. There are also a couple wells that have hand pumps on them. I believe in Iowa they have them also, but I know in Wyoming, if you go to a campground, like a site out in the mountains, they have hand—big metal pumps that are attached to a well—and you have to crank the handle to get the water to come out.
Within the past five years, a group from Japan came in and put in actual taps. And so, it looks like the spigot on the side of your house. It has, like, a swivel handle like that. And, it's attached to solar power, so it uses the solar energy to bring the water from underground up throughout, and then out through the spigot. There isn't any work in it, but you have to haul the water from the spigot to your house. I live about 300 yards away from the tap, so I don't have to carry it very far. But I carry my bucket on my head just like everyone else in the village. Like, you fill your bucket and then, depending upon how big it is, you get help or you do it yourself. And you put it on top of your head. And then if you're good, you don't use your hands when you walk, but I'm not that practiced yet. So, I put my hands on the side of the bucket while I walk. And it's actually much easier, I think, because it makes it lighter, and you don't have the big awkwardness of carrying the bucket.
The water in my village is safer than most, but I still would not drink it. I filter my water, and then I add a couple different chemicals to make sure that it kills all of the parasites and cooties and such. My water filter takes care of the big things, and then the chemicals kill all the small things. So it's safe to clean, or safe for me to drink. But people in the village don't filter their water, and occasionally they get sick from it. Or if you change pumps, or you change wells, you can also get sick from it. The word in Wolof is—the language I speak—is called "new water sickness." So if you've been fetching your water from the tap and the tap was broken, so you had to go to the open well—the one with the bucket—the water is different, and so it's very likely that you'll get sick from that. It's just what you're used to.
- This call is between the Child and Career Development Center in Pennsylvania and Peace Corps Volunteer Samantha Adams, serving in Swaziland.
- Some of the kids have written about the drought and the water. Is that common?
- Yeah, Swaziland has been having a fairly bad drought for several years now. And it's worse out in my region because it's a lot hotter and drier. A lot of people's crops have been failing, and that definitely causes a lot of problems out where I live. Water—when was the last time it rained?—like, several weeks ago, so a lot of people that rely on the rivers and the dams are having problems fetching water.
- And what to they have to do when that happens?
- Well, if they're lucky enough to have, you know, a steady income for the family, a lot of them get water tanked in. Like, the family that I live with, we have a 10,000-liter water tank on our homestead. Some people live close enough to bore holes, to wells, that they can fetch their own water. But a lot of people, sometimes they have to hire people with pickup trucks to go collect their water in 100-liter drums for a week or so. It really depends on the family, and some people are luckier than others.
- Finally, the last call is from Peace Corps Volunteer Luke Keeler, living in Paraguay, speaking with Cherryvale Elementary School in South Carolina.
- The majority of people do not have running water. And so, just having to bucket bathe every day, and get all the water you needed all day long out of a well, that was probably the hardest thing to kind of get used to. Because you just didn't have water running available all day from your sink or from a shower. So that was very different. But it was very simple. You're so used—now, I don't even think about having running water.