Lilian and others in her community in Gicumbi District, Rwanda, would lose hours each day walking to retrieve water for their daily tasks.
“We used to wake up very early in the morning to go fetch water,” explained Lilian, whose last name was not given. “The water was from swamps, and there were a lot of diseases caused by using this dirty water, such as typhoid.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Water for People are working with the government of Rwanda to install water systems in Gicumbi District.
A tap stand was recently installed in the middle of Lilian’s community.
“When people came to tell us about the water project, we didn’t believe it would happen — until we saw people actually constructing the water system,” she said. “Now we have water a few meters from our houses.”
Water For People is a global nonprofit working around the world to equip communities with lasting access to clean water and sanitation services. Their motto is “Everyone Forever.”
“When we say everyone, we mean all families, schools and health clinics,” said Kelly Honecker, director of principal gifts with Water for People. “And forever is all the other pieces to ensure that the access to water and sanitation services continue, long after Water For People’s intervention and without further aid support.”
Honecker said the Church and Water For People began working together in 2014 to improve water, sanitation and hygiene services across nine countries. Significant financial assistance and visibility for Water for People have also come through Giving Machines in the U.S.
“Clean water is a gift,” Honecker said. “For families and children, it gives back time to study, earn income or play. It gives health with no more waterborne diseases. It gives prosperity so that families can invest in their futures.”
The World Health Organization and UNICEF report that in Rwanda, 60% of Rwandans have access to basic or improved water services and 69% have access to at least basic sanitation facilities. Waterborne diarrhea is the third leading cause of death in children under 5 years old and is a common cause of malnutrition.
When safe water is not nearby, women and children must walk long distances — sometimes miles — to find water and carry it home in heavy cans. Then, much of the water must be boiled or filtered to avoid diseases.
Since 2016, Water for People has worked jointly with local communities and villages to improve access to water and sanitation for almost 500,000 people in Gicumbi District. Over the years, Honecker said the level of water service has improved from 47% to 84%.
“We have constructed new or rehabilitated piped systems in communities with multiple taps. In schools and clinics, we add or rehabilitate water systems, install rainwater harvesting systems, handwashing stations, and private, accessible sanitation facilities,” Honecker said.
In addition to building systems, the organization strengthens district and community capacity to manage their own systems over time. This aligns with the Church’s priorities to build self-reliance.
As Water for People and the Church continue this work in Rwanda, communities will not only be able to depend on reliable water, they will also have the capacity to ensure that sanitation is safely managed and water will flow long after workers leave.
When the new tap stand was installed in Lilian’s community, she said, “It was like a dream to us.”
Lilian has a new job as the water seller at the tap stand. With her new income, she has been able to buy livestock to raise.
“My dream is to start a real business, and I know I will get there someday,” she said. “The money I get from selling water is a first step.”