Sando Town in rural Montserrado, Liberia, was established by a woman named Ma Sando in 1968. But its residents never had access to safe drinking water.
Instead, they collected water from ponds, creeks and open wells, causing many residents to get sick from waterborne illnesses.
Ma Sando’s granddaughter, Kpanah Sando, was born in Sando Town 50 years ago. Now, for the first time in her life, she has clean water from a tap at home.
Together, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and WaterAid have provided sustainable access to safe water to Sando Town and 14 other Liberian communities like it — blessing the lives of more than 10,000 people in the west African nation.
WaterAid was founded in 1981 and works to bring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to communities around the world. Those three basic things allow for better health and food security — as well as more time and opportunity for women and girls who are most often tasked with hauling water long distances.
Girls like Joyce, age 16, in Papua New Guinea in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, more than 10,000 miles away from Liberia. Joyce’s school only has one pit toilet for 230 girls.
“I would like to go to university, to use a proper toilet and have a proper place to wash,” said Joyce, whose last name was not given. “I would like to become an accountant to help my family. When they are having difficult times, I want to help them.”
Nearly half of schools in Papua New Guinea do not have clean water and less than a third have decent toilets. Students get sick several times a year and miss classes from a lack of hygiene and sanitation.
But the Church is working with WaterAid to change that, building water, sanitation and hygiene systems in schools in the Kairuku-Hiri District of Papua New Guinea.
Having safe water, proper sanitation and hand washing facilities on site gives schools in particular multiple benefits, said Shirlee Dindillo, WaterAid Papua New Guinea’s water sanitation and hygiene advisor.
“The effect on girls in particular is profound. Girls are able to confidently attend school without worrying about their safety when going to the toilet and do not have to stay home when they menstruate. It is a much more secure environment for them.”
The Church and WaterAid have worked together since 2016 to fund clean water projects in more than 10 countries like Liberia and Papua New Guinea. The Church News has also recently highlighted Church-funded WaterAid projects in Eswatini, Colombia, Malawi and Mozambique.
WaterAid uses a community-led approach to bring water infrastructure such as water points, wells and toilet blocks, combined with hygiene education and training.
Building infrastructure only addresses part of the problem. WaterAid teaches crucial hygiene and health messages to the residents and ensures that communities know how to keep water systems working.
In Papua New Guinea, for example, WaterAid created school health clubs and promoted peer-to-peer hygiene awareness, as well as supporting the establishment of school water committees who are responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the infrastructure.
WaterAid Papua New Guinea Program Director Navara Kiene said they also worked with local and national government departments to increase their capacity and understanding of the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene.
“It is amazing to see and also so important for schools and their surrounding communities to take ownership of their water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure,” Kiene said. “We support schools to integrate infrastructure management into their wider school plans. Once they have the tools and knowledge, they are ready and willing to do the work to keep the water flowing and the toilets flushing, for good. Buy-in and engagement of school communities is so important, because that is what keeps our work sustainable.”
This same sustainability is also a part of WaterAid’s work in Liberia in Africa, where workers engage directly with communities from the beginning of every project — identifying needs and designing systems that will work for them.
Training is done on operating and maintaining the infrastructure, in order to make the communities become the proud owners and operators of their own water systems.
Kpanah Sando has been trained to maintain the new tap in her village.
“Now that we have this new hand-dug well for the first time, the community has made strict rules to take good care so that we don’t go back to drinking creek water again,” she said. “We also tell our people not to drink creek water anymore. We have real lives now.”