WATER FOR PEOPLE: Faces of Progress: Chief Timbenawo

Chief Elida Timbenawo

“There used to be fights at the boreholes because of congestion,” Chief Elida Timbenawo explains with a flourish of her weathered hands. “Now I can rarely find somebody to help me lift my bucket onto my head because everyone can fetch water whenever they want.”

Chief Timbenawo, 73, has served as the Group Village Head for the past 12 years, overseeing 15 villages and chiefs in the Kakoma area. She is a sturdy woman, and a force to be reckoned with. She is the reason 7,000 people across 15 villages now have access to safe water and sanitation.

At Water For People, we know that our work hinges on local partnerships and we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the support and influence of community leaders. Five years ago we approached Timbenawo with big plans to end open defecation and ensure safe water for all. Even with her support, convincing 640 households to install and maintain their own latrines wasn’t easy. To instill a sense of urgency and compliance, Timbenawo worked with the village chiefs to come up with a plan.

“We established bylaws to incentivize everyone to build latrines,” she says. “We agreed that households with latrines would be given priority at hospitals to receive health care. And it worked, soon everyone had latrines and we could start working on water projects to complement our sanitation efforts.”

Before joining forces with Water For People, villages across Kakoma lacked boreholes and the ones that did exist weren’t working.

“Now we have enough boreholes so everyone is able to access water in a good range of distance,” Timbenawo explains. “Each borehole also has somebody trained to manage it and we are collecting tariffs to fix them when they break.”

Capacity building and tariff collection is just part of Timbenawo’s commitment to Everyone Forever. Recently, community members have been taking advantage of borehole banking, a community-based form of micro-lending that encourages individuals to take out small loans from the borehole funds to help start small businesses or pay for various expenses. These loans are then paid back on a monthly basis with interest.

As the villages continue to rebuild after last year's flooding and face this year's drought, borehole banking has become a source of empowerment.

“Borehole banking has had the biggest impact on the household level,” she says. “Right now in our communities it is a lean period for food so people are prioritizing that and using the funds to buy food for their families.”

Over the past five years Timbenawo has seen a change in her people, and even though they still grapple with the effects of flooding and the current drought, the future is bright.

“We didn’t appreciate sanitation and cleanliness but through the work of health workers and Water For People we now see that that what we had before wasn’t a life worth living,” she reflects. “It is part of us, part of our life and we are grateful for it.”

Photo Credit: Water For People