The Water Girl
Shallow swamps, steep ravines, and death-defying cliffs... When there’s no access to clean water at home, families in Timor-Leste have to go to great lengths for a safe supply – and the responsibility often falls to young girls, like 9-year-old Ludivina. Now, thanks to a simple water pump from Plan International, the young girl has the opportunity to transform her life...
It’s time for Ludivina’s morning walk – a ritual which takes place every day before she goes to school. As the sun rises, the 9-year-old steps out of her wooden house, water bottles in hand, and leads her two younger siblings behind their house.
They wind their way through the thick, high grass, down a steep ravine, along a shallow swamp, and up a small hill until they find themselves at the edge of a steep cliff.
Ludivina peers down at the vast river bed, sparkling in the hazy morning light.
“I feel scared when I’m standing at the top of the cliff,” she says. Ludivina shouldn’t be standing atop the cliff. She should be on solid ground, getting ready for school, eating breakfast, and playing with her friends.
But Ludivina doesn’t have a choice. The river, which lies at the bottom of the ragged cliff, is the closest water source to her family’s house – and it’s her responsibility to get clean water for everyone.
Ludivina, her 7-year-old sister Pasquela, and her 6-year-old brother Cipriano, throw the empty water bottles down the cliff and watch as they topple to the dirt ground below. “It’s steep so be careful,” she warns her brother and sister.
A Girls' Responsibility
Ludivina and her family live in a small village in the mountainous district of Timor-Leste. Their income comes from selling home-grown vegetables. There’s no extra money to spare, and everyone in the family has to pitch in and help.
“I don’t want my children to be collecting water – it makes them so tired,” says Ludivina’s father, but he knows it’s the best way for her to help with the long list of household chores. And, as a girl her age, it is natural for the responsibility to be placed on her tiny shoulders.
Around the world, an estimated 200 billion hours are lost to water collection every year. And in many rural communities, like Ludivina’s hometown, it’s the responsibility of women and young girls.
Ludivina’s trip to collect water takes one hour and she sometimes makes the trip up to three times a day.
At the bottom of the cliff, Ludivina scurries around, searching.
“Before we collect the water, I have to search for the cleanest location,” she says, carefully inspecting each stream of water before making her decision. The three children squat down in the shallow stream and start to fill the bottles.
“It takes a long time to come back from collecting water,” says Ludvinia, as two five-liter bottles of water hang heavily from her tiny arms. Her sister Pasquela has one bottle, and her brother Cipriano has a smaller bottle.
The trio carefully climb the cliff face they were so terrified of earlier, struggling with the big bottles. At the top they stop to catch their breath – they are only halfway home. “I feel heavy, but I can do it,” Ludivina says with determination.
Taking Its Toll
The task of collecting water is taking its toll on Ludivina.
By losing up to three hours per day collecting water, Ludivina misses out on playing with her friends, studying, and attending English classes after school. It’s having a physical toll too.
“After I collect the water, I have to go to school, but I feel tired in the classroom,” she says. “Sometimes I arrive late to school and I’m sad.”
The family’s inability to access clean water is impacting all aspects of Ludivina’s life, from her ability to finish school to finding future employment. According to Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign, when girls drop out of school, there is a higher chance they will marry and have children before they are ready, trapping them in a cycle of poverty.
Now, Ludivina’s burden has been lessened thanks to a new water pump, which was recently installed with the support of Plan’s Right to Clean Water and Sanitation Programme in Timor-Leste.
“When I heard that I don’t have to collect water because of the water pump, I was so happy,” she says. “Now I have time to play with my friends, go to school and sing!”
Ludivina’s father beams with pride when he speaks about his daughter. “Ludivina is a bright girl and she studies hard,” he says. “I am very happy to see that she is not collecting water and she is able to spend more time studying. I want my children to stay in school and be a success.”
The water tap is having a huge impact on Ludivina’s life and her family’s too. Now, they have water for cooking and cleaning, and they can tend to their vegetable patch.
“Safe access to clean water is essential, yet many families around the world are still missing out on this basic right,” says Hilda Winartasaputra, Plan International’s Regional Water, Sanitation, and Health Specialist in Asia. “With improved access to water facilities, such as the pump Plan has installed in Ludivina’s village, children will no longer have to haul the heavy burden of water containers on their small shoulders and carry them long distances every day. They will be spared possible injuries and will have more time to play and study instead.”
Safe access to clean water has other benefits too.
“Children will also benefit from being able to able to drink safe water and wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet, which will reduce the risks of getting diarrhea, enabling them to study better,” says Hilda.
The pump has certainly had a positive impact on Ludivina’s life. Now she has time to attend English classes after school every day and, as a result, is one of the best English speakers at her school.
“I am happy because I don’t have to go far to collect water,” says Ludivina in perfect English, beaming with joy.