Houn’s community is located in a rural and isolated area in northern Laos. Most villagers collect water from the nearby stream for their household use. The dirty and polluted water is used by animals and villagers alike for washing and cleaning—everything except for drinking.
For many years, the villagers have coped with an arduous journey to their usual drinking water source. Women and girls, who carry the main responsibility for water collection, have to cross the Yao stream to collect drinking water from the fresh water spring on the opposite side.
But, during the rainy season, the stream becomes swollen with water forcing them to swim across, often through dangerous currents.
“It is frightening to fetch water in the rainy season,” said 7-year-old Houn. “There is too much water in the Yao stream at that time.”
Houn fetches drinking water every afternoon. Swimming with the empty containers across the stream is not so difficult, but once last year, when retuning home with full jerry cans, Houn was carried almost 20 meters away by the strong current.
“I had to let go of the water containers to save my life,” he said. “It was horrible.”
Plan International, in collaboration with the local government, started working in Houn’s village last year. Plan’s first task was to provide a new water system and install taps.
Members of the community participated in every step of the process, from planning meetings and investigating potential water sources, to contributing construction materials and labor.
Duang, a 23-year-old mother of two young children, said the community came together to work on the project:
“We were very happy to support the construction of the new water system,” she said. “Most of us risked our lives to collect water, especially the women and children. My husband and I together collected gravel and sand for the water tank.”
The new water system was completed and handed over to villagers in late January 2017. It can serve 32 households and allows children and their family access to a clean, safe, and consistent source of water throughout the year.
The new water system has had other benefits too.
“Prior to Plan’s intervention, there was only one latrine in this community,” said Village Chief Khammuan. “Without access to clean water, people preferred to defecate in the bush. Villagers are now eager to build their own latrines. Already, there are three latrines and other households are starting to build their own.”
Together with the installation of the water system, Plan is also working to promote sanitation and hygiene for villagers and school children following the successful “Community-Led Total Sanitation” model to help bring an end to open defecation.
“Children and women no longer have to fetch water from the stream and are looking forward to owning their own latrines,” Khammuan said. “The new water system will help increase time for children’s schooling and will improve the health of villagers.”