"Grazing," the common practice of defecating in the open that has been used for centuries, leads to myriad health problems. When this waste enters the groundwater, or is touched by small children, severe illness and death can result. The construction and use of latrines puts an end to all this. Even before a well is drilled we start to educate villagers on the importance of using latrines. We train them on how to construct their own latrine and support them in doing that. With the help of our partner, World Vision, we continue to promote the consistent use of latrines and monitor changing habits.
Our wells are drilled by the permanent staff of our partner, World Vision. They are highly trained and experienced water engineers who come from Niger and other West African countries. The underground aquifers are plentiful in Niger but are typically found at depths of 250-300 feet, so it takes heavy-duty machinery and several days to reach water. Once the well is drilled, a water sample is sent to a laboratory in nearby Ghana for testing to ensure that there are no contaminants. When approved, a hand pump is installed and a concrete protection pad is built around the pump. It is then fully operational.
Before a well is drilled, a committee of villagers is formed to maintain the well and promote good health habits in the community. It is made up of 6-7 people, all with specific job responsibilities. Typically 3-4 are women, giving them a meaningful role in village life. They are educated on how to handle malfunctions that may occur and learn where to obtain new parts. A maintenance fund is also established, and everyone in the village contributes a small amount of money. The goal is to give villagers "ownership" of the well by making them responsible for its maintenance.
It is not easy to get people to adopt new ways of living their daily lives. The healthy practices that we are trying to instill challenge generations of ingrained habits and must be addressed over time through repetition with patience and sensitivity. The people working with villagers are all locals themselves and are trained to educate others. They are committed to improving the quality of life of their people. Hand and face washing, along with the use of latrines, are among the most important behaviors for adults and children to learn and practice. We also stress the importance of keeping their water containers and utensils clean to protect clean water from contamination.
When there is a plentiful supply of safe water, villagers can grow vegetables to improve their diet which is especially important during times of famine. To support them in their effort, we teach drip farming techniques and how to use grey water to raise crops. Many women grow enough to sell in the local market, thereby becoming mini-entrepreneurs.
With our partner, World Vision, we continue working with every village for 15+ years. We are the only U.S. based safe water cause doing that. We maintain a steadfast presence in the community to ensure that quality of life will continue to improve because the education provided has become ingrained in their daily behavior. With monthly visits, we check both the status of the well and the health practices of the people, offering continuous reinforcement of good sanitation and hygiene practices.