I was sitting in the still, hot, and humid air on the porch of a Franciscan nunnery in Natarbora, a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Dili. In the quiet night, the only noise I could hear was the thump of a bass guitar coming through large speakers. I asked Godwin Kamtukule, an engineer from Malawi who is the deputy manager of USAID’s water and sanitation program in Timor-Leste, how long he expected the noise to persist.
“Oh, they just told me that they are going to play all night in celebration of the inauguration of the new water system tomorrow,” he said.
He was right. The band played until 6 a.m. After a fully satisfactory breakfast, prepared by the nuns, who, incidentally, are all from Indonesia, we headed to the first inaugural ceremony for the new water system, designed and installed by USAID’s water and sanitation project. Led by U.S. Ambassador Judith Fergin, an enthusiastic supporter of the work of USAID, we went to the ceremony, where we met the Director General, representing the Minister for State Administration, and the new District Administrator, who had just been sworn in the day before in Dili. The local Chefe de Suco (elected head of the local village) proudly showed us the newly installed generator that will power the submersible pump that will bring water to the surrounding population.
The Ambassador and the Director General cut the ribbon to the grand applause of local residents. We then went to see the bore hole. It is drilled to a depth of 62 meters (203 feet), and Godwin says that the water supply is guaranteed even in the case of a prolonged drought.
Among the many fabulous attributes of this project is the fact that all families who will benefit from it have agreed to contribute 50 cents a month toward maintenance of the pump, generator, and the system in general. The maintenance of the system is entrusted to the community facilities management committee, elected by the residents. There are three such committees in this project area, and I was happy to see that two of the three committee leaders are women. The local committees are also responsible for guarding the generator and borehole/pump.
This USAID project brings water to some 3,500 people in remote communities near the country’s southern coast. Powered by the generator, the pump sends water up the borehole and through pipes to 17 new community tap stands that provide people with access, for the first time ever, to clean water for washing and cooking. Previously, available water sources were contaminated by livestock. The project also includes training in hygiene, clean water usage, and best practices for toileting.
Our next stop was the town hall, where I saw the large speakers that had thumped through the night. More than 100 people were gathered for a celebratory feast. Speech after speech emphasized that the water project’s success was the result of close cooperation between the residents and the local and district governments. We could see clearly the local communities’ seriousness about this project, their hard work in making it a success, the importance of the local facilities management committees, and the necessity of continuing the good work.
We left soon after the celebrations. On the way out of town, we passed a mother bathing her daughter at one of the tap stands. The grin on her face was probably even wider than ours.