Water Wells Against Female Genital Mutilation Port Loko and Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone

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A project completed in cooperation with the Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ), or Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In Sierra Leone, unclean drinking water is a significant carrier of diseases such as trachoma, cholera, typhoid, schistosomiasis and other pathogens that cause very unpleasant symptoms including diarrhoea. Yet even today, more than 65% of the population in rural parts of the country still do not have access to clean water. Aside from the obvious health issues, easy access to safe drinking water is also important in terms of time management for the local women and children, who bear the primary responsibility for obtaining and carrying water. 

In 2019, with the support of the BMZ, PfefferminzGreen and AIM were able to facilitate the building of 30 water wells that now supply more than 30 communities in Port Loko and Tonkolili Districts with around five liters of water per person per day. The project was designed with the aim of providing safe drinking water through improved water supply in a community-led operation that would ensure its own sustainability. 

The project enabled skill-building opportunities in the communities, involving members in its planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation and training them in the maintenance and care of the water wells. The project has also created direct benefits for children here. They are the most affected by water and excreta diseases, and it is also they, mostly girls, who often have to walk a very long way to reach a water well and fetch water for their household. The greatly increased availability of water wells has therefore also increased their school attendance, aiding their intellectual development and therefore impacting their overall health. 

Stakeholders from all the target communities within the two districts attended the project launch on 3 May 2019, including representatives from District Health Management Team (DHMT), district and city councils, a water resources team, the chiefdom and section chiefs, and host community members. The local stakeholders’ commitment to supporting the success of the project was the highlight of the event. Consultative engagement meetings followed the project launch, geared towards mapping out strategies to reduce the number of Bondo Bushes in the area and influencing a change in attitude towards FGM as a means of reducing infant mortality rates and increasing the number of girls acquiring a secondary education. In addition, assistance in monitoring the construction and maintenance of the water well structures was agreed upon.

During the course of the project, the communities, who are responsible for the wells’ operation, maintenance and repair, were educated on the importance of maintaining their new facilities. The water wells are operated manually with simple water pumping mechanisms and 60 hand pump mechanics were trained specifically in their operation. In collaboration with the DHMT, AIM also provided two-day training programs for 30 Wash Management Committees (WMCs) on the monitoring, operation and maintenance of the water facilities. The WMC teams, each comprising seven members (four men and three women), were trained according to national WMC guidelines. 

Additional goals of this project were to improve local knowledge and practices around sanitation and hygiene and, consistent with one of AIM’s core objectives, to share knowledge around Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in order to bring an end to the harmful traditional practice. Focus group discussions took place in the water well communities with community members, section chiefs, headmen, women’s groups and youth leaders. It is these community groups who will help sustain the fight against FGM by serving as community monitors; training them empowers them to be at the centre of addressing the problems that affect them, increasing their awareness on specific issues and enabling them to act as effective advocates for their duty bearers. The project’s community-based approach, with locals taking part in the implementation of most of the activities, has encouraged the communities to take ownership of it. 

To ensure behavioural changes would be sustainable, workshops were held within the communities throughout the water wells’ construction period. Sensitization around FGM also played a part in these workshops, educating the communities on these harmful traditional practices and the negative impact they have on women and girls. 30 community outreach programs reaching 6050 people were conducted for Soweis, religious and traditional leaders, youths and women to sensitize them on the short- and long-term negative impacts of FGM in terms of health, education and the economy. On completion of the project, eight community schools with a combined population of approximately 600 pupils aged 6-18 years as well as 35 teachers not only benefited from a new supply of safe drinking water, but had also received education on the issues surrounding FGM. 

In order to share information around FGM more widely, radio messaging in local dialect was also executed. With radio still the main media in Africa, reaching millions of locals, this proved to be very effective. In order to spread the message of the Water Wells Against FGM Project, 16 radio discussions took place between AIM field staff, community elders and ex-Soweis on multiple radio stations throughout Sierra Leone.

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