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Working Together for Clean Water
By Elin Henrysson

These projects have been supported by funding from Friendly Waters for the World from Olympia, WA, and Quaker Peace and Social Witness of Britain Yearly Meeting.

There is no shortage of water in Burundi. Women, children and the occasional man go everyday with yellow jerry cans to collect it from lakes, rivers, wells and public taps. It is hard work, but there is rarely a lack of water. However, this does not mean that there is no problem. The water from lakes, rivers, wells and even public taps often carries disease. Typhoid is one of the most common illnesses in Burundi and many people suffer from other water-borne diarrhea diseases, parasites or amoebas. People living in rural areas are particularly vulnerable. Statistics from a national survey suggest that 79% of the Burundian population have access to an improved water source, but according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, this is true for only 40% in rural areas. To make things worse, people living far from urban centers have significantly less access to treatment when they do fall ill.

Consolidating peace and reconciled relationships in a still fragile Burundi is not disconnected from challenges like these. They can create further poverty and insecurity or they can offer opportunities for building cohesion, while improving quality of life. In May and June 2010, HROC-Burundi took advantage of this opportunity by hosting two trainers, Del and Suzanne Livingston, from Friendly Waters for the World, an organization based in Olympia, WA. They taught two groups of HROC-workshop graduates in rural areas about water sanitation and how to make bio-sand filters. Bio-sand filters are made from locally available materials and are small enough to provide a household with clean water. The group trained in Mutaho, a town three hours north of the capital city, Bujumbura, has continued to construct the filters, building relationships and contributing positively to their families and communities. The project is now also growing in Mutaho, with an initiative focused on the integration of ex-combatants.

The Bio-Sand Filter Methodology
The bio-sand filters are based on a method that has been used for over 200 years. It requires only locally available materials — gravel and sand — minimum maintenance and lasts for up to 30 years. The concrete container is about 3 feet tall and one foot wide. It is filled with layers of sand and gravel that create a biological layer, removing pathogens and suspended solids from the water. This simple technology is particularly well suited to rural areas in Burundi. It depends mainly on community mobilization and locally available materials, and less on a developed infrastructure or access to expensive technology and parts.

Clean Water and Community Cohesion in Mutaho
Mutaho is a community still divided as a result of the twelve year Burundian conflict. It is the site of one of the largest internally displaced camps in the country, situated close to the municipal headquarters. This camp is home mainly to Tutsis, whereas Hutus have remained in the surrounding collines (the basic community unit in Burundi). Those living in the collines collect water from local streams while those living in or close to the internally displaced camp have access to a public tap provided by the municipality. However, the water supply often dries up, forcing people to go to the streams for water. Very few treat or boil their water after collection.

During the initiative supported by Friendly Waters for the World in May and June 2010 HROC brought together 20 people from the internally displaced camps and the surrounding collines to participate in the water-filter training. The participants learned how to make the filter container out of concrete; how to clean, sift and layer the sand; how to prepare the filter for use; and how to clean the water container. Skills training was not the only aim of the project. Each of the participants had taken part in a basic HROC trauma-healing workshop and the water filter training gave them the opportunity to continue building relationships. Everyone who took part in the training received a certificate and the group has continued to meet every Saturday to make the filters. Each participant has taken one filter home and others have been given to some to key households in the community.

A local pastor, Sabastien Kambayeko, is one of the people who received a bio-sand filter to set up in his home. He lives in the internally displaced camp and the day he brought it to his house, his neighbors crowded into his small compound to see what was going on. He told them about the importance of treating water before drinking it and invited each of them to come with their jerry cans to his home to filter their water. When they asked him how much this would cost he answered, It is free. I received the water filter for free and I want to share it with you freely. His water filter will not only provide cleaner water to his community but will also bind them more closely together.

Integration of Ex-combatants
With support from Quaker Peace and Social Witness, a second group of 20 is now being trained to construct bio-sand filters in Mutaho. This group has been drawn from previous HROC workshop participants, this time bridging not only the divisions between Tutsi living in the internally displaced camp and Hutu from the collines, but also focusing on allowing ex-combatants to become constructive members of their communities. Ten of the participants are ex-combatants who were demobilized between 2005-2009 following a peace agreement. They have taken part in skills-building workshops before, but the HROC project is unique in that they have been invited to work with other people in their communities — people that are still suspicious and frightened of them, remembering them as men of violence. In fact, one ex-combatant mentioned that two brothers who were neighbors intended to kill him at one time before they participated in the basic HROC trauma-healing workshop together. This training is giving them the opportunity to continue building their reconciled relationship.

Forming a Cooperative
The long-term plan is for the two groups to form a cooperative to sell the bio-sand filters to households or institutions in the area. Members from both groups have participated in an entrepreneurship workshop to gain the necessary business skills and the second group has now completed the bio-sand filter training. Members from both groups have now been divided into smaller teams, taking shifts throughout the week. They have already received thirty orders for filters from a local hospital and seminary. Some of the participants will also be able to supplement their income by becoming trainers themselves.

One of the key lessons in the HROC basic trauma-healing workshop curriculum is the “tree of trust.” Participants think about what causes trust to take root and grow in a community, using a metaphor that is easily grasped and remembered in an overwhelmingly agrarian society. This project is one of a set of initiatives taken by HROC to nurture the tree of trust. It allows people to work together and support each other, crossing deep-set divisions, while contributing something truly life-giving to the wider community — clean water.