“It’s like a miracle to see drinking water in this village,” says Rosalie, 17. She’s drinking clean water for the first time in her life after a borehole was drilled in her small village, located 90 km from Bozoum in the western part of the Central African Republic (CAR).
The new borehole was funded by World Vision supporters in Canada as part of a project helping to empower women and girls like Rosalie who live in four sub-prefectures of CAR. Now in its second year, the project focuses on WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene), community health, increasing incomes and eliminating gender-based violence. Bozoum is one of these four sub-prefectures, and to date World Vision has built another five boreholes and renovated 10 others in the area, besides the one in Rosalie’s village.
World Vision’s arrival two years ago was the first time any NGO or government agency had implemented development projects in Rosalie’s small village of 700 people. The majority of the population is delighted at the changes they’ve since seen in their day-to-day lives.
Reducing water-borne diseases in Bozoum
The day the borehole was finished, Madeleine,56, was divided between joy and regret: “I had eight children, including six boys and two girls. I lost two of my boys due to water-related illnesses.”
She pointed to the Ouham River: “The water we drink and use to cook, wash and do the dishes is also where all the waste is dumped and soil runs off from farms. I cannot thank World Vision enough for this borehole that will alleviate our suffering. Dirty water has been the cause of too many of our children’s deaths and miscarriages in many pregnant women.”
Maternal mortality in rural CAR
That same river Madeleine pointed out is also a cause of maternal mortality in another way – it often serves as a barrier between the people in the community and their ability to get medical help. Families mostly rely on traditional medicine unless a situation is so grave that they undertake the journey across the river to the health centre in Bossa, 30 km away on the road to Bozoum.
As part of the same project that brought the borehole to the village, World Vision has worked with regional health officials in Bozoum to appoint a community health officer. Maternal and child mortality cases have decreased, and pregnant women no longer have to travel long distances to give birth. Instead, the officer helps advise the community on health matters and provides pre and neonatal care to new mothers.
Improving literacy for girls
One day Rosalie also hopes to be able to help improve the health of the women in her community. “I dream of becoming a midwife when I graduate,” she says. However, the paltry education options in her village threaten her dream, and she’s careful to add she’ll need the grace of God to achieve it.
Rosalie is the only one in her family who is still studying. In the absence of a formal school, the village hosts a community school that covers primary years. Instead of a teacher, the children learn from a ‘master-parent’ who plays the role; he is selected because even though he hasn’t had pedagogical training, he is able to read and write.
“Many parents prefer to keep their daughters at home to fetch water and other chores. I hope that this borehole will give girls the opportunity to be free and return to school,” Rosalie explains.
Even for those who do go to the community school, it is rare for children in the village to go on to secondary school. The closest one is in Bozoum, and far too great a distance to commute. Rosalie adds: “My brothers could not walk more than 30 km to go to basic school - two have given up altogether.”
Rosalie has been lucky – she has been able to stay with her uncle in Bozoum, and is currently in fourth grade of secondary school, but she wishes everyone in her community had the same opportunity to return to school and finally, she says, “to know how to read and write.”
The low levels of literacy in the community, she explains, often send families fleeing from the post. Rosalie told us: “As you know, we do not have a post office here and letters and mails are travelling from hand to hand. So, sometimes when someone brings a letter, everyone used to think it was a summons from the military police. The young boys used to flee and take refuge in the bush. They will come out only when the master-parent comes and reads the letter to reassure everyone of its contents.”
Empowering women and girls and protecting them from violence
World Vision’s has also helped the women of the community form a women’s cooperative, that will help mother’s cover the costs of the continued education of children like Rosalie. Madeleine is one of the new members and has enjoyed working with the others to increase their incomes through initiatives like rearing goats and poultry. The women have developed forms of mutual aid and social cohesion that allow them to loan each other money, providing a safe space to talk about their problems and give one another advice.
World Vision's activities in this village have been widely welcomed and will have a wider impact on the social life of community members. Rosalie found a miracle when she saw drinking water from borehole. She tells us that for her, World Vision is like her “closest relative and saviour of the village”. However, she says there is still much to be done. Her village would still benefit to see the construction of basic social services such as a health centre and a school for the well-being of children. With those, the new generation of the village will be truly healthy and free to pursue their dreams.
“I have a dream that one day my village will become autonomous,” Rosalie concludes with a smile.