For six-grader Selam Baremo, sunrise wasn’t the start of a new day but the signal of a new round in her daily battle. Before reaching the first school bell, she had to conquer a treacherous hour-long hike up a steep and narrow road to the Edo Segele spring, her back burdened by a heavy water container on the return journey. Exhausted and late, Selam felt school was more like a chore than a chance to learn. Winter’s muddy paths added another layer of danger to her already arduous journey.

Nestled in Ethiopia’s Sidama region, Edo Kebele boasts breathtaking landscapes and abundant resources. Yet, access to clean water has remained a constant struggle. The remote location of the spring made it nearly impossible for elders, especially, to collect water. This placed the burden on children like Selam, impacting their education and health.


A fresh water spring closer to home

Everything changed eight months ago when the long-standing community-led water, sanitation and hygiene (COWASH) project partnered with the local community. Working hand-in-hand with them, the COWASH team constructed six community water points fed by piped water from the Edo Segele spring, bringing clean water almost to their doorstep. Selam’s trek was transformed into a five-minute stroll.

“Now I have time to study, attend my classes actively, and even play with friends!” beams Selam, her eyes sparkling with newfound freedom. “Before, I was always tired and late, missing out on so much.”

Her story echoes across Edo Kebele. Aberash Agena, a second-grader, recalls dragging herself back from the spring, too weary to learn. Meselech Yoseph, an elder, shares how her grandchildren missed school to fetch water, sacrificing playtime and education.


Beyond basic needs: unlocking potential and improving lives

The water points have not just delivered convenience, they have unlocked potential. Freed from the daily chore of gathering water, families now have enough water for their household tasks and cattle, fostering better hygiene and health. Aster Kelaqa, a young mother, can finally dedicate time to her children and community activities.

The impact extends beyond daily life. “Before the water points, mothers like me couldn’t afford to fetch water in the mornings,” says Aster. “No matter where we were, at the market or visiting friends, by midday we’d rush home, grab our containers, and hurry to the spring before darkness fell. That path was scary, even in daylight. We were all constantly worried and stressed, racing against the clock to get home and then back to the spring.”

Aster’s experience reflects that of many women in Edo Kebele. “Since COWASH IV built the water points right here, near our homes, everything has changed. We no longer worry about the time. We can fetch water whenever we need it, calmly and safely. This frees us up to do other things, from chores and markets to social events and activities. We don’t have to rush anymore and brings a sense of peace and calm to our lives.”

For Paulos Yonase, a father of six, the constant worry about his children venturing on the dangerous path is a distant memory. “Accidents were common,” he says. “My daughter fell and injured herself, requiring days in the hospital. Now, we can all breathe easier, knowing our families are safe because they no longer take that dangerous path.”

More than just clean water and peace of mind, the COWASH project has led to a significant decrease in waterborne diseases, bringing immense relief and improved health. Mathiwose Buchere, a WASH committee member, proudly shares, “since the water points were built, we’ve seen a remarkable drop in illness, especially among children. Parents no longer have to fear their kids getting sick from contaminated water.”

The transformation in Edo Kebele extends beyond the presence of water points. Recognising the importance of community ownership and sustainability, COWASH IV partnered with the local WASH committee to establish a robust management system. Two local artisans from each kebele (ward) received comprehensive training, equipping them with the skills to maintain the water points. This ensures any minor repairs or maintenance needs are addressed promptly and efficiently.

For larger issues beyond the artisans’ expertise, the Wondo Genet woreda (district) steps in to provide support. This collaborative approach ensures the water points remain functional and accessible for the long term, empowering the community to take charge of their own water security. This commitment to community ownership is a cornerstone of COWASH IV’s approach.


Far reaching results

COWASH IV’s impact extends far beyond this one community in Wondo Genet. From July 2022 to June 2023, the project constructed 17 new community water schemes and rehabilitated two existing points, bringing clean water to 7,621 people in the woreda. Additionally, COWASH IV has constructed water supply points and improved latrines in four schools and a health post over the same period of time. These facilities in schools alone have directly benefited 7,016 students, teachers and staff. The project also constructed one menstrual hygiene management facility in one Wondo Genet public school.

Along with infrastructure, the NIRAS-implemented COWASH IV project is raising awareness and facilitating savings groups to empower communities to build better sanitation facilities at home. Furthermore, the team’s commitment extends to capacity building. To date, 501 individuals have received training, including WASH committee members, woreda and kebele level experts. This empowers communities to manage their water resources effectively and maintain the water points themselves, ensuring sustainability.

Edo Kebele’s story is a testament to the transformative power of access to clean water. COWASH IV, in partnership with communities like Edo Kebele, is rewriting narratives, replacing struggles with dreams within reach.