From a water project flows a better life
Chanda Ladaran, resident of the fourth-class town of Mabini in Bohol, recalls how she used to set out at dawn and walk an hour to join the long water queue at the nearest community water well. It would often be dusk by the time she made her way home carrying the water her family needed for the next few days. And after the water was used up, it was back again to the water queue for Ladaran.
“Ang hirap hirap kasi ang layo ng pag-iigiban. Tapos minsan wala na rin halos tubig, lalo na pag tag-init. Iinit din talaga ulo mo, masakit pa sa katawan. Kalahating araw mauubos doon sa pagpila. Punta mo umaga, pag uwi eh gabi na,” shared Ladaran, 37.
(It was difficult because the water source was far. Sometimes water supply is low especially in summer. You’re sure to lose your temper and get an aching body. You left in the morning and returned late in the day. You spent most of that time in the queue.)
Fortunately those days are gone. Ladaran and 64 other women members of the Minol Women’s Association (MWA) worked to secure a PhP200,000 grant from the Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF) in order to build their own water system.
At that time in 2003, PEF was fulfilling its poverty reduction mandate through local partners in the provinces, and one of its earliest partners was the Bol-anon United Sectors Working for the Advancement of Community Concerns (BUSWACC). PEF had identified Minol town as one of its priority communities. So in 2006, BUSWACC used PEF funding to support the women’s project and bring water directly into Minol’s 87 households.
MWA president Jessilita Espinosa said the water system’s benefit to the community was immeasurable. It went beyond just the convenience of turning on the tap and having drinking water come out of it.
“Napakasaya kasi less na lahat, bawas ang pagod, bawas ang stress. Pagbukas mo ng gripo, nandoon na. Marami ka pa iba magagawa, maglinis, mag washing machine. Malaking tulong talaga siya,” Espinosa shared.
(We’re so happy because things are easier. We’ve less work and less stress. You can do more, like clean and use the washing machine. It’s really been very helpful.)
Espinosa said that it was the women’s responsibility in the community to ensure there was water in the household. It was why the women were so single-minded in working to qualify for and then win financial assistance from PEF. They stood to gain the most from the project.
PEF had already seen that one of the most serious problems plaguing Bohol’s poor communities was the lack of adequate water. This insight was based on PEF’s innovative poverty mapping, which allowed it to have a sharp focus on a community’s most urgent needs. Thus, it had already committed to supporting projects that help expand people’s access to potable water.
The women’s association in Minol was first formed in 1999 through the efforts of the local government unit and national agencies. One of its early projects was small-scale lending, distributing profits as yearend dividends. It also organized seminars for its members, who were mostly stay-at-home wives and mothers. Seminars on cutflower production and duck-raising were held to give members a chance at starting new livelihoods.
But what the women really wanted was a solution to their water problem.
The men who dominated the local councils did not see this. They even discouraged the women from applying for the PEF grant, citing previous leaders who had tried but failed to install a single public faucet. The women were determined to prove the naysayers, including some of the husbands, wrong.
When the chance came to apply for the grant, the women did not hesitate to put together the paperwork needed to get evaluated. They pursued the grant relentlessly until they got it. They were so eager to start the system running they had it finished a month ahead of schedule. They also saved on costs by providing sweat equity and getting the best suppliers, using the saved funds to put up another reservoir.
Each household contributed PhP2,000 in installation fees. Water was now sold at PhP10 per cubic meter, and households spent only about PhP50 a month on water consumption.
But over the years, parts of the pipe system have been damaged and with some connections broken, only 20 households from the original 87 now get direct supply. But they are still able to get water from their family members or neighbors, so the situation is still a far cry from the old days.
“Yung plan is to bring the network back up to 87 ‘pag may materials na ulit. Kailangan mag-replace ng mga tubo. Napakamahal din tapos yung plumber namin eh busy rin. Pero may plano rin na mag-expand,” Espinosa said.
(The plan is to restore the system’s number of clients to 87 when materials are available. We need to replace the pipes, which are quite costly. Also our plumber is still busy. But we also plan to expand.)
Of 19 water systems put up in Bohol with the help of BUSWACC and PEF, the system in Minol is the only one still operating, due in no small part to the women’s dogged determination to not go back to how things used to be.
The Minol women are aware that the water systems in other places have deteriorated due to lack of adequate maintenance and collection issues. Funds drained away until nothing was left to keep their systems running.
The Minol association benefited greatly from the training they received through PEF and BUSWACC. They had taken lessons in basic accounting, record keeping, organizational development, and even team building, a skill needed so members could work effectively together and with others to get their goals done.
“Di nila kami pinabayaan,” said Espinosa.
(They didn’t leave us behind.)
With more time now in their hands and more energy, MWA members are looking to develop new trades such as rag-making and retailing.
Alvin Acuzar, who headed BUSWACC at the time of the partnership with PEF, said the experience with MWA showed the benefits of properly identifying a community’s exact needs. By knowing through the poverty mapping exercise that access to potable water was the top concern in Minol, the partners were able to maximize the use of limited financial and human resources.
Also, by tapping BUSWACC as its conduit, PEF got a better feel of what was happening on the ground without having to stay there all the time.
In essence, Acuzar said BUSWACC acted as a “mini-PEF,” thus, was better able to meet the needs of people’s organizations such as MWA, ultimately helping remove Bohol from the list of poorest provinces in the Philippines and raising the standard of living of people like those in the much-improved Brgy. Minol.