Water for Life in Benin, West Africa

( Article submitted by Dennis Fierbach )
The Rotary Club of Surrey and Rotary Club of Cotonou IFE - Water for Life Project
Project Context:
The Republic of Benin is located in West Africa. It has a population of 9.4 million and ranks among the world’s poorest countries. According to the Joint Monitoring Program of World Health Organization (WHO), 35% of villages in rural Benin are using water sources deemed unsuitable. In GAiN’s experience working in Benin since 2004, villagers have requested a clean water source from the Benin authorities  but the government has limited resources to put towards water provision. The need for sustainable clean water sources  in rural villages has been addressed through this project.
Project Description:
The Water for Life Project commenced on February 17, 2015 with a completion date of April 30, 2016. The project involved partnerships with Rotary Club of Cotonou IFE (District 9100), Rotary Club of Surrey (District 5050), Rotary International, and Global Aid Network (GAiN). The project was designed to provide safe water and to improve the health and quality of life for approximately 5000 men, women and children in five rural villages in the district of Akodéha, Benin.
The project exceeded its goal, reaching 7,935 villagers, 72% of them being women and children.
The project has improved lives by providing a clean water source and subsequent community health education in sanitation and hygiene, family health and gender equality. Access to clean water in conjunction with community health trainings are crucial for the prevention of infectious diseases, such as diarrhea, that account for millions of children’s deaths every year.
Included in the Hygiene and Sanitation training were practices to help prevent diarrheal diseases and improve the overall health of the community.  The training provided education on proper hand washing, safe water storage, food hygiene, waste water management and sanitation. A total of 485 people were educated in hygiene and sanitation practices, 72% of which were women and children. Making culturally relevant and accessible training available to all villagers ensures that the new water source is used properly and that these practices continue after the project has ended. In speaking with one of our training facilitators, he noted that the hygiene and sanitation training in the Rotary-sponsored village of Degoe-Kpodji had a big impact on the community: “Women got organized for the village to be cleaner. In fact, after the training, fifty women organized themselves into an association which has a goal to clean the village every six days. At every meeting each member has to contribute fifty CFA [10 CAD cents]. They used part of this money to purchase brooms and hoes ... This organization made a big difference in the village because the village is truly cleaner.”
Building upon the sanitation and hygiene training, the Family Health Teams help to ensure that communities grow in their knowledge of healthy lifestyles. Family Health Champions  were then chosen and trained to continue to promote maternal, infant and family health practices, such as disease prevention and basic nutrition. In the 5 Rotary-sponsored villages, 255 people attended the Family Health Training and 17 were trained in the Family Health Champion role.
In addition, this project focused on promoting gender equity as women and children are affected most by the lack of accessible clean drinking water. A clean water source in the village allows women to use the time being saved from carrying water for long distances to be involved in other productive activities such as working in agricultural activities or developing a small business. As a result of the Project, all of the households surveyed spend 30 minutes or less collecting water where prior to the project 73.3% spent more than 30 minutes. This Project also involved women and men in conversations about gender equity through the Gender Sensitivity Training and set up opportunities for villages to empower women to take on decision-making roles. In a follow-up survey 6 months after the training was conducted in the village, a woman from the Rotary-sponsored village of Degoe-Kpodji notes that the training has made improvements in her household: “My husband has started taking care of me. I think with such trainings there will be changes in every domain.” In the 5 villages where the intervention occurred, 266 people attended the gender sensitivity training.
The project was designed to have an immediate impact and to provide sustainable benefits including:
  • Gender-balanced, trained Borehole Committees to manage and maintain the water point
  • Education in sanitation, hygiene and family health with village champions encouraging the sustainment of healthy practices.
  • Gender awareness and sensitivity to increase female involvement in community development and decrease violence against women.
  • A network of regional repair representatives to provide post construction maintenance support of the water point.
The project actively engaged local village leadership from the assessment to implementation stages which fostered greater ownership and management of the water point from the community. The management of the water points is a crucial component for the sustainability of the project outcomes. To ensure the sustainability of the borehole, teams trained the gender-balanced village water committee for the ongoing operations and maintenance of the borehole. In addition, the Committee collects a small water fee to help pay towards any repairs that need to be met. GAiN also integrated into this project a three-tier repair system that promotes local ownership. In this three-tiered system, a Borehole Committee is responsible for all basic repairs with more complex repairs referred to a trained regional repair representative (RRR). The RRR is equipped with a repair kit and is able to address almost all the repairs. The role of the RRR is contracted by the borehole committee and to be paid through the water collection fund.  In the third level, when the problem is beyond the capability of the Repair Representative, the local GAiN team can assist in the repair of the well.  This three-tiered system is being sustained beyond the implementation lifecycle of the project.