Filomena treks hours every day, holding one or two 5 litre jerry cans and a baby, to find water for her children.
“I walk one hour to get water from a spring up the mountain,” Filomena tells us, “I have to hold the baby and the water. In the rainy season it is slippery. It is steep… I just carry my baby and only take one jerry can because it is difficult and I am scared of falling down with the baby. It is very dangerous.”
It’s a long way to go for water, up and down a slippery, steep mountain track – four times a day with a baby in her arm and a small child by her side.
Yet there’s no choice for mothers across Timor-Leste, they must collect the dirty water that causes illness and even then there is not enough for the basics like hand washing.
Fidelia is five years old, yet she looks much younger. Her growth has likely been stunted by repeated diarrhoea and stomach infections that are often caused by poor sanitation and dirty water.
Half of all children under five in Timor-Leste today are undernourished, their growth has been stunted. This widespread stunting or short height for age is caused not only by lack of food, it’s also caused by repeated diarrhoea and infections in early life. Diarrhoea and infections are often caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene.
And the result is devastating. Children who are undernourished from chronic diarrhoea and have stunted growth are more vulnerable to disease. It’s a vicious cycle. Yet Filomena has no choice but to give her daughter the only water she can find.
Each time children like Fidelia have diarrhoea, vital nutrients are flushed from their little bodies and they risk death. Filomena has lost two children already.
Whenever Filomena defecates openly in the bush, poor sanitation puts her and her children in danger too. “I feel unsafe at the toilet because people can see me. And I am worried about the health of my children... Sometimes it affects our health, it affects our stomach. We get stomach aches and diarrhoea.”
With access to clean water, mothers are freed from walking hours each day, so they can keep their children fed, healthy and alive. Clean water is life.
Or as Filomena says, “If water comes here it would be useful because I could clean the home and water and grow vegetables, spend more time growing coffee and wash clothes.” She has dreams for her children. “I would like my child to become a doctor because the health clinic is far from here and the community needs a doctor.”
You can help prevent chronic illness in children that can threaten their lives.