Three years ago, we launched the Big Dig, a project which transformed the lives of 134,000 people in rural Malawi with clean, safe water.

This summer, we went back to the village of Kaniche to see how the community were getting on – and we were thrilled to see a very familiar face.

Meeting Mary

In 2012, Mary was 22 years old and already highly respected in the community.

When the Big Dig project began, she joined the village water committee, led prayers and meetings, and frequently spoke up on behalf of her friends and neighbours.

She was also one of the people who live-blogged the project’s progress on Instagram, inspiring many of you to write to her with messages of support.

The moment Kaniche got clean water for the first time, in 2012.

Behind the scenes, Mary’s life had been far from easy; she has HIV, and is a single mum. In 2012, living without access to clean water and toilets was also taking a heavy toll.

“This was a very unhygienic place,” she reminds us. “We fetched water from two rivers and it was very dirty, especially in the rainy season. There were 120 households and only 20 toilets.”

How everyone's lives have changed for the better

Fast forward to 2015, and it’s clear that everyone’s lives have changed for the better.

The water pump is well-maintained, with each household making a contribution towards its upkeep, and not having to walk four hours a day to collect water means people have more time for work, education and their families.

Mary in 2012 and in 2015.
Left: Mary leads villagers to the new borehole in 2012. Right: Mary by the water pump in July 2015.

The impact good hygiene has had on the village has also inspired the residents of Kaniche to spread the word – and once again Mary is leading the way.

Along with some other villagers, she’s put together an educational play on using toilets and the importance of good hygiene which is being performed in nearby villages.

Mary is a passionate advocate for the changes that have taken place. "Now there are very few cases of diarrhoea and no one gets cholera anymore,” she tells us.

“I used to be thin, but now I don’t have diarrhoea any more, I’m getting very fat!”