22 years on: a visit to Cheelo village, Zambia

Image: WaterAid/Chileshe Chanda

22 years ago, the people of Cheelo village in Monze District, Zambia, relied solely on a faraway stream for water to drink, cook and wash with.

When a devastating drought hit the country in 1994, the stream dried up, leaving villagers with nothing – until our local partners arrived and, working together, changed everything.

Mercy, now 38, was just 16 years old when she saw the protected well being built, the village’s first reliable supply of clean water.

“I saw people who were not from our village arriving,” she remembers. “They came to help dig the shallow well deeper. They started putting concrete rings in and built it from the bottom up.”

As a teenager, Mercy was already used to the constant search for water. She used to start walking at 3am, making her way through thick forest in the pitch black to reach the stream.

“22 years ago we were in great difficulties when it came to finding clean water,” she says. “The stream was our only source. We walked for three hours to get there.”

‘Children being born today will never see the hardships we went through.’

Mercy and Betina draw water from the well at Cheelo Village, Zambia
Image: WaterAid/Chileshe Chanda

For the generation after Mercy, growing up in Cheelo village has been a totally different experience.

Fanwell, 49, is a father of four and has seen the whole transition take place. “I am happy that children being born today will never see the hardships we went through with lack of water,” he says.

“WaterAid brought great transformation to our lives. I have seen this for the past 22 years and will do for many more to come.”

Having taken on the responsibility for water maintenance in the village, Fanwell knows just how much the community values its water source.

His fellow villagers help him keep the well in good working order, buying cement whenever it needs repairing and keeping the area clean and tidy every day.

Making a lack of clean water a thing of the past

Now that the community has clean water, many residents can’t imagine how they’d get by without it.

New mum Betina went into labour earlier than expected, and ended up giving birth in the village rather than at the health centre as she had planned.

“From the stories I’ve heard about how difficult it used to be to find water, I don’t know what would have happened to me when I was delivering my baby,” she says.

“Thank you for helping us put up this well where we can draw water whenever we need it.”

Your support means that, for people like Betina and her baby, stories about surviving without clean water are just that – stories.