Featured Story

Water Projects in Madagascar Bring Big Smiles

At every inspection point, a little girl followed Carl Gray with wide eyes and a beautiful, shy smile.  There could be no verbal communication as the little girl spoke only Malagasy.  Two weeks later, Carl received a phone call saying the water project was up and going.  Immediately the image of this little girl came into his mind, and emotion swelled in his heart as he thought about her having clean water to drink.

Elder and Sister Carl and Vivian Gray, Senior Humanitarian Aid Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), are deeply involved in water projects in many parts of Madagascar.  Since 2006 the Church has donated 63 water systems in the country, giving villages in poor urban areas clean water.  On 13 September 2012, Elder and Sister Murdock, Public Affairs Missionaries for the Southeast Africa Area, were fortunate to accompany the Grays on one of the inspections of these many projects.  Although this story will spotlight the project in the villages of Tafaina, it represents what happens in each of the individual areas.

The water project in Tafaina was built in 2010 under the direction of Elder and Sister Ridges, Humanitarian Aid Missionaries at that time.  Roger RANDRIANARISON of Bataillion was the contractor for the site.  Elder and Sister Ridges travelled with site monitor Jean Dieu Donne RATOVELO (Gaby) for a pre-bid visit. As Elder and Sister Ridges walked to the water source they crossed a rice paddy and saw a group of young children filling used water bottles with water from the paddy and drinking from them.  They said, “This was a graphic reminder to us that we are literally providing the infinite nature of God’s love with every footstep.  He is aware of the smallest, most ragged dressed child in the remotest village, and sends servants to meet their needs.” 

The villages of Tafaina are 38 km from the capitol of city of Antananarivo, Madagascar, then another 5.4 km on a very remote unpaved road. It is impossible to get construction equipment close to the site.  The water source (spring) was developed and flows into a concrete capture box.  It was then piped to an enclosed concrete reservoir built 1.3 km away.  From the reservoir it is approximately 800 meters down to four separate water stations throughout the village, which benefits 675 people. All the trenches were hand dug by the villagers.  Cement and gravel were brought to the water project on Zebu carts and by hand.  (For some water projects the trenches can be as long as 21 km from the source to the water stations.)  In Tafaina the trenches are just over 2 km long.  A member of the village was appointed “Water Committee President” and is responsible for upkeep and maintenance for the water project.  After completion of the project the site is inspected after 6 months, and then in one year to insure it is maintained and the water is not contaminated.

In 2011, Elder and Sister Ridges, along with the contractor, area welfare management, representatives from the Welfare Department in Salt Lake City, and site monitor - Gaby, did an inspection of the site.  They were excited to see everything was functioning, well cared for, and newly painted. It was about an hour climb to the capture box, which overlooks the beautiful valley of Behenjy, where they found the box to be tightly sealed and protected.

The villagers were asked, through an interpretor, what benefits they receive from having clean water.  The first response was better health.  One woman said it saved time and convenience because she no longer has to boil water.  When they were asked what changes they would make in the system, they indicated that they were wholly satisfied with the system.

Gifts of gratitude were given by the villagers of Tafaina, which is not uncommon for all the water project areas.  The inspectors were given 15 birds (ducks and chickens), 70 kilos of rice in a large bag, 60 kilos of beans, and baskets of peanuts, guava, sweet potatoes, and cassava.  The site monitor, Gaby, quoted a Malagasy Proverb: “Christians never refuse a gift.  To deny a gift is symbolic of refusing the greatest gift of all, which is the gift of the Atonement of Christ.”  The gifts were accepted; knowing that it was a great sacrifice to the villagers.  An orphanage in Antsirabe benefited from these gifts.   

Two years after its completion, Elder and Sister Gray, Elder and Sister Murdock, and Gaby (site monitor) were able to again inspect the water project.  Villagers enthusiastically welcomed the visitors from the Church, and were excited to show how well the system was working.  Children lead the way to the water source, running with bare feet on the rocky paths.  The village Water Technician was proud to show the new fence they had built around the enclosed reservoir to keep the animals from scratching on the concrete walls. Each of the four water stations were beautifully cared for with small gardens growing around them.  A child was happy to demonstrate how to fetch water, and water the plants.  One of the faucets was leaking slightly.  Elder Gray and Gaby showed the Water Technician how to repair the faucet by replacing it with a new one.  This is a main interest in all the water projects the Church provides; that the recipients understand and know how to make repairs and maintain the system.

Again, the villagers were asked how they were doing after receiving clean water to their village.  One of the women said, “We no longer have diarrhoea, especially the children.  We no longer have malaria and parasites.  Our gardens are watered with clean water and grow much better.  Our animals are healthier.  Women and children are not put under the heavy burden of carrying dirty water a long distance from the river, so we have more time to spend with our families, and the children have more time for school.”  This same sentiment is given where ever clean water projects are put into place.  Note:  An average family in Tafaina saves one hour per day from carrying water because of the water stations.  This computes to a savings of 50,000 hours per year.  

After the inspection was complete, Elder Gray asked if the villagers would be interested in getting a latrine and wash station.  They cheered with the prospect.  Because of the great care they have taken of the water project, it qualifies them for more help with sanitation.  Sister Gray, a former nurse, teaches villagers about hygiene and care for injuries, as was demonstrated when she saw a young boy with sores on his back.  She instructed the women how to clean and care for these wounds, which would have been almost impossible without clean water.  Many children came forward, showing her their scrapes and bumps, wanting her tender care and concern. As Elder and Sister Gray, Elder and Sister Murdock, and Gaby departed they were treated to an enthusiastic song from the children and a gift of a duck to show their appreciation.  Members of the church are thanked worldwide for their generous contributions to Humanitarian Aid to assist those in need, most of whom they  will never know.

Lives are changed by the water projects that Humanitarian Aid offers from the Church.  Every water project has its individual story but the results are the same.  People are trained to be organized by looking after a water system.   They apply these principles to other projects in their village.  Leadership and community involvement are developed in each area.  Family relationships are improved.  Villagers are taught how to run a committee for hygiene training.  They are taught to wash vegetables and learn personal cleanliness.  Safety of each person is increased with eliminating the danger of going to the rivers to get water during the raining season.  And most importantly, better health is the greatest benefit.

Nothing can take the place of the beautiful, bright eyed smile of a healthy child with a glass of clean water.

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