Eva Tolage, 17, lives in Malinzanga, a small village in Tanzania. She has a loving and supportive family. Her father works from sunrise to sunset to earn the money to send Eva to school.
But until recently, there were no clean water sources in Malinzanga. The whole community used the same river — located seven kilometers from the village — for cooking, cleaning, washing and drinking, which often led to diarrhea and other diseases for people in the community.
The many dangers of unclean water
Unclean water and a lack of basic sanitation undermine efforts to end extreme poverty and disease in the world’s poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa faces some of the biggest challenges. Fewer than half of individuals have access to improved sanitation services and 29 percent of people do not even have limited access to an improved water source. In 2015, 736 million people in Africa lacked a basic sanitation service and 435 million people in Africa lacked a basic drinking water service.
To make matters worse, women and girls are responsible for water collection in 8 out of 10 households when water is off premises. For many girls, safe water is located more than 30 minutes away, which is time that could have been spent in school or at work.
Indeed, Eva and her female classmates in Malinzanga were expected to spend hours each day walking the seven kilometers to the river to collect water. Those are hours they could have spent in the classroom. And for girls, the journey to fetch water is especially dangerous due to the risk of assault along the way.
When enough is enough
But Eva and her classmates decide to change things. They wrote a letter to their local government asking for water and sanitation facilities to be provided at their school. Instead of giving up when their letters went unanswered, Eva teamed up with The ONE Campaign and Restless Development to start a campaign to get clean water. People around the world supported the campaign using the #StandWithEva hashtag and more than 150,000 people around the world signed a petition supporting Eva.
“I never expected that so many people would support us, people from all over the world,” she says. “We believe that if we can attract the attention of the leaders, then changes can take place in Malinzanga.”
She was right. In 2016, Eva and 14 other girls were invited to a meeting with the Tanzanian Prime Minister at the National Parliament. Their message was simple: Eva and her community needed clean water and other essential services.
Victory at last
Earlier this year, a clean water pipe was installed near Eva’s school. Members of the community say the water system has improved their access to water but there are still challenges, such as the need for water reservoirs so that communities and the school can store water to use throughout the week.
While the system is far from perfect and water scarcity continues to be an issue, it represents a hopeful step forward to improve water and sanitation.
But clean water isn’t the only victory here. Eva says she and her classmates learned an inspirational lesson about the power of collective voices coming together.
“When we use our power together, our voices become even more powerful and can make change for the better,” she says. “If we stand up and make our voices heard, we can hold our leaders to account on promises they have made to us.”
Samantha Urban Tarrant, Content Manager, The ONE Campaign, [email protected]