This week I tagged along with a couple of my colleagues on a peer review trip to visit and evaluate some of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects that we have implemented in North Kivu area of DRCongo. We travelled together with a couple of staff from two local organisations that Tearfund has partnered with and are also working in North Kivu. Altogether we comprised of a team of 10, including our two drivers.
The week started with a 2 hour drive to Kiwanja, where we were to be based for the week. A two hour drive on bumpy, dust roads, but a two-hour drive through some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen. Miles upon miles of jungle, forest, mountains meeting the sky and expanses green bush stretching as far as the eye can see. That afternoon we spent discussing movement plans for the days ahead and briefing on the different projects we were to visit.
Tuesday: A trip to Bunagana, a boarder town with Uganda. First stop was a puncture stop. The only one of the week – not bad considering the state of the roads. We left the driver to fix the vehicle and pushed on, a bit more squashed this time, with everyone in one vehicle. First stop was to see a reservoir that we have rehabilitated to supply water to the area. Onwards to view a cattle watering point built to resolve conflict between cattle herders and the community, since the cattle herders would cut water pipes to allow their cows to drink thus preventing water from reaching stand-taps. And then on to meet with the local health centre, where the doctor was happy with our work and reported a drop in the number of cases of diarrhoea and typhoid thanks to the provision of clean water.
Wednesday: Off to Vitshumbi, a town in the middle of the national park. The town is set on a lake and prior to our work, had had no access to clean water despite other NGOs attempts. Instead they used dirty water from the lake for washing, cleaning and drinking. The team were excited to see our work here as we have installed a water pump in the lake that uses solar power to pump water which is then filtered and chlorinated to make it safe to drink. It is possibly the only system like this in DRCongo and has been very successful. For me, it was good to see but unlike my colleagues, personally there’s only so much I can get excited about looking at a pump and some solar panels. Instead I found it encouraging to talk with the community and hear stories of how their lives had changed as a result of the new system. That’s what it’s all about.
Thursday: Thursday morning we visited our partner’s work in Ntamugenga, which had involved sensitising the community on the use of latrines and good sanitation, as well as an hour’s trek through the country to see a spring that the partner had protected. In the afternoon we visited our other partner’s work in Kiwanja where they had established and empowered self-help groups in the community that are now running independently. Groups have savings and income-generating projects such as farming, or making crafts, the proceeds of which are then used to support the vulnerable in the community.
The purpose of the visits to the different projects was to evaluate their success, examining both the positives and negatives, enabling recommendations to be made for future work in the area. Friday was a day of lesson-learning and discussion before heading back to Goma.
It was wonderful to be out in the field for a week and to see the impact our and other organisations are having on people’s lives. Of course there are areas of improvement that need to be made, lessons to be learned. But overall it was incredibly encouraging to see the way lives have been changed simply by the provision of access to safe drinking water: something I take so much for granted.