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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ethiopia: ‘I cannot be quiet about it.’

We have a lot of reasons to celebrate the clean water systems that we’ve been able to help Ethiopian villages to create. But one of the changes that clean water brings is particularly close to our hearts: the tremendous and undeniably positive impact that it has for women.

This impact was clear to behold on a recent visit with Ethiopian families who have had their water systems for a while. As is the norm, families in the village of Deshkille totally operate and maintain their system in accordance with community standards that they create and enforce through committees that include both male and female members. One of these committee members, a Mrs. Abebech, shared with us that ‘When I was chosen to serve as one of the health and sanitation committee members, I was unsure because I never spoke in public before about anything. But with the training and information received, I am now able to speak in my house, in the village and to anyone that I meet. It is not about being shy anymore; I have information that is saving and changing lives. I cannot be quiet about it.’

We also spoke with Mr. Abebech about his wife’s community involvement. We were, we must admit, surprised — pleasantly — but his unambiguously positive take on what must have been a dramatic change in his wife’s demeanor. ‘I am surprised,’ he said, ‘and impressed at how she is now thinking about everything that we do in this house. It is not only about herself changing, my whole family is changing because of her, and that is a good thing.’

Indeed, Mrs. Abebech told us that she visits about 80 homes a month to share the knowledge she has gained about health and sanitation. She especially relishes helping other women to understand and take charge of their own reproductive health. A man could never do what she does. She is able to broach delicate topics and create an environment of safety and trust with the women through whom the health and function of the whole family flows. The impact that Mrs. Abebech is having should not be underestimated — Mr. Abebech certainly doesn’t.

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