This post was written by Andrea Ginsberg, project manager for the Clorox Safe Water pilot project.
Last month, my colleague Alexis and I spent a day in each of the four rural communities using Clorox® bleach to disinfect their drinking water. It was an experience I will never forget.
At the start of our first day, we gathered with the women of one community as they collected water from the public tank for their families. We stood under an aluminum roof — a thin shield we installed to protect against the blazing sun — and learned just how difficult it is for the people in these villages to access a fundamental necessity.
Water Collection – An Unrelenting Struggle
In three of the four pilot communities, the district municipality delivers water to a large communal tank two or three times per week. The fourth community has a well that provides access to water 12 hours each day. After filling four or five 20-liter jugs per household — weighing 44 pounds each — the women make their way home through the hot desert sand, which for many, takes up to an hour. Some have a burro to bear the load. Others must shoulder the weight among family members, including young children. How they do this every week is unimaginable — I could barely lift a full jug a few inches off the ground.
So much time is consumed by this laborious process, and the water isn’t even clean. It’s contaminated. It makes people sick with diarrhea and other intestinal illnesses. The communities need this water to live, but this same water might cause harm or even death.
In a good week, families reliant on this water source are rationed to five 20-liter jugs per household per week. But there are many weeks when the water truck makes only one delivery, sometimes missing an entire week altogether. Families must then resort to the contaminated river, digging small holes in the nearby shore until they dig deep enough to find water. The river’s edge looks like a cratered moon, full of mosquito-covered potholes dug in the sand to provide minimal filtration against the burros’ fecal waste and other pollutants.
An exasperated father from the neighboring city told us, “When I come to visit my daughter’s family, I bring her water — not other gifts. It’s not talked about in the news, but I know there is no water here.” As we approach the holiday season, it is heartbreaking to realize that water might top the wish list of these communities’ children.
Community Use of Bleach Dispensers
Our implementation partner in Peru has been working with local health centers and community schools to educate mothers and children about safe water and good hygiene practices, including using bleach to make their drinking water safe. Throughout our visit, we learned that our bleach dispenser system was becoming an accepted and valued part of the water collection routine at the public water tanks and wells of all four communities.
“This is the first time I understand why to use bleach,” one mother said. A father told us, “Now we think life is beautiful because we know we can have safe water, and our children aren’t sick.” And according to a long-time community leader, “Our community, we have never had this quality of a project — from when I was born until now.”
Because community adoption is critical to building an effective and sustainable program, this early positive feedback is tremendously meaningful — both professionally and personally.
Over the next seven months, as we continue to work with the four villages in our pilot program, we will share our updates here. And if you’d like to tell us about other water and/or sanitation projects, especially Peru-based, we’d love to learn about them, as well.
Andrea Ginsberg is the project manager for the Clorox Safe Water pilot project. She works closely with Alexis Limberakis in the Clorox Eco Office and with PRISMA, the project’s local implementation partner in Peru.