Antonina, a 67 year old mother and grandmother, who lives in East Timor — situated just a short 60 minute flight from Darwin — knows all too well how vital access to clean water can be.
But this has not always been the case.
Antonina grew up in a poor rural family. Instead of going to school, she and her siblings would help their parents on their farm. One of their jobs was to fetch water.
Each day, Antonina and her siblings would make several trips to the river where they would dig a hole in the bank and wait for the water to settle. They would then scoop the water into jerry cans and carry it back up the steep hill towards home. This was an arduous task that took hours, but it was essential to their everyday life.
As years passed, Antonina married but still continued her daily task. She could see that the water collected, especially during the rainy season, was dirty and made her family sick, but it was their only source of drinking water. Without it they could not survive.
Can you imagine drinking water that you know would make you sick and not being able to do anything about it? The powerlessness of the situation is heart-breaking.
Then, Antonia’s life changed forever. In the mid-1970’s Portugal abandoned East Timor. The country went into turmoil and with the in-fighting among the local political parties Indonesia invaded the country. Seeing this and fearing for their safety, Antonina and her family fled to the jungle — at least there they could be safe.
However, living in the jungle was no easy task. Finding food and water was a struggle. Sometimes, if they were lucky, they would find cassava, greens or berries to eat. At other times they would go hungry for days. On top of this, the water they drank was polluted, gave them worms and weakened their already frail bodies.
Antonina knew that this was no way to bring up a young family but she had no choice, she had to protect her children from the dangers that lurked outside—and this seemed to be the only way to do it.
If life wasn’t hard enough, one day Antonina’s daughters Louisa, 3, and Maria, 2, came across a creek. Thirsty and tired they had a drink not knowing that further upstream a corpse was polluting the water. In a matter of hours their already malnourished and weak bodies began to crumble and eventually succumbed to illness. Antonina was devastated.
Isn’t this story just heart-breaking? But this is only a part of Antonina’s story.
Years later after Antonina’s family safely resettled in their hometown, another tragedy struck. Antonina’s husband of 23 years fell ill and after a week of vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration, he too passed away. Once again Antonina was faced with the grief of losing someone close to her because of unsafe water.
But now, Antonina no longer needs to worry about getting sick or losing another loved one to water-borne diseases. Thanks to the generous support of people like you, in 2011 ADRA was able to come into Antonina’s community and drill 12 boreholes, establish 12 water stations, build 250 latrines and provide health and sanitation education to 2,400 people.
Now Antonina is happy. She has access to clean drinking water and a clean water-sealed toilet. She only hopes that in the future every household in her community will have their own toilet and water source as currently there are more than 300 people for every water station.
Written by: Alexandra Marek, ADRA Australia