WASHplus is USAID’s flagship global Environmental Health project.
My name is Maria Elisabeth Avindio. In 1989, a war broke out in the area around Andulo – the town where I used to live here in Angola – and my family was in danger living there. My husband decided to stay but sent our son and I to live with relatives in Luanda, the country’s capital and largest city. It has been ten years since I heard from my husband. I remarried and had two more kids.
Everyone in our neighborhood, which is known as Kididi, calls me "Aunt Maria". I am 46 years old and in twenty years of being in my new home, the neighborhood has grown significantly but not much has changed. We continue to live in poverty, we are still excluded from government plans, we do not have basic services and many of our children cannot continue school after the fourth grade.
To make it easier than walking 10 kilometers away for fresh water, the residents dug a ditch that diverts a portion of the river closer to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the water is dirty, but it is still used for drinking, washing and cooking. This causes a high rate of infant mortality because of diarrhea and intestinal diseases. Not having a medical center in the area makes our situation more difficult. One time, we built a small medical facility but a fire destroyed it. One night a nurse got distracted; the lamp fell and the center caught fire.
When CARE arrived here two years ago, they identified a lot of problems like a general lack of drinking water, electricity, public transport, hospital, school rooms and jobs for young people. There’s also been an increase in early pregnancy over recent years.
We explained to CARE staff that we did not do much because we did not know where to start, how to talk to the authorities or where to get the resources to solve problems. CARE suggested we join the Area Development Organization (ODA) to help solve our problems. They are a group made up of residents, volunteers and non-profits that help develop neighborhoods; they have been successful in other parts of Angola. I was selected to be part of the management team that represents the community and voices local needs. Today, I help manage a group called "Kididi Hope," which has created an action plan that includes steps to organize and improve our community’s future through shared solutions.
During a CARE-organized vulnerability analysis training, we took an in-depth look at our community’s problems. We learned who in our community was more susceptible to various types of illness; the result was that water was a major problem. The dirty water was very dangerous and the problem was excaberated with the absence of a neighborhood health center. The ODA organized a forum where it discussed water challenges and possible solutions, including sanitation and hygiene, with the whole community. With CARE’s help, we decided to buy three plastic tanks with a capacity of 5,000 litres to hold clean water for household use. The EU supported small community initiatives of getting access to basic services and after a few months of drafting a proposal and getting it approved, the tanks arrived. The ODA manages the process of selling water from the tanks and receiving the money; each barrel of 20 litres is sold for 5 cents (5 Kwanzas), which is used to maintain the water system and save for future projects and repairs. We’ve also taken this opportunity to campaign for better community sanitation and hygiene. Now finally we drink clean water and cases of diarrhea have dramatically decreased. Our children feel safer because they can get water here in the neighborhood instead of having to walk long distances.
I no longer fear that my family and I will catch diseases from drinking dirty water. I can also wash my clothes with clean water, which helps me feel better about myself. My life, my family and the community changed because of the improvements we’ve made and the empowerment I feel as part of this project.
Despite this success, I can say that, at first, not all of the Kididi community had confidence in the work of the ODA or CARE; many previous organizations made promises that were never kept and the people were very disappointed. This success changed many residents’ mindsets, including my own, and now the ODA is an important reference point in the community. We have begun other projects to help improve our local schools and bring more reliable energy to the area, but the first step for our future is to legalize the ODA at the national level. This is a major project that we are carrying on with other ODAs of Angola, which will allow us to be recognized throughout the country and be able to compete for public funding.
Personally, I feel with CARE’s help my self-esteem improved a lot. I am now more secure and strong. I have courage to speak in front of others and I can express my ideas. My attitude, behavior and bravery encourages other women to participate in the development of our neighborhood and solving problems. We are now an active group of women who can discuss, analyze and find solutions to our problems. Often they come to my house to share a problem and we’ll work on finding a solution together.
CARE gave me hope for a better future for myself and my children; today I am able to give my family what they deserve and I know I can achieve anything.
Now I know we can thrive because CARE has shown us how. We understand real development begins within ourselves and know that, with commitment, anything can be done. CARE showed the fight against poverty is in strengthening our abilities and working together. We’ve proven our ideas are valuable and we are empowered to address them.