“Only literates are able to get jobs,” was what Rojina Shrestha, a 38 years old woman from Sahid lakhan Gaunpalika in Gorkha district, once thought. She had a dream to get a job, however, due to lower educational background, she was unable to apply for many available opportunities. She has passed only primary level education. Living with her parents along with husband and three children, Rojina always dreamt to have a job and a steady income source which could help take care of her parents and family. Her husband works as unskilled labor in construction sites and Rojina joined him at times. However, due to uncertainty of the demand of labor, she and her husband always struggled to make ends meet.
Moreover, her village also suffered from water scarcity for many years. Women like Rojina had to face severe hardship to fetch one bucket of water to fulfil their daily household needs. Though few taps and wells existed earlier, it all dried up due to earthquake of 2015. Discharge from the taps started to decrease as more than sixty households were depended on one tap. Community people, especially women and girls had to dedicate most of their times in queue to fetch the water, living behind their kids unattended.
To overcome this problem, the villagers appealed local government for the support. The efforts yielded positive result and in 2018, district water supply office built a Reservoir tank (RVT) in the community. Another round of RVT and Pipelines were built with support from local organization. However, the scheme remained incomplete due to financial constraints.
Purnima created its presence in Sahidlakhan Gaunpalika leading to the support in completion of the scheme upon request from Palika. Chap Khola Nagthali Lifting Water Supply and Sanitation Scheme began, inviting hopes and joys around the community.
Rojina was especially delighted as she was selected as village maintenance worker (VMW) for the scheme. She was hard-working, and Purnima was fortunate to have dedicated woman like her on board.
Seven-day long VMW training was provided through Purnima programme. The training raised her confidence on carrying water supply related work which included joining pipeline, installation of fittings on tap stands, water-meter installation, operating and minor maintenance of the pump and electric system for lifting water, meter reading and recording, amongst others. During the construction, she worked as paid skilled labor and earned Nepali Rupees 26,000 (nearly £170) in three months’ time during the construction of the water scheme. Upon completion of the construction, water now flows 24 hours in all 254 families’ individual tap stands at the home yards.
The roles of daily operation and maintenance of the scheme has been given to three VMWs, but Rojina holds majority of the responsibility as co-workers. The key roles of the VMWs are operation of the water systems in a daily manner, repair and maintenance of the systems when required, meter reading for each household once every month, periodically visiting various structures of the water system from water source to the tap stands for ensuing full functioning, and free form contamination. She can also repair the pump and electric system if required.
The scheme has a digital system in which pumping is automated through censor. She receives notification in her mobile phone through SMS text about the pumping status. She is now habitual of monitoring and controlling the pumping system through digital platform. “When User Committee decided to give me this responsibility of, many people disagreed saying that the job required lots of hard work and a female may not be able to do it. However, I broke all their stereotype and was recognized as the first woman to learn finest in training sessions among all participants.” She spends approximately four hours every day in an average but stays stand by 24 hours to provide services when required.
Rojina is paid monthly 9,000 Nepali rupees (£60) for the responsibility she holds contributing to her financial status. She also has a tap stand right in front of her door steps. She can spend time with her children and give attention to their studies. It is also giving her time to carry out poultry and goats farming that yields extra income. Her husband is also happy as they now have regular income for their children’s education and other essentials. Her job is now secured for several years.
Rojina expects to grow further in this field and is hoping for more opportunities. She is a motivation for other women. “My fellow community people feel comfortable in telling me their issues. Female community members ask me whether this work is very difficult, and I tell them that if we learn well, nothing is difficult,” said Rojina. Adding to Purnima’s efforts, Sahid lakhan Gaunpalika Vice chairperson, Ms. Indira Tiwari shared “Purnima program does not only construct water supply scheme, they also pay attention for sustainability of scheme. The program ensures establishment of water tariff collection system and appointing VMW for managing the system locally. It also gives opportunity to local people like Rojina for their employment.”
Text: Heman Paneru, Guna Raj Shrestha and Sofila Vaidya
Photos: Heman Paneru