We trundled in a truck through Tigray, Ethiopia’s northernmost region, towards the village of Boye Gararsa. A remote district of rocky hills and plains, plagued by lack of water. In 2008, the situation became critical when rains failed to come, triggering acute food and water shortages.
Together with the government and a local partner – the Women’s Association of Tigray – Oxfam helped with a solution intended to solve the water problem for good: a micro dam. Stretching across a gulch, the earthen dam stops precious rain water from rushing away, allowing it to pool into a pond and creating – at last – a year-round source of water, abundant enough for over 2,500 families and the 26,500 animals they depend on for food and income.
People in the area also helped restore the landscape above the dam to prevent sediment from clogging it. In exchange for their labour, they earned cash to tide their families over through the hungry months.
Now, instead of trekking six hours roundtrip to lug water back for their families during the dry season, women like Samuel Abraha are able to save a huge amount of time – and bone-wearying labour – with this new water source just 15 or 20 minutes from their homes.
That’s time they and their children, who often accompanied them to help carry the water home, now put to far better use. For the kids, the dam means more than just water for today: It means an education for tomorrow.
Samuel Abraha’s two oldest daughters – 19 and 17 – are in school, now working their way through ninth grade.
Free of the daily burden of an 18-kilometre hike to Afar for water, they can now attend school regularly – an opportunity their parents list right near the top of the life-changing benefits the dam has brought.
“First, we managed to get water for drinking in very close range, and second, our children have time to go to school – consistently,” said Letebrhan Bayragergis.
At the dam, two girls huddled together – oblivious to the chatter of the crowd of water-gatherers around them. What consumed them? Homework, I think. With head bent, one wrote in a school notebook while the other leaned close to help. Nearby, in a school with walls made only of sticks, village children flipped through the pages of their notebooks, their voices calling out answers to questions their teacher asked. At break time, the students—many of them girls—streamed out together, the regularity of their school days now set thanks to the dam.