our work overseas

The Pacific Women Walking A Slippery Slope

Throughout the world more than 663 million people live without a safe water supply close to home. Many of our Pacific neighbours have to deal with this every day.

Throughout the world more than 663 million people live without a safe water supply close to home.

Queuing or travelling vast distances for water is normal, and so is the risk of getting sick from contaminated water.

Many of our Pacific neighbours have to deal with this every day, and what they go through for clean water will make you appreciate how good we have it here.

UNICEF NZ's Ethan Donnell visited Vanuatu's Tanna Island to see what a huge difference clean water can make to people's lives.

Madeleine George warns me to tread slowly and carefully as I descend into a deep ravine.

But she doesn’t step gingerly herself. Far from it. Dangling the empty, twenty-litre container over her shoulder, Madeleine clambers down several steps, drops onto her bottom and scoots the remaining distance into the pit.

I’m still standing at the top, rooted to the spot, looking down at a 5-7 metre drop.

I guess there’s no substitute for experience. Even eight years removed from what was once ritual, one doesn’t easily forget so many long hours.

And when you have four kids - and are an important pillar of the community besides - who has time to waste?

Madeleine stands outside her home in Laounaoula, Vanuatu, with her children Mark, 6, and Nalam, 10.
For the vast majority of her life, Madeleine’s day involved carrying heavy containers up and down steep, slippery ravines for kilometres at a time, several times a day.

How must it have felt, then, to hear that now familiar thud of the pump for the first time and see water sputtering out?

It felt like ecstasy.

“I was so excited, shouting and waving my arms,” says Madeleine. “Other women and children were crying, sobbing - hardly believing that we didn't have to walk down there again.”
Nowo (13), Nalam (10) and Angela (10) are just some of the children who have benefited from the UNICEF water pumps.
In the lush, bush-clad hills of Vanuatu, there are many women and children still walking great distances every day, just for a drink.

The conditions are rough - on this relatively dry day the ground still was soft underfoot. I can only imagine how treacherous it is during the rainy season.

Water is a dense liquid, and weighs a tonne. The only thing more dense is the bush of the Tafea Province, making every few steps a tense negotiation between machete and overgrowth.

Madeleine and daughter Nalam, 10, carry a twenty-litre container through dense bush to the water source in Laounaoula, Vanuatu.

My colleague, Ahmad, tries to drag the container up from the depths of the ravine. He gets perhaps twenty metres before giving up, leaning his weight against the container to catch his breath.

Madeleine smiles broadly and slings the vessel over her shoulder, resting the bulk of the load across her shoulder blades.

“It’s very hard work,” she says, cutting a path to the village.
The pumps have been a life-changing force for the family, in more ways than one.

Husband George works as an engineer, installing the water systems into increasingly more remote villages. You can hear the pride in his voice when he talks about the minutiae of these complex systems - all those pipes and the mechanics.

Mark, 6, leans against part of the village water system in Laounaoula, Vanuatu.

Their six-year-old son, Mark, is the smiliest little boy I’ve ever seen. He climbs the island’s many towering banyan trees and reaches for the skies. He dreams of being a pilot.

I capture short videos that show him swinging back and forth on a loop like a pendulum. He is enthralled by the camera.

I like to think Mark would be this happy whether his village had been helped by the project or not - his parents love him that much. But there’s no denying that easy access to water for his entire life has made a marked difference.

Mark, 6, and a friend pose for a photo in the nakamal.

Elsewhere, in Namene, a village even more remote, I get to see the impact of water through a slightly older set of eyes.

This village was the thirty-first and final community to be kitted out with water pumps - and for our visit they’ve garlanded their tank with flowers as a token of appreciation.

Among the villagers is Lespeth Moses, the most youthful 87-year-old you could hope to meet.

Nauieai cradles her two-year-old daugher, Rosa - as her own mother Lespeth, eighty-seven years old, watches on in Namene, Vanautu.

The village is remote enough that, despite her years, Lespeth has never seen a person with pale skin before.

When she was six years old - the same age Mark is now - she walked to collect water for the first time. So began a daily routine, several hours every time, day in, day out.

She was still walking regularly to the source when the pumps were installed last December, some eighty-one years later. Roughly seven years spent walking to collect water, lugging ungainly containers to and fro, across one lifetime.

It makes you think about all one might achieve over a seven-year span instead.

Gladwin (9), Nalam (10) and Mark (6) stand atop the water tower in Laounaoula, Vanuatu.
With your help, UNICEF New Zealand is ensuring women and children in Vanuatu have time for things more productive than lugging water.

Madeleine says in the days before the pumps, children would have to scamper between the source and village every morning and afternoon, either side of school.

Julie, 8, and Naiu, 12, play in the water.
Right now, we’re raising money to transform the lives of children in the Penama Province by providing 157 schools in the area with clean water, toilets and sanitation.

Around ten thousand children will benefit from this large-scale project - no more scampering.

What does Lespeth intend to do now with her hard-earned retirement? Rest and swim, for as long as her tired limbs will allow.

“I’m very happy every day.”

Please join us in making a life-changing difference for children in the Pacific. Donate now.
For every $1 you give, the New Zealand Government will match your gift by up to $9.