A woman fetching water from the stream

To mark Women’s Day, a non-profit organisation recently showcased the works of five young photojournalists at an exhibition tagged ‘wata wahala’. Chineme Okafor who was at the exhibition, reports

“Exhaustion, stress, pity, and empathy, these are what I got from my work in the communities. Just one journey, you are so tired that you wonder how they (women) do it three times a day,” said Fati Abubakar, editor of an online blog ‘Bits of Borno’ and one of the young photojournalists whose works were on display.

Abubakar, a smart female public health expert, but who has a lot of affection and energy for photojournalism and community advocacy had worked with Media Information Narrative Development (MIND) to document the difficulties women who live in poor urban settlements of Abuja have to deal with every day to get clean water for their homes, .
She was one of the five selected photojournalists that MIND engaged to consciously embed in and get expressive pictures of the daily struggles these women in Basan Jiwa, Kuchigoro, Karmo and Kayache communities face when they need clean water for household chores.

Already, Abubakar has a prior advocacy experience; she documents and puts out on her blog, the challenges of persons that have been displaced from their traditional homes in Borno by Boko Haram, but then she told THISDAY that taking pictures of these community women doing their water chores was quite different and stimulating.

For her, it was quite surreal doing the long distance treks which the women in Kayache, Basan Jiwa, Kuchigoro and Karmo do every day to fetch water from streams or other water sources that are either unhealthy or highly-priced.
She said that in the communities where the women either fetch from the streams or buy from boreholes, the task of fetching water didn’t come as simple as it often looked to her.

“You become aware of how privileged you are, and how selfish we are as humans who won’t bridge the wide gaps between the rich and poor,” said Abubakar whose community works in Borno also exposes her to other real life challenges of women and girls.

In a manner that seemed to indicate that she was struggling to accept the realities of women carrying big and heavy plastic containers of water on their heads in communities that are not far away from the heart of Nigeria’s opulent capital city, Abubakar said that the pictures from the communities were really poignant.

Confirming her feelings and disappointments, she blurted: “Once we have what we need, we forget the others. After our estates are constructed we don’t care how the others live.”

Again, she said, this time without hiding feelings: “One becomes aware of the social inequalities in a society. The wide gaps between the rich and the poor, and how modernity is 20 minutes away but poverty and access to water prevail in urban settings, and we have chosen to be blissfully ignorant.”

It was based on these difficult social conditions which community folks in Basan Jiwa, Kayache, Kuchigoro and Karmo face in accessing water that MIND asked Abubakar, Tom Saater, Kassim Braimah, Emamode Edosio, and Collins Peters to make the expressive photographs that were exhibited at the Thought Pyramid in Abuja during the last Women’s Day Celebration.

The idea according to Ilse van Lamoen-Isoun, the Programme Director for MIND was initiated and sold to the five photojournalists who accepted to work with it, put some good energy around it and eventually came out with moving photos of women doing their water chores.

According to her, it was meant to stimulate issue-based dialogues on what community folks, especially women in these Abuja suburbs have to do regularly to access clean water.

Just days after the exhibition was opened to the public, Lamoen-Isoun on a Wednesday morning took questions from THISDAY on what MIND hoped to accomplish from the photo exhibition.

She explained that the exhibition would want to bring to the fore the real facts that access to clean water in these Abuja poor homes and communities was indeed a major problem especially for a good number of women that live in them.

According to her, the approach which MIND chose to do this was to start from the bottom to the top and not from the top to the bottom as it is usually the case in telling the stories of community people. This way, she added, community folks and policy makers can agree on what matter to them and what really will add value to their lives.
She said that as much as water is indispensable for life, the featured communities and many others in Abuja do not have easy access to it today. She also added that people who are blessed enough to have running water in their home rarely think about the tremendous efforts that water fetching takes.

Every day, Lamoen-Isoun noted, many women in these communities take out at least two hours to look for and fetch water for their homes.

“This adds up to 365 to 730 hours per year. Expressed in 40-hour-work weeks, this equals to nine to 18 weeks, or two to four months per year spent on fetching water alone. This eats into women’s capacity to be economically productive,” she said.

She then asked: “How often do we think about the human implications of this situation? What does it mean for families not to have any clean water nearby? Who mostly bears the brunt? And who cares?”
Lamoen-Isoun stated that traditionally, fetching water is mostly done by women and girls but that the challenges of access in these Abuja communities means that the health of women, education of girl children and economic productivity of women are adversely impacted.

She tried to explain this when she said: “This photo exhibition confronts us with a simmering issue that affects millions of urban poor women and girls in and around our ‘model city’ Abuja, their daily struggle to fetch water. The photographs were captured by young, rising Nigerian camera artists with a passion for the cause.
“On the average, adult women in the communities carry between 25 and 60 litres of water every day, while girl children make do with 10 to 40 litres as well.

“Have you ever lifted a bucket of water? Then you know that water is heavy. However, the weight of a bucket is inconsequential when compared to the water basins daily carried around by women in our project communities.”
“How often do we think about the physical implications of water fetching? Back and neck aches are common health complaints among women in Kayache and Basan Jiwa. The energy absorbed by water fetching reduces women’s capacity to be economically productive – especially in physically demanding jobs like farming and sand dredging,” added Lamoen-Isoun.

With regards to the impact that such challenges of access to water poses on girl child education in the communities, Lamoen-Isoun disclosed that, “many children in our project communities are helping their families to fetch water. This task is time-consuming – especially in the dry season when nearby water sources dry up. It affects children’s education opportunities.”

“According to teachers in Kayache, children often come late for school or fail to do their homework because they need to fetch water. Students living in borehole-equipped estates typically perform better in school than their peers in water-deprived areas,” she added.