Australian Catholics working to provide clean water and sanitation around the world

Australian Religious Congregations and other Catholic organisations are making ongoing efforts improve access to clear water and sanitation around the world.  Here are some examples:

Missionary Society of St Columban in Pakistan

 At Jhirruk, in interior Sindh, Pakistan, the Missionary Society of St Columban is providing clean water and sanitation to a community of 80 Hindu tribal families. 

The famlies were some of tens of thousands who had been totally dispossessed and made homeless in the floods of 2010-2011.  In response, and in conjunction with its Mobile Medical Outreach programme of free medical care, St Elizabeth Hospital in Hyderabad commenced a house building project. To date more than 850 homes have been built benefiting impoverished Hindu, Muslim and Christian families. Funding was received through St. Vincent de Paul Society Victoria, religious congregations and through Columban-sourced donors.

At Jhirruk, most people were landless itinerant and semi-nomadic who work as agricultural labourers. The people now settled at Jhirruk had been dispossessed five times since the 2011 floods by landlords destroying their temporary shanties. With available funds the Bethlehem Shelter Society sponsored by St. Elizabeth Hospital bought 4 acres of land and 80 permanent houses have been built. Deeds of residence/home ownership but excluding land ownership have been distributed. A clinic has been built. Access to clean water and provision of safe effective sanitation has been included and achieved.

To obtain secure and permanent water supply, a 950 meter long pipeline has been laid from the canal which takes water from the Indus River to Karachi. This is with local and provincial government approval. Each family pays 80 rupees [= AUD$1.05] per month as government water tax.  A 20,000 gallon above-ground central tank and six connected 500 gallon branch/feeder tanks have been built. Water is connected to all the permanent bathing areas and toilet areas which have been built at the rear of the houses. Bathing and toilet areas are connected to a permanent sewage system included in the construction project.

The Missionary Society of St Columban is currently building two more 500 gallon branch/feeder water tanks and provision of sanitation facilities for 20 additional houses in Jhirruk whose construction is planned.

Purchase and installation of water filtration system for St. Elizabeth Hospital Hyderabad to provide clean filtered for hospital use. [St Elizabeth Hospital is a 110 bed facility with a specialization in mother and child care, 3 operating theatres, an outstanding neo-natal special care unit, a home-base palliative care nursing service, a Mobile Medical Outreach through which it is the sole medical provider of free care to 50,000 people, and an attached School of Midwifery.] The hospital water supply comes through the town water authority whose filtration system does not work due to breakdown or the national 8-10 hour daily electricity failure. St. Elizabeth has its own generator system which will run the proposed and much-needed water filtration system.

You can learn more about the program, and see some further pictures of the development by clicking here.

Sisters of Mercy Congregations: Mercy Works in Papua New Guinea

Mercy Works,  the Foundation of the Sisters of Mercy in the four Australian Congregations (that is, the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the Sisters of Mercy Brisbane Congregation, the Sisters of Mercy North Sydney and Parramatta Sisters of Mercy),  currently support three projects in Papua New Guinea:

In Kiunga there is a health project employing three health workers who visit villages on the Fly River teaching them healthy ways, putting in pit toilets and water tanks to provide clean water as the river is polluted from mining operations.  The workers also conduct workshops on how to maintain healthy waterways.

In Wewak there is a three year plan to provide safe drinking water in 4 villages. Depending on the size of the village, 5-10 water tanks are being installed and education sessions are being held on how to use water wisely.

In a village in the  Mt Hagen district, a water trail is being constructed, which entails collecting water from a spring, installing pipes, which bring the water in to a tank. This enables access to fresh, clean drinking water.

To learn more about Mercy Works projects relating to water and sanitation, please click here.

Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (GSS) in the Democratic Republic of Congo

“Building hope, peace and justice in the mining communities of Domaine Marial, Kolwezi (Democratic Republic of Congo)”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is blessed with rain. Abundant rain. And yet the lack of sanitary drinking water is the Number 1 killer among the Congolese. Most rural communities in the DRC lack even the most basic infrastructure to pump drinking water from the wells to homes and schools. We saw this firsthand in 2014 during the shooting of a video reportage (Maisha: A life Outside the Mines). Women and children — some as young three — lug 5-, 10- or even 20-liter jugs uphill all day, every day. In Kanina, the mining community where the GSS project is based, the ground is blessed with precious minerals: copper, cobalt, gold and diamonds too. Water though is a daily struggle.  Morning, noon and night, Kanina residents converge on the lone well that supplies water to hundreds of families. They steady massive containers on their heads or strap them to rickety bicycles for the dreaded uphill journey. During the interview with the people, everyone told us the same thing: they need to close the loop, to bring the water closer to where they live and work. A man said: “We could say that we’re not in the city…we’re basically in the middle of the savannah where daily life is a constant struggle…transporting water requires a massive effort, and it is especially hard on pregnant women. Too many lose suffer miscarriages under the strain.”  A women said: “I’ve got a long road ahead of me to get home. I’m really tired. But what can I do? I carry this water home with a child strapped to my back. And I am pregnant.” With estimated 30,000 inhabitants, Kanina is undergoing a population explosion. Congolese from across the country are drawn to this impoverished community because their might be work in the nearby mines. This region of the Congo has been called most mineral-rich place on earth. But there is very little sanitation, electricity, running water for the people who risk their lives, earning a few dollars a day, to bring these materials to the rest of us.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (GSS) are an international congregation with a presence in 72 countries, committed to serving women and children, particularly those most disadvantaged – victims of violence, poverty and trafficking worldwide.  Since 2012, the GSS programs serve the most vulnerable groups in Domaine Marial, an isolated, impoverished and underserved mining area of Kolwezi, in the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 2013 GSS developed an unprecedented study on women and children’s condition in Kolwezi, and a community needs assessment which informed a Strategic Plan for 2013-2017. The Plan which was launched in 2013 to promote the equitable participation in Congolese society of these marginalized groups by responding to their immediate needs, while redressing the structural inequalities that perpetuate the cycle of violence and poverty. The GSS Congo activities are focused on achiving 4 key outcomes:

  • Outcome 1 – Increase food security and family income through alternative livelihoods (farming, fish farming, animal rearing, small trade);
  • Outcome 2 – Decrease gender discrimination through social, political and economic empowerment of women and girls;
  • Outcome 3 – Strengthen child protection systems, policies, mechanisms and approaches and improve services for children in communities in accordance with the child protection law 2009;
  • Outcome 4 – Strengthen cohesive citizenship within the artisanal mining community in order to engage with Government for equitable distribution of resources and accountability of mining companies;
  • Outcome 5 – Increase capacity for effective program management to ensure long term sustainability of GSS Congo.

So far this multi-dimensional community-based program that has achieved significant results: 1100 former children miners have been enrolled in remedial classes and 15% mainstreamed in formal schools; 91% of children have quit the mines and improved their nutrition; violence on women and children has decreased thanks to the conflict mediation systems; 136 former women miners have improved their family food security thanks to the proceeds of the co-op farming project and 200 girls and women victims of violence and commercial sexual exploitation have increased their level of safety, self-esteem and employability.

Thanks to the community mobilization work, the population has succeed in lobbying the local government to start drilling new wells in May 2016 and construct standpipes for water in the village.

To learn more about the work in Kolwezi, please click here.

Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd in Nepal.

The 2015 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal which registered a magnitude of 7.8 and shook several of the districts onto the world stage happened on a Saturday morning. Over 600,000 houses crumbled that day, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (some 300,000 more were partially damaged), but only around 9,000 people died.

A year after a series of major earthquakes devastated large areas of Nepal, the Opportunity Village Nepal (OVN) of the Good Shepherd Sisters with support from donors and partners is continuing to support sustainable post-disaster recovery in the himalayan nation. The Good Shepherd Sisters started their mission in Nepal in 1998 and founded a local NGO called Opportunity Village Nepal – OVN.  The vision of OVN is to ensure that marginalized and vulnerable women, youth and children fully enjoy their basic human rights and live in dignity and reconciliation.  It seeks to restore human worth and dignity by responding to the needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable women , youth and children through empowering them to participate in the process of social change.

Major life-supporting health and ecosystems were also severely damaged with loss of several lives and hundreds of thousands of people made homeless with entire villages flattened.  A rapid environmental assessment undertaken by the Government of Nepal following the earthquake revealed significant destruction of forests and protected areas as well as damage to health infrastructures. Water sources shifted in some areas, with reduced or no flows in places, and new sources starting to flow in others. Freshwater ecosystems were also affected by increased sedimentation and some rivers were temporarily blocked by landslides.

Due to this devastating natural disaster throughout Nepal, water has become a pressing concern. According to Ram Chandra Devkotka, Director General of the Department of Water Supply and Sewage, the earthquake destroyed nearly 5,200 water supply systems and 220,000 personal toilets. In some cases, tanks cracked and pipes broke. In others, the shifting earth changed groundwater levels or stream flow, causing water sources to suddenly disappear. Around 1.14 million people are now in need of a consistently safe supply of drinking water, and 1.04 million people do not have access to usable toilets.

GSS Nepal has worked hand in hand with local communities, government agencies and civil society partners in supporting the relief and recovery work in Gorkha. At the same time, it ensures that local communities have a voice in their recovery. In other words, vulnerable communities define their own needs and actively contribute to their own recovery. GSS Nepal then provides technical and material support, for example in helping rebuild health facilities and water systems. Along with construction of health facilities, GSS Nepal will work on ensuring that the most vulnerable communities have access to safe drinking water by restoring damaged water systems and by helping the community construct new ones.

The GSS Nepal programme aims to restore, strengthen and improve earthquake-affected communities’ food, health, security and ability to generate income. It is doing this by working with communities to identify their priorities and deliver assistance such as training in agriculture or vocational skills, cash grants for small business, support to small enterprises and short term income earning opportunities. The aim is a community-driven programme that is flexible and integrated with the overall recovery effort. Early recovery activities have begun in Gorkha district right after the earthquake with rehabilitation of two health posts, capacity building and livelihood opportunities in remote areas affected by the earthquake.

The mission of the OVN, as an implementing NGO of the Good Shepherd Sister (GSS) in Nepal, is to be in solidarity with the poor, especially women and children living at the margins and experiencing isolation and discrimination. The focus of its programs is on prevention, protection, rehabilitation and reintegration of children, youth and women who are particularly at risk of being trafficked or abused including children and adolescents, who live in the street, are forced to work, are sexually exploited or are the victims of child trafficking. This organization’s other key areas of intervention include providing quality health services, education, affordable clean drinking water and vocational training.

Quality health services and safe drinking water remains a priority need and the GSS in Nepal is committed to improving disaster-preparedness and building safer communities in Nepal for the long term. To do this effectively, the program continues to adopt an integrated approach including: shelter, livelihoods, health, water, sanitation and improving hygiene – so that communities can withstand future threats.

As part of its commitment to program quality and accountability, GSS in Nepal is looking at diverse projects to be carried out in response to the earthquake in Nepal, particularly developed through undertaking needs assessment In this scenario, GSS Nepal is implementing a project called “Improving Access to Water, Sanitation and Healthcare in Nepal”.

Website of GSS Nepal is in developing stage and will soon be launched

 Catholic Missions in Madagascar and remote Australia.

Proceeds from recent Appeals, such as ‘Socktober’ and ‘Sock it to Poverty’ have contributed to the provision of clean water and sanitation in Australia, where opportunities to help remote Aboriginal Australians were targeted, and in Madigascar.  To read more about these efforts click here and here.


Marist Brothers Solidarity in Asia and the Pacific.

Australian Marist Solidarity strives for a world that reflects Marists’ desire that vulnerable young people are brought towards the centre from the margins through access to education. Education can only be effective through fully meeting the needs of children and young people. Often the most neglected aspects of schools in Asia and the Pacific are the sanitation facilities with research showing that many students do not eat breakfast nor drink enough water as to avoid using unclean or non-existent toilets. Over the past 12 months, Australian Marist Solidarity has undertaken major sanitation upgrades in Bougainville and India, while drinking water systems have been improved in Samoa. The projects below are examples of some of many they will continue to undertake in the future as they aim to improve the lives of the most vulnerable.

Developing facilities to improve learning environments for girls: Mangamanuthu Girls’ Amenity Block

Saint Marcellin Higher Secondary School is situated in the very poor village of Mangamanuthu in Southern India. Most families living in this area are referred to as Dalits, or ‘untouchables’—the lowest caste of India’s outdated caste system.  The school’s population has grown rapidly since it first opened its doors to secondary students in 2002. It now caters for 836 secondary students, half of which are girls. The school’s existing sanitation systems are in very poor condition and do not meet the needs of its female students.  This project involves the construction of a new 83-square metre female amenities block, which will provide 32 individual cubicles and significantly improve standards of health and hygiene at the school.

Improving Access to Safe Drinking Water:  Mulivai Drinking Water System

Marist Brothers Primary School Mulivai, Apia, was founded in 1888 and plays an integral part in the Samoan education system. Occupying its original location in the heart of Apia, student enrolment levels have swelled to 629 students.  The current drinking area consists of a concrete block in which there are 10 spouts to serve the entire school. All ten spouts flow with water when one is used which leads to extreme water wastage and has caused the area to become unhygienic and unsafe.  The school approached Australian Marist Solidarity for assistance in providing a cleaner and safer drinking area for their students. The aim is to purchase three water tanks and install them in various locations around the school. This will not only increase the availability of drinking areas but provide the students with clean, bacteria free water.  By harvesting the abundant natural rainwater, Marist Brothers Primary School will be able to reduce their ongoing costs, improve environmental sustainability and improve their students health and hygiene.

Reestablishing a safe environment for learning and living: St Joseph’s Hygiene

St Joseph’s College Mabiri was established to provide education to people in the war torn areas in Bougainville, based on the belief that every child has a fundamental right to quality education within a safe, clean and hygienic environment. Nevertheless children at the school are forced to use the nearby forest as their toilet area because the college lacks sanitation facilities. This denies the children their human right to dignity and safety.  The school has a current cohort of over 350 boys between the ages of 13 and 21, making the need for a sanitation upgrade urgent. By providing a hygienic toilet facility, the school will be able to address one of the basic needs of its students, leading to improved health and learning outcomes.

For further information about Australian Marist Solidarity, please click here.

De La Salle Brothers District of Australia, New Zealand in Pakistan and Papua New Guinea

In Bacolod Phillippines, the De La Salle Brothers have developed a solar and water plan to ensure sustainable operations for the residential home for children in conflict with the law.  Bahay Pag-asa Dasmariñas is an outreach program of the De La Salle University- Dasmarinas created “[t]o nurture children-in-conflict with the law in achieving their full potentials and to be a venue for them to become positive resources for church and nation, particularly in the CALABARZON area and other neighboring cities or municipalities”.  The program is based in the 27-hectare campus of De La Salle University-Dasmariñas and is administered by the De La Salle Brothers in the Philippines.  It is an alternative to child detention and provides a holistic formation program, including a skills training,  legal assistance, and offer a post-release program as part of their commitment to children in conflict with the law.

For the last 13 years, water needs have been met at Bahay Pag Asa from pumping water from a shallow and deep well on the property.  The shallow well water is operated by hand pump and the water is not potable, so that it can only be used for washing, bathing and agricultural purposes.  The deep well (which contains potable water) was connected to a submersible pump and later a windmill was installed to help pump the water to the hom.  However, the windmill lacked capacity to provide enough water for the entire centre, and this well was damaged ruing an earthquake in 2013.  This has forced the centre to purchase drinking water from the neighbouring agribusiness.

The cost of electricity for lights, fans, refrigerator and computers is a major expense for the centre.  So management staff have developed a comprehensive and sustainable water and energy plan for the home, responding in a reliable, financially-manageable and environmentally sound way.  Support has been secured from a number of funders, including the Lasallian Foundation.  There are six phases in the entire project:

  1. Deep well rehabilitation and installation of a submersible pump;
  2. Installation of a solar energy system;
  3. Installation of a wind energy system;
  4. Installation of a rainwater harvesting system;
  5. Relocation of the Mechanical Windmill; and
  6. Education for Clean Energy and Sustainability.

For further information about Bahay Pag Asa, click here.

In Bomana, Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, the Sacred Heart Teachers College commenced teaching operations in 2010 with an inaugural intake of 100 students.  This group graduated at the end of 2011.  This College targets developing resilient teacher graduates who will assist with improving education in the remote schools of disadvantaged areas in PNG.  Graduate students will return to the remote schools and remain there for a minimum period of three years.  SHTC aims to improve the country’s ability to achieve Millennium Development Goal 2 of the Universal Primary Education.

Due to the College’s location on the outskirts of Port Moresy, clean water is difficult to access, and the area suffers for very hot conditions.  The Lasallian Foundation of the De La Salle Brothers is collaborating with Rotary and to install a solar water distillation unit to provide potable water.

Rosary Secondary School Kondiu is a Diocesa school teaching Year 8 to Year 12, in the Simbu Province of the Western Highlands, about two hours from Mount Hagen, PNG.  It was established in the 1960s as a Catechist and primary school.  The De La Salle Brothers began their work there in 1968.  The school services six main tribal groups and has an important role in minimising potential tribal conflicts.

In 2012, there were only 800 students(700 boarders and 100 day students), with 50% boys and 50% girls.  Since the introduction of free education by the PNG Government in 2014, the numbers have increased to 1,700 with the majority boarders.  This is due to the remote location of many villages with poor road access.  Many of the students walk for days, some even for weeks to ge tot school for the beginning of term.

Rosary Secondary School regularly achieves good results (top 10% of graduate results) and has developed a very successful agricultural program.  The school places emphasis on their agricultural program due to the importance of agriculture to the area and as most students come from rural villages/hamlets and often learn about agriculture at home from a young age.  All students attending RSSK are required to study agriculture.

The school property is vast, about 1.5 km at its widest perimeter and consists of:

  • an elementary school (124 students and three teachers)
  • secondary school classrooms including computer and science labs)
  • junior and senior girls and boys dormitories and bathroom/toilet blocks/laundry facilities
  • dining hall and kitchen
  • library
  • administration block
  • bakery
  • rural technology classrooms
  • teacher housing
  • Sisters of the Sacred Heart community house
  • Father’s house
  • Chapel
  • Maintenance workshops
  • three basketball courts and one large sports field.

These facilities make up only one quarter of the total property.  The remaining land is used for agricultural development which provides one of the key school income streams.  The soil is incredibly rich, as in most parts of Simbu, which is making it idea for cultivation.  The school has had good success with its cash crops as well as raising cattle, chickens, ducks, fish and pigs.

Clean drinking water is vital for RSSK to operate particularly due to the high percentage of boarding students and on-site staff, as is water for agricultural purposes.  The school is situated above a river, however a water pump is necessary to distribute the water from the river up to the school, boarding bathroom and kitchen facilities.  Water tanks have been installed and were upgraded in 2013 with new liners and new taps to ensure the school community had access to clean water.  Now, there is a plan to replace the old water pump, which no longer worked well.  Such a replacement would enable water to continue to be pumped from the river.  If this was not done then the school would likely be forced to shut down as a lack of water would result in deteriorating levels of sanitation and hygiene, as well as an insufficient supply of drinking water for students and staff.

To learn more about the Lasallian Foundation and the Foundation’s work, please click here.

Next:  How you can help – social justice and water.