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Since he was little, Januario, now 17, has struggled to access clean water. Growing up in one of the most remote villages in Lautem Municipality, Timor-Leste, he would walk for 30 minutes daily with his eight siblings and other local children to collect water—and that was on a good day. It could take up to an hour if small children joined the pilgrimage.

“During the dry season, our closest spring dries up, so we would walk to other villages to collect water,” explains Januario. “If younger children came, we would have to slow down and wait for them to catch up.”

While some families could afford to rent trucks to carry their water, lessening the burden on children (“The trucks carry all the water in one trip”), Januario wasn’t so fortunate. “My parents relied on us children to collect water. It was our responsibility,” he says.

In 2021, Januario moved in with his aunt and uncle in Lospalos, a city in East Timor-Leste, to avoid travelling long distances daily to attend high school. He currently shares the house with eight other relatives from rural areas who are either studying or seeking better job opportunities. Januario says his younger brother will also be joining him soon, making it a total of 12 family members living together under one roof.

“Sometimes the water comes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. So, we have to be prepared and fill up our tanks and jerry cans because the tap only runs for a few hours. And then it stops. We will have to wait for it the next day.”

Despite the move, access to water remains an issue. “I thought that coming to live in town would be easier, but it is still the same. We still struggle with clean water,” says Januario. He explains that although the government provides clean water to every household in town, it comes at a cost, “We have the water piped to our house by the government, but we have to pay around USD$5 every month.”

The costs involved and the fact that water isn’t readily available (the government turns off the tap in the central system, and the cycle of water rationing isn’t always constant) mean Januario and his relatives only use the water for “drinking and cooking” as they wait for their water rations.

“Sometimes the water comes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. So, we have to be prepared and fill up our tanks and jerry cans because the tap only runs for a few hours. And then it stops. We will have to wait for it the next day,” says Januario, adding that he makes sure to get up early before school to collect water. “I walk 10 minutes to a well before school each morning to shower. If I don’t, I might not get another chance to wash all day.”

A lack of safe water and sanitation is also affecting children and young people’s learning and basic needs at school.  Water is scarce, leaving students like Januario without access to clean water to drink and wash their hands. “We don’t even have water in our school toilets.” 

Water and sanitation projects are critical to improving access to safe water in both rural and urban areas in Timor-Leste. Clean drinking and cooking water, adequate sanitation, and proper hygiene can prevent infectious diseases, dehydration, malnourishment, and early death and help reduce poverty. Spending hours a day travelling to collect clean water or thinking about when they can next shower can impact children’s ability to learn and rob them of their childhood. They lose precious time that could be spent studying, pursuing hobbies, or playing with friends.

ChildFund Timor-Leste is working with the local community to improve access to clean water and help solve the water scarcity issues. ChildFund has supported the construction of two concrete water tanks in Lospalos. Concrete water tanks help store safe, temperature-controlled, and portable water, which makes it easier for households to access it for their daily consumption.

Water is very important. For children to have clean water, the government needs to create better facilities and pipe water for every house and school. It is not just the communities that lack water but also schools.”

As a newly minted Youth Changemaker, Januario is passionate about improving health and wellbeing in his community. The new water tanks are just the beginning.

“Water is very important. For children to have clean water, the government needs to create better facilities and pipe water for every house and school. It is not just the communities that lack water but also schools,” he says.

As a Youth Changemaker, Januario is learning life skills and how to best advocate for not only himself but also his friends, family and community. He is part of a group of 60 local young people from Lautem municipality attending ChildFund-supported training sessions and activities to build their confidence and leadership skills.

“I wanted to join because I think it will benefit me a lot,” says Januario. “I want to learn many new things, especially how to become a good leader. The Youth Changemaker program motivates us to learn more.”

Although he is new to his role as a Youth Changemaker, Januario is already making a difference by raising awareness and inspiring action to address the community’s water and sanitation crisis.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership. The Youth Changemakers program is implemented in Lautem municipality by ChildFund Timor-Leste and local partner, Ba Futuru.

Find out more about our work in Timor-Leste.

World Water Day is celebrated annually on 22 March. It’s a day to reflect on the importance of global access to clean water and sanitation, and the sustainable use of water. It’s an opportunity to recognise the pivotal role clean water and sanitation play in daily life, supporting economic, social and human development.

Did you know?

  • 1.4 million people die every year and 74 million will have their lives shortened by diseases related to poor water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • 1 in 4 people – 2 billion people worldwide – lack safe drinking water.
  • Almost half of the global population – 3.6 billion people – lack safe sanitation.

The focus for World Water Day 2024 is leveraging water for peace. This year’s World Water Day theme focuses on fostering a more harmonious attitude and understanding towards water – that it is a basic human right not something to be fought over. Instead, we should take collective action to help protect this precious resource and ensure that everyone has access to a supply of clean, safe water.

To help you get involved, we’ve put together five ways that you can make an impact this World Water Day 2024. 

1. Practice responsible use of water

Take up the challenge to be more mindful of your own water usage. If you find you use a lot of water, try to reduce your usage during your day-to-day routine. 

Some suggestions to reduce your water use include:

  • Turning off the tap while you brush your teeth
  • Using the half flush on the toilet instead of the full when possible
  • Taking 2 minute showers 
  • Making sure your dishwasher is full before turning it on
  • Fixing leaking taps and toilets

2. Watch documentaries on water to educate yourself

As World Water Day is focused on raising awareness about the importance of clean water and sanitation, one way to gain a better understanding of water-related issues is by watching documentaries. There are a number of high-quality films available, often on YouTube or Netflix. 

Some documentaries we would recommend  include; ‘The World’s Water Crisis, ‘Kenya’s Water Women’ and ‘A World Without Water’. 

3. Visit the United Nations World Water Day website

Another way to get informed is to visit the official World Water Day website, which includes an abundance of resources, stories and information on how to become involved with World Water Day. 

4. Raise awareness on social media

Social media is one of the most effective ways to raise awareness. This World Water Day, we encourage you to share news, facts, statistics, videos or stories on your various social media channels to let your network know about the importance of clean water and sanitation, and sustainable water use. The more people that share information on their social channels, the greater the reach.

5. Donate to help those without access to clean water and sanitation

Celebrate World Water Day 2022

This World Water Day, you can give the gift of clean water and sanitation to those who need it most. Everyone should have the right to access clean water and sanitation around the globe. 

ChildFund Australia’s Gifts For Good range is a fantastic initiative for donations this World Water Day. Gifts For Good incorporates a number of water-based gifts that have the power to change lives. 

You can help provide children and families overseas with access to clean water and sanitation by donating:

  • Hand pump well: This will provide clean water for children and their families for drinking, cleaning and bathing. Children may no longer have to make long, dangerous journeys on foot to collect water from unreliable, contaminated sources. This will also offer children the protection from the risk of deadly waterborne diseases.
  • Deepwater borehole: Imagine your impact when you give the gift of clean water that a whole school – or even an entire community – can rely upon for years to come.
  • Hand washing station: This is a simple gift with the power to help everyone in a community improve sanitation and hygiene, and stay healthy. 

Disasters such as drought, disease and conflict has led to millions of people around the world in need of emergency clean water assistance. You can help prevent their suffering with a gift of clean water.

In Kenya alone, more than a million of people in need are children and mothers, who are malnourished and urgently need food and water. Your donation to ChildFund’s Hunger Crisis Appeal can help upgrade and maintain water facilities in communities, and provide water trucks in schools and water purifiers for families.

Celebrate World Water Day this March! 

However you choose to celebrate World Water Day, do it in an impactful and meaningful way for you and your community. Take on one or all of these five tips to ensure you mark World Water Day in a way that truly makes a difference.