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Clean water means Kankham is safer, healthier and playing football again

Twelve-year-old Kankham used to walk two hours a day to collect water. This World Water Day, on 22 March, we are celebrating how access to clean water changed Kankham’s childhood and the lives of many other children like him.

Kankham loves playing football after school with his friends. But he’s only been able to do this for the past year.

Living in a remote village in Laos with few resources and facilities, Kankham spent a lot of his childhood collecting water from a river far from home. He would wake up at dawn every morning to help his mother, Khonejai, fetch water for the day for drinking and cleaning. Together, they carried three buckets, a total of 25L, of water back home. It was a tiresome one-hour trek up and down the hills of Houaphanh Province.

In the evenings, Kankham and his mother repeated their walk to the river: Kankham carrying a 5L bucket and Khonejai, two 10L buckets. The water they collected was just enough to last them through the night. In the morning they would make the trek to the river again.

For half of the year, during Laos’ wet season, the walk to the river was especially tiresome and dangerous. Kankham and his mother navigated muddy and slippery paths as they balanced buckets full of water.

A few years ago, Kankham became very sick with diarrhoea after drinking unsafe water from the river. “We had to walk 8kms to the hospital,” Khonejai says. “It was a hard time for the family.”

Kankham, age 12, and his mother Khonejai (pictured above) used to walk two hours every day to collect water from a river far from their remote village in Houaphanh Province. A newly built clean water system in their community means Kankham has more time to learn and play.

This year’s World Water Day theme – accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis – puts a spotlight on the devastating impacts the lack of clean water and sanitation can have on the lives of children and their families.

About 829,000 people – including more than a third of children – are estimated to die each year from diarrhoea because of unsafe drinking water, and poor sanitation and hygiene. In Laos, only 55 per cent of people have access to basic handwashing facilities, including clean water and soap.

In 2022 ChildFund in Laos worked with local partners and community members to build a clean water system in Kankham’s village, benefiting more than 400 people. The gravity-fed water system collects and filters water from the river, and stores it in a large tank in the village. Community members helped to build a plumbing system, connecting the water in the tank directly to 88 houses. Today, more than 100 families in Kankham’s village are accessing clean water instantly through taps in their homes.

ChildFund in Laos and local partners helped to install a clean water system in Kankham’s village in 2022. Kankham and his mother Khonejai (pictured above) can now access clean water from the comfort and safety of their own home.

Khonejai says Kankham is healthier and safer now that they no longer need to walk the long distance to the river, and can get clean water at home. She also says: “I have more time to spend with my family.”

For Kankham, he can get back to doing the things he loves. “I have more time in the morning to enjoy breakfast and get ready for school,” Kankham says. “After class, I have free time to play football with my friends.”

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Children in Kankham’s village, in remote Laos, enjoy clean, running water in their community for the first time.

How you can help change children’s lives this World Water Day

This World Water Day, on 22 March, you can give the gift of clean water and sanitation to children like Kankham 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:

  • A 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.
  • A 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.
  • A hand washing station: This is a simple gift with the power to help everyone in a community improve sanitation and hygiene, and stay healthy. 

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