A Young Safe Water Champion Changing Lives in Gumbo, South Sudan

by Amref Health Africa

Every day, Rovinnah Bonitoj wakes up at 6 am and prepares for school. In the evening, she does her homework and then embarks on her tasks as a Safe Water Champion (SWC) by visiting one or two households in her neighbourhood.

Rovinnah is not your average 19-year-old girl, she wears many hats. She is not only a Champion but also the head of the journalism club in her school.

“I am a Safe Water Champion helping my community from preventable diseases by advocating for good hygiene practices,” she proudly says.

Rovinnah grew up in Gumbo, a village located on the southern outskirts of Juba and situated along the left bank of the river Nile. Gumbo’s population is about 37,500 including over 10,000 people living in the internally displaced camps who rely on untreated water from the River Nile, often supplied by unregulated water vendors. This notwithstanding, sanitation services are scarce and do not meet the needs of the huge population in the area, especially with rampant open defecation and unchecked waste disposal. These expose the residents to the constant risk of water-borne disease outbreaks.

In response to the persistent challenges, Amref Health Africa in South Sudan with funding from GIZ and support from the local government initiated different approaches to tackle the problems, among them the use of SWCs as agents of change.

“I came across an advertisement for SWCs which I applied,” she says. Through an oral and written interview, Rovinnah was selected and joined the 100 SWC and thereafter trained on basic knowledge on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) practices in order to increase WASH awareness in households.

Every week, she has to brave the scorching sun to reach her community with awareness messages on safe handling and storage of water, proper hygiene practices and now COVID-19 preventive measures messages. She has to visit at least one household a day and 20 a month.

She introduces different topics in each household visit on how to maintain hygiene and sanitation as well as water treatment and management. Natalia acknowledges that because of the training and numerous visits to the households, her confidence has been boosted. “Initially, I was not confident to express myself to people. With time, I boldly speak to people and convince them,” she says.

Rovinnah is self-motivated. She ensures that people practice good hygiene practices and safe water management. “I enjoy talking to people and I am proud that most of them have witnessed a change in their families,” she tells.

In school, her teachers appreciate her ability to speak boldly. “I am very confident that one day, I will be a doctor,”

“I am so glad that Amref changed my life and that of my community. Sometime back, we had cholera cases in my community. I sensitise the community through the promotion of health education on food safety and safe water to prevent new cases of cholera,” she explains.

The work of SWCs is riddled with many challenges. As young girls, sometimes not all community members welcome or listen to them, while others have high expectations that can’t be met within the programme. Rovinnah recalls the difficult times. “Every time they see me, some expect me to help them with food, soap and water,” she narrates. “Some of them do not have latrines and cannot afford to construct one.”

Despite these challenges, Rovinnah, just like other SWCs put their community first and are dedicated to passing lifesaving information to the whole community.

The project also focuses on strengthening grassroots WASH user systems to monitor and take charge of service provision by incentivising local women and youth groups to run water vending and household waste collection services. It also works to improve the capacity of the local WASH utility companies in order to increase their efficiency in the provision of water, sanitation and sewerage service to the communities.

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