By Sophia Sunwoo, CEO and co-founder of Water Collective
In the forests of Southwest Cameroon, there’s a village named Babubock that hides behind mud roads, endless trees, and steep mountains. As you walk through Babubock, you’re struck by the village’s beauty; homes are built around the will of the forest and stand in front of gorgeous backdrops of untouched nature.
In stark contrast to this landscape, you also see puddles of mocha-colored water and a broken handpump in front of the school compound.
The water in Babubock is deplorable.
“We leave the water in a clear bottle so that visitors can see the water they are drinking,” one villager says.
Members of the community purposely store the water they collect in clear bottles so that guests are warned, and can see the water they’re drinking. When you let Babubock’s water sit, over time, the water separates into two layers: one, water—the other, a black mass.
The broken handpump in front of the school compound has never worked or flowed with water before. It’s confusing as to why someone would spend money on a handpump that was never meant to work, but it is common here in these faraway villages that are difficult to visit.
In Babubock, a politician donated a handpump in front of the school compound so that they could share this achievement through pictures. Whether the handpump worked or not did not matter to them. It’s an unfortunate, but repeated occurrence that leaves an unforgettable mark on the people who live with this daily reminder that clean water will not flow.
A broken water project is heavily laced with feelings of regret, fear, and anger for some communities. Non-functioning hand pumps, tap stands, and boreholes litter many communities in Cameroon and stand as reminders of wasted money and embarrassment for those who fought to bring that water there. It’s difficult to place your trust in another organization or another person after you’ve committed time and sometimes money into a water project that broke in the past.
The ones who encourage investment in a new water project are met with resistance, leaving communities in a cycle of disagreement that stifles new initiatives for growth.
This is why Water Collective was created: to wedge itself in this difficult place, and to help communities move forward from their past.
Our partnership with Babubock didn’t begin till three years after the team initially visited the community. We waited until the community was mentally ready to meet us in the middle, where they were self-motivated and receptive to rebuilding again.
They arrived at this place by themselves, and approached it with a fever—furiously fundraising their share of the project’s costs, and organizing meetings to rally participation. Once they were ready, our team held a public election of Water Committee members, an open forum on how funds for the project would be donated and spent, and discussed a transparent structure for accountability. These are a few of the many steps we took to awaken the community’s trust, and how we continuously pursue strengthening this trust—not in Water Collective, but in the community’s own capabilities.
In the next few months, the community will build the confidence to completely own their water project and acquire the skills to build, maintain, and continuously operate their new water system themselves. We’re pretty excited to see Babubock move forward from the past!