A Community Comes Together for Clean Water

January 26, 2017

The village, or suco, of Railako Leten is in the coffee-growing heartland of the municipality of Ermera, Timor-Leste. A mountainous region, the lives of the people of Ermera revolve around the growing seasons for crops like coffee, vegetables, and spices. Railako Leten is only 45 kilometers southwest of Timor-Leste’s capital of Dili, but it takes around an hour and thirty minutes to drive there because of the rocky terrain and lack of quality roads.

Railako Leten community meeting

Meeting of village chiefs in the Railako Leten community.

Under the leadership of the suco chief, Ms. Cristalina Quintão — the only female village chief in Ermera at the time — the village had long enjoyed access to clean water. The water system consisted of a tank that provided clean water access points to key areas in the village, including health centers and clinics, churches, and schools. And then, the dry season began.

Timor-Leste’s dry season typically lasts from May to November and can be so dry that no rain comes at all during those months. In 2014, it was a particularly long and hot dry season that not only impacted crops, but also caused the bushland surrounding the village to become very dry. In October 2014, a bushfire broke out in the village.  The fire had a devastating impact on the suco’s water distribution system, damaging it so severely that water was cut off entirely from the village.

This past July, Counterpart International facilitated a Suco Municipal Forum in Gleno, the municipal capital of Ermera. The forum brought together Suco Council members, municipal officials, and ministry representatives in order to facilitate open dialogue and enable these groups to work together create change in their community. It was there that Ms. Quintão had the opportunity to discuss about the destruction of the water system in Railako Leten and the devastating impact that it was having on their community. On the second day of the Forum, Ms. Quintão presented her case to the municipal representative from the Water and Sanitation Department, Mr. Tomas da Silva, and submitted a proposal for the repair of the water system.

Villagers in Railako Leten digging trenches to bury the pipes that deliver fresh water to the village

Villagers in Railako Leten digging trenches to bury the pipes that deliver fresh water to the village

With Counterpart’s support, the village and the Water and Sanitation representatives worked together to develop a plan to not only repair the water system, but also to put measures into place to minimize the risk of this happening again. They determined that, in order to truly share responsibility and work together, Water and Sanitation would provide the materials to repair the water system, but the village would dig trenches to bury the pipes, reducing the risk of damage by fire and other elements in the future. Following the meeting, the Water and Sanitation Department delivered the materials required to repair the pipes and bring a clean water supply back to the village of Railako Leten and to the community members who so desperately needed it.

Railako Leten community with repaired water system

Repairs complete, the Railako Leten community once again has access to clean water.

Counterpart has worked in Timor-Leste since 2013, providing training, support and technical assistance to Suco Councils (the local governing bodies), helping them to create networks with key partners at the municipal and community levels. Counterpart trainers also work with local citizens to develop a list of local community concerns in health, education, water and sanitation, and agriculture, and provide coaching on how to present their concerns to municipal representatives to successfully petition for assistance. We are proud to work with communities like Railako Leten to bring locally driven solutions to the problems impacting their lives the most.