Better water access means vegetable gardens in Timor-Leste

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Maumetalao is a coastal village near the Banda Sea on the north coast of Timor-Leste. Changing weather patterns have wreaked havoc on life here, bringing extended droughts to areas that were already facing poverty.

Brigita Maria Kefi and her family are among those who have struggled because of the droughts. She’s a 35-year-old mother of three girls, all of whom are under 10 years old. The family lives in a simple straw house in Maumetalao. Brigita and her husband planted a vegetable garden near their house years ago, which Brigita could tend to while keeping an eye on the girls. Because of the drought, though, they had to move their vegetables to an area closer to a spring–and farther from their house. Brigita could no longer tend the vegetables while watching her daughters, and having the vegetable garden farther away made it susceptible to theft, pests and animals.

“Working so hard, and having little to no results was exhausting,” Brigita told CWS staff recently. Her family was losing money because their harvests were so small, and eventually they gave up on the vegetable garden. Like many of their neighbors, they reverted to planting only the local staples of corn, cassava and sweet potato. Their daughters’ nutrition deteriorated without the vegetables, and there was no extra cash from selling surplus vegetables. Without the cash, the family couldn’t buy vegetables or other items to meet basic needs.

We met Brigita through a freshwater spring protection project in Maumetalao. Our team works with communities to build water systems like this one to make sure water is stored in tanks instead of dripping on the ground and being wasted when someone isn’t actively filling a container. Now, spring water collects in a tank overnight. By morning, families can access about 4,200 gallons of water–enough for all their needs. There is plenty of water for drinking, bathing and housekeeping. And there’s enough to use to water vegetable gardens, even in the dry season.

Now, once again, Brigita and her husband are growing vegetables near their home. Even better, they can garden year round, which means income from the surplus produce. Brigita estimates that she makes an extra $20 per month now, and this income has already been life-changing. “I was able to get some medical care I had put off,” she says. “I now feel healthier,” which will help her be even more productive. “Now I will start saving for some home improvements,” she says.

The water system in Maumetalao has helped 400 people, including Brigita and her family, to have this opportunity. Our team is so excited to see all the ways that the families here will capitalize on their new wealth of water!