MAFETENG – Polotso Mokhasi is a nursing mother from Ha Ralitabo in Kolo, Mafeteng.
Having grown up in the isolated village, she knows only too well the struggle to access water, sanitation and hygiene amenities. With no running water or major water source nearby, Ms Mokhasi and other villagers had to walk for kilometres searching for any water they could find; never mind if it was clean or not.
When she was due to give birth, Ms Mokhasi hoped and prayed her water would break during the day.
This would mean she would have a chance to travel to either one of the nearest clinics in Motsekuoa and Mafeteng, both of which are more than five kilometres from the village.
“The nearest clinics are in Motsekuoa and Mafeteng. Because of the long distance, I had to give birth at home, attended by untrained women,” the 21-year old Ms Mokhasi told the Lesotho Times.
She said the women who assisted her in giving birth couldn’t find water to wash their hands, endangering their health and that of the mother and baby.
“Even if you are not a mother, you can still appreciate how delicate giving birth is. Imagine undergoing such a process where there is scarcely any water. It was a horrendous experience, and I can only hope no one else ever has to go through that ordeal.”
Ms Mokhasi said she went to the nearest health centre the following morning for a check-up and was told mother and child were healthy. However, the struggle to find water for herself and her baby had only just begun.
“We needed water to wash nappies and just take a proper bath for basic hygienic purposes. Such basic needs were a luxury for us growing up in this village.”
Much to her great relief and delight, the Ministry of Water Affairs’ Rural Water Supply water and sanitation project finally came to Ha Ralitabo.
Ha Ralitabo is one of five villages in Mafeteng for which the ministry allocated M6 413 209 towards building communal taps and household toilets in the last financial year.
Ms Mokhasi told the Lesotho Times during the official hand-over ceremony of the project this past week her travails were finally over.
“Finally, I don’t have to walk for kilometres to get water. I am glad government remembered us,” she said.
The solar-powered borehole has also been a godsend for 78-year old granny, Sophia Ralitabo, who had to wake up in the wee hours of the day and walk long distances to find water.
“At times, I would spend three days without water because I needed to get to a commonly-used well very early to get the commodity,” Ms Ralitabo said.
Sometimes, she would go to Motubatsana River – about an hour’s walk from the village – to dig holes in the dry canal for water.
“We didn’t care whether it was clean or not. All we wanted was to find water to survive. I am now the happiest person in this village. I never thought I would see the day when I would drink water straight from the tap,” said Ms Ralitabo.
“I grew up in this area and for the 78 years I have lived, walking long distances to collect water was the order of the day. We would usually walk in groups of four women as a safety measure when collecting water.”
In his remarks during the handover ceremony, Kolo #49 Member of Parliament Paul Teboho Lehloenya said over the years countless girls were forced to drop out of school in the constituency due to water scarcity.
Mr Lehloenya said he was happy the facilities were being handed-over to the village in August, which is African Women’s Month.
“Women and girl children are the most affected by water scarcity because they are forced to walk long distances to collect the valuable resource for their household chores,” said Mr Lehloenya.
Girl children, he said, also had to contend with walking long distances to and from school every day.
“After returning home, girls were the most affected by the scarcity because they also had to walk long distances to collect water from unprotected sources,” said the legislator.
“There is no school in this village, and the nearest are found in Ha Tanka and Ha Mphasa. So learners have to walk for approximately an hour to get to school.
“Although both boys and girls were affected by water scarcity, girl children were the most affected because as soon as they arrived at home, they were forced to travel yet another long distance to collect water.”
He said that meant girl children were unable to properly concentrate on their schoolwork and home work since they would be tired from collecting water.
The end result for many girls, Mr Lehloenya said, was failing their end-of-year examinations and dropping out of school.
“Some eventually got married while still underage. This is why I am happy for Ha Ralitabo village in its newfound access to clean and safe water,” he said.
“It means our girl children will now have more time to concentrate on their school work and compete with their male counterparts on a more level playing field.”
For his part, Water Affairs Minister Ralechate ‘Mokose said it was the responsibility of the government to ensure every citizen could access potable water.
“Every citizen should access clean and safe water. However, due to financial constraints, we can only deliver services bit by bit,” Mr ‘Mokose said.
“We are here in Ha Ralitabo because we realised your village urgently needed water and sanitation immediately. Giving you access to clean and safe water and sanitation is giving you back your dignity, especially women as we know your sufferings.”