Ripples of change for Doroteia after water access improvements

Above: Doroteia draws water from the tank in her village after access was improved through Disaster READY. Photo: Marcos do Rosario/BANO

When a young widow in Oecusse, Timor-Leste, first heard about disaster readiness, she never expected it would turn her into a businesswoman, creating a better life for her and her seven-year-old son.

Through disaster preparedness work undertaken by Doroteia Cab, 28, and her community, supported by the Disaster READY program, Usitaco village secured improved access to good drinking water.

But that seemingly small change caused a cascade of effects that completely transformed her family’s fortunes.

“Access to water has been a big challenge in my village. Before I had to walk nearly 2km to collect water for our daily needs as well as to water my vegetables,” she said.

“I spent a lot of time collecting water, and this affected my ability to grow enough vegetables to support myself and my family.”

Then one day, representatives of BANO, a non-government group based in Timor-Leste, arrived in the village. BANO works with Caritas Australia, a member of the Australian Humanitarian Partnership. Through the Disaster READY program, supported by the Australian Government, they strengthen communities’ ability to prepare for disasters.

Doroteia was already aware of the vulnerability of her village to disasters. Their water source, already sited an inconvenient distance away, was sometimes rendered unusable during the wet season.

Above: Doroteia waters her vegetable garden. She is now able to grow enough produce to sell some at market, earning an income. Photo: Marcos do Rosario/ BANO

“When the water source we usually use got damaged, it made our lives in the village even more difficult,” she said.

When BANO worked with villagers to identify risks and vulnerabilities, access to water was at the top of the list.

“We decided to implement two activities,” she said. “The first was to conserve and protect our water source and the second was to pipe the water closer to our village.

“BANO provided the funding for materials and we in the village provided the labour. Access to water in the village became much easier.

“My life changed after this. I was able to have better access to water for my vegetable gardens. The amount of vegetables I was able to grow increased due to the easy availability of water, leaving me enough to feed my family and even some surplus to sell in the local market and earn an income. 

“As I was making an income for the sales of my vegetables, I decided join a savings and loans group that was setup by BANO for vulnerable women in our village. This has increased my access to money and I have also managed to put some savings away in case I might need them in the future.

“Today I make about $10 a day from the sales of my vegetables, and my son and I have enough to eat.”

Not surprisingly, Doroteia is a convert to the value of disaster preparedness and remains a member of her village’s Suco (district) Disaster Management Committee, which identifies the best ways they can prepare for disasters or shocks.

BANO also provided first aid training, so villagers could help their neighbours in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe. Other training covered community-based disaster risk management, as well as gender equality and social inclusion.

“I owe special thanks to the Disaster READY project. It’s helped our village organise ourselves and have action plans to make the village safer from possible disasters,” Doroteia added.

“On a personnel level, it has enabled me to influence decisions about our village that directly affect me and improve my life for the better.”