There was a lot of applause, cheers and words of encouragement as Ms. Binta approached the stage to receive her award. The day has finally come she murmured to herself as she climbed the podium. It was a day set aside to celebrate and acknowledge female leaders who have demonstrated excellence in the water sector. Everyone in the auditorium knew that Binta, as she’s fondly called deserved the recognition because she had made a positive impact on development in the water sector in Taraba state.
“Thank you, my beautiful people, it is good to be here today and to receive the award presented to me. There is a reason why we the people of Taraba are called “Nature’s gift to the nation,” Binta remarked. Our togetherness as a state makes us strive to do better for the state in general. This award is a product of teamwork within the water sector, it is a product of hardwork on water projects, which we have had to embark on to fulfill the promise of giving our beautiful people of Taraba, clean and safe water for consumption. The people living in the state capital, Jalingo can attest to that, our people in the sixteen local government areas of the state, can feel the impact of clean and safer water supply all over the areas. I am honoured to receive this award. May I also say that I look forward to a time when more women will be willing to pursue careers in the water sector. I promise to do much more because as we all know, water is life. Once again, I thank everyone for the honour,” she added.
As Binta took a bow, the applause grew loader, she smiled, but not at the people, she was smiling at her guardian angel. Binta knew her mother was looking at her, pleased with her accomplishment. It’s been a wonderful day, she murmured to herself.
Back in the office, Binta placed the award on the glass stand, where her other awards were displayed. She touched each award, recollecting the circumstances surrounding the awards. “I am indeed blessed”, Binta thought aloud. She kept touching the awards displayed carefully on the glass stand, until she got to the recent award given to her an hour ago, and as she did that, her secretary Lalu, entered her office to congratulate her again. “There is a reason why this award is special”, Binta said as Lalu walked towards her. “How is it more special than the other awards”? Lalu asked her boss. Let’s go for lunch and I will tell you the story of a little girl, Binta replied.
Long ago, in Gashaka Local Government Area, in Dogo Ajam village, in Taraba State lived a widow whose name was Tiu and her daughter Binta. Binta grew up in a village where the closest thing to civilization that they had was a primary school as well as a secondary school. This means that there was neither electricity, pipe borne water nor good roads. Visibility at night was by candles and lanterns while a large stream provided water for washing, cooking, drinking and bathing. A single untarred road cut through the village. But despite lacking these things, there was an indescribable peace and serenity.
Tiu, was a hardworking woman whose husband Kapa, died from a strange ailment.
Everybody knew Kapa was a man of peace, which made him to be loved by all. While on the sick bed, Kapa would pass stool on his body uncontrollably, he sometimes vomited on his body several times a day. His wife, Tiu, who was always around him to take care of her beloved husband, always wiped his body to keep his temperature cool, and in the process, she would notice his heart beating faster than normal. Binta, would always sit in a corner of the room, praying for her father’s recovery. Who would believe that the once agile man, who loved to carry her on his shoulder was now a shadow of himself? Kapa battled to stay alive, but he died three weeks later. Many years later, Binta was able to identify that the ailment her father died from, was cholera. She got to know this when she was invited for a seminar on “SAFE WATER”, and from what she learnt, the symptoms her father had while he was ill, were identified at the seminar as symptoms of cholera. It occurred to Binta that her father died from contaminated drinking water.
Since the death of her husband, Tiu, had to play the role of a father and mother to their only child and daughter. The villagers stood by Tiu and Binta to protect and care for them. Binta’s father was buried in the compound of the house he built for his wife and daughter. It was a belief that the spirit of the dead would always hover around its loved ones, watching over them and protecting them from evil. No wonder, Binta would always pluck flower to place on her father’s grave whenever she was sent to the stream to fetch water. She believed her father’s spirit was always with them, bringing them good luck and waving off bad omen. Binta, would sometimes seat on her father’s grave and talk to him for hours, she would tell him all the activities that happened in school, how she went to fetch water, what they cooked on Sundays because Sundays was seen as special days in Tiu and Binta’s house. Binta believed her father could hear everything she said.
The children looked forward to school days. Some of them liked to learn, while some others loved school because of the friends they would see and play with. The girls especially, loved to go to school because they saw it as an escape from taking the long walks to the streams to fetch water. “It is a girl’s work to fetch water from the stream, so run along”, their mothers would say. They had to wake up early, to go to the stream to fetch water for the family before heading to school. This chore, affected the children’s learning, because some of them get to school late, while some others slept half of the time in class because they were too tired from the long walks and heavy lifting of pots of water on their heads.
Although Binta also fetched water early in the morning from the stream, her mother had her do the chore only twice during school days, unlike her friends who were made to go to the stream to fetch water every morning.
Binta loved school, because it was an environment where she could learn. Her friends attended the same school with her so she got to see them in school and also have some fun playtime with her friends at home. Binta’s best subjects were English and Mathematics. Her teachers would always tell Tiu, Binta’s mother, “keep an eye on Binta, she is a brilliant child, someday she is going to make you proud and also make this village proud”. Of course, Tiu knew her had been blessed with an intelligent daughter, but deep down she had fears of uncertainty on how she would pay for Binta to further her education in the university. The two schools in the village were government owned, therefore there was no reason to pay school fees for now.
Binta did not know what she wanted to be when she grew up, all she knew was that she wanted to give her mother a better life. She wanted to buy her mother a big car, like the white car they saw enter the village chief’s house three months ago. The news of the visitors in a big white car had gone around the village very fast. The men and women in the village, including the young ones, all came out to see the visitors in the big white car. It is not every day that they get to see visitors in the village, not to talk of visitors coming to visit the village chief in a big car.
Although nobody knew what the visitors came to do in the village, their presence left a lasting impression in the mind of the villagers, especially Binta, who would not stop talking about it. Just before she went to bed that night, Binta coiled up to her mother, “Mama” she said, “yes my daughter” her mother answered her. In the voice of an innocent child, she said “I will buy you a big white car when I grow up”, with tears in her eyes, Tiu looked up and said “thank you my daughter, I know you will”.
Binta knew her mother was poor, and that she toiled every day on the farmland her father left behind to feed them both. She never complained about anything, even when she was tired. Binta wished she could take the burden off her mother, but she knew there was nothing she could do for now. She was eager to grow up and buy her mother “that car”, so that people could admire her mother too, while she sits in the car. “Someday”, she said to herself, as she drifted into sleep.
“Binta, Binta”, Tiu called on her daughter, “Yes mama”, Binta replied her mother from a distance. Whenever Binta heard her mother call her name, she would stop playing with her friends and run to her mother to know why she called her. Binta loved her mother very much and at a tender age, she realized she would have to always be there for her mother because she was all her mother had since her father Kapa died. Binta got to the entrance of the door to see her mother dishing out their dinner. “Go and wash your hands and feet my daughter, dinner is ready”.
Tiu always made sure she and her daughter ate dinner together. It was her way of maintaining the bond she shared with her daughter, Binta was her source of joy.
After dinner, Binta went to the backyard to wash the dirty plates, before going to join her friends under the big mango tree to listen to evening tales. Binta went to bed later that night and dreamt about the “big white car”.
Going to the stream was one of the activities that Binta loved to do. She always looked forward to the walk to the stream with her mother, and sometimes her friends. She would play around the stream, she loved to feel the cold water run through her body when she decides to swim. It is better to enjoy the water flowing through, while it lasted. During the dry season, they would always have the problem of drought.
Everybody in the village cooked and drank the water from the stream. Of course, everyone bathed with it too. Binta’s mother would always heat the water from the stream in a very large pot up to the point where it boiled with ‘firewood’ after they have had many drums filled with water. She would allow the boiled water to cool in the pots, then she would take a large sift and sieve water back into the drums. She would then add alum to the water in the drums. It never tired her to repeat this process twice a week and she would speak to Binta many times ending the usual way by saying, “the state of what goes into your mouth matters a lot and you must not be tired to ensure it is as clean as possible especially water”. Tiu, Binta’s mother never knew that her method of treating the water fetched from the stream helped her and Binta against sicknesses, which could have raised from unsafe drinking water. Unfortunately, her husband did not escape it, he loved to visit friends, eat and drink in their houses, just as they came to his house to eat and drink with him too. but because they never took precautions on how to treat unsafe water in their houses, Kapa, her beloved husband contacted cholera. This, she would not get to know for a long time.
Binta always listened to her mother’s teachings, even as she lamented. As far as Binta was concerned it was all too much stress just to drink water. Afterall everyone else was drinking straight from the stream and still looked okay. So, why couldn’t we be like everyone else? What was the need for the unnecessary additional task of boiling, cooling, sieving, and adding alum? When Binta asked her mother where she learnt all of that, she simply said, “listen to your heart; nature is constantly teaching you the right things”.
Binta was helping her mother in the compound when she heard screams and shouts from other children, she ran out to know what the noise was about and heard some of the children screaming “the big white car is back in the village”. Quickly, Binta ran back to the compound to inform her mother that she was going with the other children to see the “big white car”. “Mama, I will be back soon she said”, okay Binta her mother replied.
Binta ran as fast as she could flowing the short path to the village chief’s house. She knew without been told where the car was headed too, and she was right. In front of the village chief’s house was parked the same “big white car” but this time, there were two men and a woman, talking in low tone just by the car. Binta wondered what they were talking about and moved closer to observe them. All she could pick from the conversation was water. Then she heard one of them say, “it will be a welcome development to have access to safe and healthy water in this community”. Binta wondered what that meant. While she was pondering on what she heard, she saw her English teacher, Mr John, who had also come to see what was happening.
Mr John, was a NYSC Youth Corps member, who had been deployed to Dogo Ajam village, in Taraba State, for his one-year mandatory National Youth Service.
“Good afternoon, Mr John”, Binta said, “good afternoon Binta, and what are you doing here”, her teacher asked her. I came to see our visitors, referring to the people in the big white car. “Do you know why they are here”, she asked her teacher? “Yes of course, I heard that they are from a big organization in the city, to give this community easy access to clean and safe water.
Our community has been chosen for one of their projects to fulfill their Corporate Social Responsibility. What is Corporate Social Responsibility? Binta asked. “CSR as it is called, is when a company decides to positively contribute to the public or the environment, by giving back to the society, in whatever way they can. “Sir, we already have water, what about the water at the stream”? Binta continued, “I don’t think we need water, we have enough for the whole village”. “No Binta, we need clean, safe and healthy water”, said her teacher.
The water we consume is directly from the stream. Have you noticed that the same water from the stream serves as water that we drink from, cook with, wash clothes by the stream and even some of you the children bath in the stream”? Yes sir, she said. It is not safe and healthy. That is why we have some of the children in this community not come to school some times because they constantly fall sick due to the side effects of the bad water they drink.
Are they doing to dig a big hole and give us another stream? Binta innocently asked her teacher? “No, they are going to give us clean, safer and healthy water that would come through a running water called a tap or borehole. The tap water or water from the borehole would be safe to drink, cook, bath and wash clothes”. Guess the best part of it? Tell me Binta said, “there will be no need to always go to the stream with a pot on your head to fetch water at the stream. That is good, said Binta.
Her teacher continued; water is the single most important thing made by God, infact, a popular musician, by the name Fela Anikulapo Kuti, had made a song about it, enumerating the importance of water and stating that it has no enemy because everyone has a need for it one way or the other. You see, Binta, he continued “People in this village are not enlightened to know that human and animal wastes, and also chemicals not properly disposed by the cement factory 45km away from the village could contaminate the stream water. Unknown to people, human excreta accommodate a large number of germs.
During rainy season, the human waste may be washed away by rain-water into streams. The germs in the human waste will then contaminate the water which may be used for drinking. These are some of the reasons most people in this village are sick, he said. “How come I don’t get sick, like my friends”, Binta asked? We drink from the same water from the stream.
Is it because my mother boils the water we fetch from the stream? “She does”? Her teacher asked in surprise. “That is very impressive”, he said. “Yes, she boils the water, and sieves it too”, Binta said with a sense of pride, seeing that the information about her mother’s method of boiling water impressed her teacher, and she wasn’t going to allow it slide without showing off how her mother was doing something right and better than her friends’ mothers. “Now I know why I see you in school every day, you have never complained about been sick, your mother is doing a good job”, said Mr John. “That is your mother’s way of disinfecting the water, to make it clean for drinking and food preparation. It is a process that eliminates germs”.
Her teacher went further and told her about ‘processing’ of water before it gets to the taps of those in the city. He told Binta, ‘water processing’ is the treatment of water in order to improve its quality. Water can be processed for any reason i.e. drinking, industrial use, water recreation. Clean water is not only good just to stop us from having disease, it is also good because of the assurance of healthy living. he said.
“When are they bringing this tap water, Binta asked her teacher? “I heard work will start tomorrow”, her teacher said.
Binta ran off excitedly, to explain to her friends what she could make of the conversation she just had with her teacher. All she could make out from her talk with the adult is that her community will be given clean and healthy water. She did not understand what her teacher meant by tap water, but she understood that whatever it is, was good enough to stop the constant sicknesses experienced by the villagers, and there will be no need to take long walks to the stream to fetch water. Most of the children and aged people in Dogo Ajam village, had one waterborne disease or another, due to contaminated water they drank from the stream. The children would sometimes have dysentery, and some people with weak immune systems too. Most of these diseases were treated with local herbs.
One day, I will cure all these sick people of these diseases, she thought to her. Even though Binta did not know the ailments people in her village were suffering from, she was determined to cure them. But she did not know how.
The teacher’s information was helpful, Binta thought to herself, as she walked home happily to tell her mother the news.
Looking back now Binta can say her conversation with her teacher sowed the seed that germinated her interest in ‘clean water being a right’. “Getting home, the teacher’s words kept echoing in my ears. At night, the echoes became louder and she was barely able to sleep for two hours”, Binta thought about several things but more about how the whole village could claim the right to clean water.
The following morning, Binta woke up happy, because she remembered it was the last day of the school term, which meant a period to rest from early morning walk to the stream to fetch water before heading to school to learn, it had become a hectic chore, although it was a chore she did twice a week, it was still not easy to take those long walks to the stream. Best of all, she was happy because today marked the beginning of having “tap water” as her teacher called it, for the village. She would be able to watch as labourers worked on giving them water. She knew she would have to watch from a distance because children will not be allowed to get close to the workers.
Most importantly, it marked the beginning of the end of taking long walks to the stream to fetch water. “Mama, very soon, I will not have to wake up early to go to the stream to fetch water, I am happy about that” said Binta. “Binta, I am happy that very soon, I will stop boiling water on the firewood, just to get clean water to drink and prepare food with”, I am happier than you, Tiu jokingly told her daughter.
Eight weeks went by very quickly. The sound of men singing while working, awakened the village, the sound of drilling and tilling the ground became like music in the ears of the villagers. Everybody in the village, including the village chief were happy and eager to see the outcome of the clean and safe water provided for the village.
The women were in their best attires, dancing in groups to the beautiful beats of the drummers, while the men looked on in admiration. The children were busy jumping around. The day has finally come to commission the water project and to officially declare it open. All the villagers where gathered in front of the village chief’s house. That was where the tap water was installed. 4 people had come in the same “big white car” that was now a constant sight in the village, they were all dressed in black suits.
Binta watch in complete awe as the people walked towards the tap, the tap had been decorated with a ribbon. As one of the people wearing the black suit approached the tap, the village chief’s servant gave him a scissors also decorated with a ribbon. He used the scissors to cut the ribbon that was used to decorate the tap, and then he opened the tap. As water gushed from the tap, there were screams, hugs, laughter and clapping of hands from the villagers. “This is a miracle”, Binta screamed. “This is freedom”, an elderly woman standing beside Binta said.
Some days after the tap was commissioned, Binta and the villagers began to notice instant changes in the health of the village people. There was an instant reduction in the risk of water-borne diseases due to access to clean and safe drinking water, which had been provided for them.
There was a major change in the living condition of the people, especially the women and the girls, who before were assigned the burden of going to the stream to fetch water for family consumption. The girls no longer went to school late, and the look of tiredness no longer linger on their faces when they were being taught in class. Learning had become easier for them.
On a Wednesday morning, four weeks after the villagers had started enjoying the clean water that had just been provided them, Binta walked up to her class teacher, Mr John, “ Sir, you asked me what I would like to become when I grow up, but I didn’t give you an answer because I didn’t know, but now I know”. That is interesting, said her teacher, and what would that be? “I want to grow up and help people have access to clean, safe and healthy water, just like the one in front of the village chief’s house”, Binta said. “I know you can do it, if you set your mind to it”, said her teacher.
You are the little Binta, Lalu said, looking at her boss in admiration. Yes, after twenty years, I am still the same Binta. Even though you did not ask me, but I will tell you, “I bought my mother a car bigger than the “big white car” that was often brought to our village. My mother died a happy woman.
“Lalu, it’s time to get back to work, we have more water projects to work on”, Binta winked at her secretary as they left the restaurant, after a delicious lunch.