By Alanna Imbach, WaterAid America
After an hour of banging my head against the roof of our silver SUV with every jolting bump of the dusty red dirt highway leading from Bilwi, Nicaragua to the capital city of Managua, I was more than ready to abandon the car when we arrived yesterday at the home of Don Sabino and Doña Yolanda.
Nestled atop a hill overlooking miles of lush green forests, there was only one other house within sight. Yet Doña Yolanda’s yard was filled with people. 12 of them, to be exact: all hard at work drilling holes in drainage pipes, digging ditches and clearing space for the new toilet that they were learning how to install as part of their first day of water and sanitation job skills training with the international non-profit, WaterAid.
I came to Nicaragua with WaterAid this week in part to observe World Water Day the way that it was meant to be observed—through the eyes of some of the nearly 800 million people who live without access to water that is safe enough to drink. What I saw within hours of arriving at the remote Caribbean coast is a revolution of the most exciting kind.
As I approached the bustling scene, the first person to catch my eye was Doña Yolanda, bent over in concentration as she drilled one-inch drainage holes by hand into piles of grey PVC piping. While her husband held them steady and warmly encouraged her to keep up the great work, the instructor kept careful watch in a bright pink tank top and perfectly matching eye shadow—a strong, confident woman who was surely half Yolanda’s age.
All around us, the scene repeated itself: we were at an active toilet construction site, and women of all ages were digging, shoveling, drilling and sweating it out just like the men alongside them. It was a picture perfect sight as far as gender equality and inclusion are concerned, and I couldn’t help but wonder: was it really like this all the time, or did they know ahead of time that we were coming with cameras and journalists in tow?
Like any nosey person would, I started showering them with questions. What do the men think about you working on water and sanitation construction projects? Do they genuinely take direction from you, as a woman and as an instructor? And to the men: What has changed since women have started building toilets and wells? Do women get paid the same as men for the work that they do?
From the looks on the faces of Don Sabino and his colleague Don Juan, I must have sounded like an alien.
“It’s the same work,” they said, looking mutually confused. “Of course they get paid the same. It didn’t use to be this way, but WaterAid helped us see that it’s important for women to be involved, and they are also very good at it…aren’t women paid the same in your country, too?”
“No,” I told them. “We’re not.”
“That’s a shame,” said Don Juan, shaking his head. “All of us here, we believe that everyone is equal, and everyone has a role to play in making our community as safe, healthy and dignified as can be. That’s what we are doing here today.”
It was his house, and by the end of the week, he and Doña Yolanda will be the proud owners of the very first pour-flush toilet in town.
— WaterAid America (@WaterAidAmerica) March 19, 2014
Cover image courtesy of WaterAid