“We had no water here.”
That’s what Aling (Mrs.) Candelaria Canipos, a mother of six, told me when I asked her how she used to live.
“My children would walk to the mountain, under the blazing heat, just to fetch us water. Everyday, before going to school, they did this.”
Her children, all of them, would take a quick bath in the spring,fill up a long bamboo with water, and carry the bamboos to school and wait until dismissal to bring it home for next day’s use.
This was the scenario in Aling Candelaria’s life, and so too in the lives of many of the residents here in Sitio Bunsod.
Like a secret, she confided in me the different ways she did to conserve water: clothes washed in the spring would be dried overnight and used the next day in order to lessen the laundry, water used in washing the dishes is also the same water used to maintain the plants, their stocked water should only be used when necessary, and so forth.
When I asked around, apparently all the other villagers also used these methods.
With water just about a little less than enough to get them through, it seems that all hope was lost for this community. Or so they thought.
Water from a two-kilometer walk
Sitio Bunsod is a small village in the town of Obat, in Negros Oriental, about an hour and a half flight away from Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The village itself is a bit difficult to locate because it’s actually along mountain, with muddy roads and nothing but greenery all around.
The houses here are tiny and some of them are still huts
made from haystacks and bamboos. Each house is a few meters away from the other, and the people have a single cemented house in the middle, which I assume to be some sort of a village clubhouse, where they can all get together when there’s a celebration.
Aling Candelaria, in her flowered yellow duster, sat there by the window of the clubhouse as she told me of her shortcomings.
The water source she was talking about was literally at the other side of the village, and everyone who fetched water had to climb almost two kilometers up the mountain, go down to the spring, and carry all those heavy buckets of water back here to the village in their own homes.
“When my bones were still quite strong, I would fill a bamboo up to the rim and carry it on my shoulder. I’d have to tilt it whenever I start to go on my way back so the water wouldn’t spill. Nothing should ever get wasted.”
Aling Candelaria is in her mid-60s and is just as lovely as anyone’s grandmother. She had brown skin, like most Filipinos, and a long hair tied in a bun, already silvered by time. She was captivating, really, not because of her sweet granny voice or the leniency of her aura, but because of her eyes. She had the tamest eyes I had ever seen and they were so full of life. It was like she could see right through me.
She talked to me like I was one of her children, as if she was just telling me another bedtime story.
She told me that years ago when her husband was still alive, they would plant crops together and sell it in the city market. Corn, banana, sweet potato. Instead of keeping it to themselves, they’d sell it because that was their only source of livelihood.
“It was a tough time. We had to walk all the way to the city just to sell them,” she said, referring to the town proper, Santa Catalina, which is about thirty minutes away by car.
“What made it worse is the water. Since we only had to recycle the water we get from the spring, the crops don’t get watered everyday. We would just wait and hope for the rain to come and help us grow the crops.”
When her back was not as sturdy as it used to be, her children started fetching the water. She worried about them, thinking of their safety as they carried all that heavy load to and from school.
Tears started to well up in Aling Candelaria’s eyes as she said,”I worry for my children. I’m just too old. There was nothing I could do.”
The Agos Site
It seemed that no matter how many buckets of water the people bring back from the spring, the water is just never enough for all their needs.Instead of improving, they just keep going back to the same dilemma.
Because of the aggravating situation in the village, one of the nerd officers of Bunsod Farming, Water and System Association (BUFWASA), the village’s livelihood association, researched on how to get help from private institutions in order to finally relieve them of their problems.
BUFWASA Secretary Jonalyn Abugan shared that they had a meeting about the nerd officer’s efforts. The officer apparently contacted the Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines after he found out that the foundation had a project called, Agos (waterflow), where they would build water ram pumps for people who lived in almost secluded places.
“We filed a petition for accreditation from the local government,” Jonalyn said. “When they finally approved our proposal,everything was well underway! We were going to have water.”
When Aling Candelaria and the other villagers heard about this news of Coca-Cola Foundation providing a water source for them, they thought it was a hoax.
“I asked myself, ‘Could this be true?’ Why, it wasunbelievable!” Aling Candelaria cried out. “One day we just saw people coming with the materials for the pump and we knew it was true.”
The people from the Foundation’s partner organization explained to them that a pump will be installed near the spring. Unlike normal pumps, this one does not run in fuel or electricity but by the movement of the water itself. The pumped water is stored in a reservoir built on a high ground just at the foot of the village, and water is then equally distributed to twelve red tap stands through tubes and valves.
“Each tap stand is divided into clustered groups of houses nearby,” Jonalyn added in clarification. “And we have a caretaker trained by Coke who maintains the whole water system.”
She also mentioned that the residents also pay 50 Philippine Peso(PhP) a month as contribution to the maintenance of the pump. Not only were they given a water system, they were also given jobs.
“We were so happy. Our husbands, the young men all helped inbuilding the water system. Almost everyone actually helped to make this possible.”
And so that small village whose people had to journey to get water from the mountain now have a water source of their own. And for people likeAling Candelaria, there are just no words to describe how truly happy and eternally grateful she is for this opportunity.
“I’m just so happy that finally, the water source is near. Wewon’t be having troubles anymore. We can take a bath whenever we want to, we can now start planting again, we can wash our clothes no matter how many times we want!”
Aling Candelaria, in her flowered yellow duster, started to choke softly in her own words, and in her tamed eyes sprang tears of joy.
“We finally have water now,” she told me. “But I’malready too old. Why didn’t this happen when I was still strong so I could havehelped my children fetch water? I couldn’t do anything now. I’m too old. I’m too old.”
Despite this, Aling Candelaria still looked onto the bright side.Although she doesn’t sell vegetables and fruits anymore, she still has herpersonal garden where she can plant anything she wanted. Sometimes, she even cooks the yield she gets to lessen the expenses on food.
But just like every good thing, their water source should not betaken advantage of. Aling Candelaria said that she and the other residents still make sure that they conserve water while living in peace and harmony.
“Sometimes we fight over the water. That’s almost inevitable.But I told them to save the water. Conserve it. When it’s not your turn, don’t fall in line, get only as much as you need, and even if you’re not fetching but you see the tap running, close it.”
Jonalyn also added that BUFWASA made a timetable for the residents to follow.
“The taps are open from six in the morning to 12 midnight and we have already assigned when they should fetch their water,” she said.”We’re doing this so the water flows smoothly, the tank gets full, and no one fights over the water. Everybody is happy.”
A dream come true
Water is one of the most important needs man must have in order to survive. It provides life, strength, growth, and livelihood. It is a symbol of civilization. And for the residents in Sitio Bunsod, it is a beacon of hope.
As Aling Candelaria reached the end of her story, she smiled and looked at her neighbors who were merrymaking outside the clubhouse, celebrating the 17th month anniversary of the water system.
“We all thought it was just a hearsay. Now we know the Coca-ColaFoundation is true,” she told me. “It was a relief. It was ablessing. There is nothing more we could ever ask for.”
Now, Aling Candelaria has her youngest daughter to help her around. Together, they fetch the water just right outside their house.And together, they plant different kinds of fruits and vegetables in their little garden, knowing that they will never run out of water again.
Writer: Aira Leigh Bagtas | University of Sto. Tomas – Journalism Society
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