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Walking for Water

JOYCE MBWILO raises her hands to the sky, and declares: "We are struggling; we don't want to remain poor. If I could talk to the heads of the G8 summit, I would ask them to put themselves in our shoes, walking long distances to collect water, and not able to send their children to secondary school,"  .

For two decades, Mrs Mbwilo ( pictured above right with three of her four children) now aged 30, walked for ten hours each night to fetch water for her family's washing, cooking and cleaning. Leaving her village of Uhambingeto in Tanzania at midnight with other women, she would return with a heavy 20-litre bucket at 10 a.m. the following morning. Each year, she covered 5200 miles.

"We had to spend more time working than sleeping," she recalls. Sitting in the shade of her home, next to this year's maize crop, half of which has died because of erratic rainfall in the changing climate, Mrs Mbwilo talks at times optimistically about how life is slowly improving. Tearfund and the Anglican diocese of Ruaha have enabled water to be piped into the village. Mrs Mbwilo's children now go to primary school, because Tanzania's debt relief has meant extra classrooms, the dropping of school fees, and the renovation of a run-down school.

Yet life remains a struggle on less than 60p a day. Secondary school will be beyond her children, says Mrs Mbwilo, because of the fees. The roads to the nearest town of Iringa are so bad that she and other villagers cannot get their maize to the nearest markets. "We end up relying on middle men, who are exploiting us for little or no profit on what we sell."

In a bid to escape the stranglehold of the middle men, Mrs Mbwilo and her husband Dickson diversified, and planted an acre of paprika at the behest of a foreign company that approached farmers in the village. It promised good rates for the new crop, only to decide recently that the quality was not good enough. It did not buy any of it. "We feel like the company has cheated us," says Mr Mbwilo.

Joyce Mbwilo has taken to heart the advice of church development workers, who suggest diversifying into more drought-resistant crops, and forming a small co-operative with friends to pool resources for farming.

"We can do some things ourselves, but we still need outside help," she concludes. "I am a peasant. I would like my children to have an education. I don't want them to suffer this way."

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