Community Health Workers Promote Positive Change in Cameroon

For Winifred Ngwankfu, a community health worker in Mbokop, Cameroon, the absence of clean drinking water drives her workload. But soon, her daily outlook will change. Winifred is essential to the EWB-USA Washington, D.C. Professional Chapter’s (EWB-USA DC) proposed solution to the community’s water problem.

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Prior to the completion of the project, local women collect untreated water from the nearby stream.

Mbokop is a remote, impoverished village in Northwest Cameroon. Clean water and proper sanitation–the most basic of human needs–are currently out of reach. Winifred and the rest of her community primarily drink untreated stream and river water that is contaminated from livestock grazing as well as poor human sanitation. This leads to a high incidence of waterborne illnesses and disease, which perpetuates a cycle of poverty and ultimately, loss of life.

“They can’t drink the water without fear of getting sick. And the reality is every time we go back, we see children whose illness is preventable,” says project co-lead Rachel Rath. Together with Winifred and the community, EWB-USA DC aim to prevent this avoidable illness.

Mbokop consists of five settlements isolated by the hours it can take  to travel between them. Because of the extreme geographic spread and rough terrain of the village, EWB-USA DC must implement multiple systems to provide improved access to quality drinking water to all 2,200 residents across the five settlements. The community members prioritized the settlement of Mangi’s water needs first and chose to address water quantity as well as water quality, due to the extreme contamination of the streams where they source their drinking water.

This January, a team from EWB-USA DC traveled to the Mangi settlement to begin construction on the first phase of Mbokop’s water supply project. The team and community began construction of a spring box, collection system, and catchment area. The spring box and collection system were completed by the local construction manager after the EWB-USA DC team arrived home. This gravity-fed water supply system is utilizing an untapped spring. When construction is complete by Winter of 2016, public taps flowing with clean, safe water will be located near Mangi’s town square and near the Mangi school.

But EWB-USA DC’s solution to reduce waterborne disease in Mbokop goes far beyond just the physical implementation of a water system. The project team is empowering the community to take charge of their public health issues. The first step: the establishment of the Mbokop Health Committee.

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Winifred [middle] and the newly formed health committee in Mbokop.

With Winifred and her fellow committee members leading the charge, soon all five settlements will become educated about the spread of disease, proper hygiene practices, and position themselves to better advocate for their own health needs. Because as the EWB-USA DC team, Winifred and too many others in Mbokop have learned, clean water is critical to a healthy life.