Rumantai is a community of around 100 people from the Dusun tribe, nestled in the heart of Sabah. It is 70km away from the nearest town, and is only accessible via a steep gravel road.
For the past 20 years, Rumantai had an effective gravity fed water system, sourcing fresh water from a stream 1.5km away. However, after an earthquake hit Sabah in 2015, the stream was diverted from the dam and pipes became damaged, resulting in an intermittent and inadequate volume of safe water supply for the village. Since then, the villagers experienced frequent water shortages, limiting their clean water for washing, bathing, cooking, and cleaning their houses and toilets. Often, their only option was to use rain water, or make frequent trips a day to a water tank or untreated stream far down the steep hill, all of which was hugely detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the villagers. As the United Nations states, “water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities”.
For three weeks as a Raleigh Zulu 1 team, we have had the amazing privilege of working with this exceptional community on a WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) project. By working in partnership with the people of Rumantai – headed by Wilson Kulong, the village leader – and our project partners, PACOS Trust and Coca Cola, we aimed to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6: to ensure access to water and sanitation for all. The World Health Organisation estimates that “every $1 invested in water and sanitation brings an economic return of $4 in increased health and productivity”, showing that clean water and good sanitation have far reaching impacts that would be beneficial for Rumantai. To achieve these goals, we aimed to restore and upgrade the gravity fed water system and supply the village with fresh water, as well as identifying areas of improvement in sanitation and hygiene practices.
Our time in Rumantai was equally split between the project site and the village. In the sweltering Borneo heat, we worked together as a unit with the local people on the project site, carrying bags of sand and cement down 450m of a steep trail to the stream in the middle of the jungle which acted as our water source. We mixed and poured cement into structures held together with creepers and sticks, to create not just one dam, but four separate dams along the length of the stream! This helped to collect and store greater quantities of water than was possible with the previous water system. The final dam was then connected to a ram pump – this is an amazing piece of technology which allows water pressure to be increased by flowing through several chambers in the pump, without the need for any electricity. Not only is the pump sustainable and environmentally friendly, it is also only the second ever ram pump to be installed in Sabah. Once the water reached a high enough volume and pressure, we uncoiled and carried 3km of plastic piping from Rumantai down to the stream, to ‘close the loop’ and connect the water from the ram pump to the village.
We stayed in the community hall, which allowed us to become totally immersed in the daily lives and culture of the people of Rumantai, who welcomed us with open arms (and frequently treated us with doughnuts and other incredible food!). With background noise from chickens, children playing in the yard and Zumba from the Community Learning Center, we conducted baseline surveys of health and hygiene practices, and created an asset map, documenting all of the valuable buildings, community groups and infrastructure that Rumantai is proud of. We identified that hand hygiene could be improved, especially around the public toilets next to the community hall, so we installed a tippy tap with the villagers, and held fun health and hygiene workshops with the children of the village – addressing healthy eating, and also showing them how and when to use the tippy tap.
We all felt an enormous sense of achievement at our grand opening ceremony for the WASH project – we turned on a standpipe tap with Wilson and the water flowed! It was amazing to realize that it had come from 1.5km away from our dam in the middle of the jungle.