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New beginnings

When Abinoa was young, Kiribati was a tropical Island paradise. These days, the island's capital, South Tarawa, is one of the most crowded places on earth, with a population density similar to Tokyo.

Friday November 25, 2016

Kiribati water and santitation
Abinoa lives in Betio, on the Pacific island of Kiribati, where Red Cross is helping bring clean water and sanitation facilities. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Darren James

The coral atoll's turquoise-blue water and beaches are swimming with rubbish. In most villages, few people have access to clean water or toilets.

In the cramped community of Betio, 72-year-old Abinoa has recently acquired her own toilet for the first time in her life. Many in her community are also building their own toilets with help from Red Cross.

Shame and violence
Until recently, Abinoa had to make an often scary, embarrassing and sometimes dangerous trip to the beach to go to the toilet. "We would go at night, midnight or even during the day. Even when drunk men gawked at us, we would pretend to be shameless," Abinoa says.

Shame and the threat of violence were not the only problems for Abinoa and her family. Most days of the year the water they had to drink was contaminated. "We have diarrhoea, lots of it combined with vomiting," the great-grandmother says.
Our aid worker Samuel Cleary, who's helping to build the toilets and install water tanks, says most household water in Kiribati is sourced from a layer of fresh groundwater underneath the soil. "The fresh water layer is very shallow and provides a valuable yet at-risk resource due to climate change and sea level rise."

Working as a team
Building the toilets and water tanks requires real collaboration between Red Cross and the community. "Betio community members will look after these toilets because they've invested their own time and their own effort into building the toilets with their own hands."

Every toilet block will have clean water for washing hands and pumps are being installed to flush the toilets. The toilet blocks also double as a shower room where people can have privacy to wash.

Life may not have been easy over the years, though village life suits Abinoa.

She says she has eight children, although two passed away quite young, aged just 25 and 26. Her sons died of diseases that would have been prevented and treated in western countries.

More time for school
Abinoa says the community's work to build toilets has motivated people to keep the village clean, and people are taking pride in teaching children how to improve their hygiene. "I am very happy … there is less sickness in the community."

Access to clean water and toilets means better hygiene and sanitation. And that means less illness for the children of Betio and more time in school. It also means people like Booto, Abinoa's 24-year-old granddaughter, and her friends spend less time looking after sick children, time they can instead use to earn income for their families.

Booto dreams that her daughter, Kamine, will now be able to do what many have found very difficult in years gone by: finish school and find a job.

Find out more about our international aid programs.