Main Navigation

What it's like to raise a baby in a village with no safe water

Most new mums wake up when their baby does, but not you. You're up at least two hours earlier to get water for his breakfast.

A soupy fog hangs over the entire village. You make your way in the dark, up a path, down a winding road, through the mud, to the thin pipe that supplies water to your neighbourhood from the mountains above.

There's already a queue. Three years of drought reduced the nearest river to putrid grey pools, so this trickling pipe is all that's left.

You head back an hour later, a full jerry can in each arm, a bucket balanced on your head. You thought you'd forget how to balance a bucket when you left home for college. But then you returned and it all came back to you.

Dio, your eight-month-year-old son, is bawling when you reach your parents' house. His yells accompany you as you boil water for his breakfast: rice mashed with a few corn kernels.

You change and wash his cloth nappy - that's one jerry can done - #and then join your elderly parents to eat the rest of the rice before they head off to the fields.

Single mother Lucinda lives with her elderly parents in a remote village. Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera

The last few years were bad for farmers. Rice needs water and there's been precious little rain for years. Now that the skies are finally opening, last year's rotten crops must be dug up, the soil tilled, new rice and corn planted. Your parents work from dawn until dusk every day.

You finally have some alone-time with Dio. At eight months old, everything is fascinating to him: the feel of mud under his fingers, the spoon in his hand, the way his smile makes you smile.

His nappy needs changing again. Then again, and again.

You're out of water so it's another trip to the pipe. With a baby in one arm, you can hold just one jerry can and there's no way a bucket on your head will make it home full.

Two boys collect water from the one water source in the village. Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera

By noon you're seriously worried. Dio has diarrhoea, his skin's hot to the touch and he's crying with pain. He's refusing food, even the banana you try to tempt him with.

The nearest health centre is more than 3km away. You pick him up and go, hitching a ride on a neighbour's motorbike.

The nurses at the health centre give you antibiotics for Dio's diarrhoea. It costs a chunk of the money your parents were trying to save.

The nurses tell you to boil Dio's drinking water. You always do that, but you didn't boil the water you used to wash his plate.

They tell you Dio is malnourished, you should breastfeed him more. You can't: you're not eating well enough to produce much milk and breastfeeding makes you even hungrier.

The neighbour with the bike has gone, so you walk home with a crying boy in your arms.

You had different dreams, not so long ago. You were studying to be a midwife, miles away in Makassar. But then you got pregnant, and that door closed.

When Dio was born, you wanted to give him the world: the best education, the brightest future.

Right now, you just want him to stop burning up. You want him to survive.

You make a quiet promise that things are going to change.

If you had seeds, you'd plant a veggie patch and you and Dio could both eat better. If you had a job, maybe you could afford a bike. If you had a bike, you'd take him to the health centre more often. If you had water closer to home, maybe you'd have the time to find a job.

If you weren't so exhausted all the time. If you had a decent meal and a chance to rest.

If you could just talk to someone who understood.

But there's no time for that right now. You're out of water again.

Postscript: This is based on the real-life account of a young mother named Lucinda, living in a remote village in Belu, Indonesia. Lucinda has since volunteered with Red Cross to make life better for mums in her village. Across Nusa Tenggara Timur, we are working with communities on health education and nutrition, peer-to-peer support for mothers, better access to health services and safe drinking water, and resilience to drought and other disasters. We'll check in regularly with Lucinda and her community to see how things are going.