JP/Emanuel Dapa LokaAfter struggling with a clean water shortage for generations, people in Waru Wora, Lete Malouna, Kangali and Karewe hamlets in Lamboya district, West Sumba, can now enjoy an abundance of water from nearby public taps thanks to the hard work of Frenchman Andre Graff.
One drizzly afternoon earlier this year, four young women from Karewe were walking in a coconut plantation, carrying buckets. They were going to collect water from the taps located about 100 meters from their homes.
They couldn’t hide their joy as they saw Graff, 52, who was checking the water tanks, welcome them. “Come on, come on, get the water!” Graff said, opening the taps to allow clean water to flow, filling Kiri, Ika, Biri Tara and Renny’s three buckets and an earthen jug.
The water came from the Karewe Drinking Water Project initiated by Graff, who has lived in West Sumba since 2005 and has been helping locals dig wells for potable water. So far he has built 27 wells for village communities.
For the Karewe endeavor, the water pump company Shimizu supported Graff by providing generators, jet pumps, water tanks, hoses and construction funding.
The clean water for this hamlet has been available since the middle of January 2012, while its supply operation was inaugurated on Feb, 9 by West Sumba Deputy Regent Reko Deta and Shimizu board chair Rachman Sastra at a ceremony in Karewe.
“Before consuming well water, we collected swamp water in the bushes. Buffaloes would be wallowing there,” said Kiri, pointing at over a dozen black buffaloes grazing near the marsh. When the water was too muddy, they had to find other sources behind a hill one and a half kilometers away, taking home only 10 liters each due to the rough terrain.
Responding to Kiri, Graff smiled and said, “I owe the presence of this water to an article in The Jakarta Post, too.” Three days later somebody from Shimizu contacted The Post, expressing the intention to help. In a week, Shimizu’s Billy Kristyawan was surveying Sumba. After witnessing the local community’s dire water needs and Graff’s will to help, Shimizu sent the equipment needed and some project funding. “We’re ready to assist after a field observation. Andre has really worked wholeheartedly without expecting any compensation,” said Rachman.
Reko thanked Graff and Shimizu on behalf of the people of Karewe. “We feel grateful for your sincere help in this remote region. Only benevolence has brought Graff and Shimizu here. We have no way of returning your kindness, except hoping for the good maintenance of this valuable gift.”
“If the pumps stop running, don’t get emotional but give proper care. While people from France and Jakarta love Sumba, why don’t we? We should love our ancestral land and also take good care of Graff. If necessary we should see to it that he marries a Lamboya girl,” said Reko to applause from the audience. Graff reacted with a broad smile.
Rachman said his company’s aid was a gesture of gratitude. Shimizu, according to him, feels called upon to help people in difficulty obtain water. “We think even a Frenchman is so concerned about the people here, how can we just do nothing? So, through Andre we’ve come. Let’s maintain resources and use them prudently,” he said. The project cost about Rp 250 million (US$27,250).
Several months before the Karewe project was completed, Graff had finished another, the Waru Wora Pilot Project (PPWW), two and a half kilometers from Karewe. Every day around 600 people collect water from PPWW, opened by West Sumba Regent Jubilate Pandango on August 25, 2011.
While locals before had to seek out springs or swamps in rocky valley areas for water, now the water has come as near as the sides of their homes, with water tanks of various sizes being installed in the middle of Waru Wora, Kangali and Lete Malouna hamlets.
“We’re indeed indebted to Graff. He’s sincerely helped us just like an indigenous villager. He’s also very sociable,” said Poro Bili, a resident of Waru Wora. Besides the Shimizu aid, Andre as a former hot-air balloon pilot in France, was also supported by the Rotary Club, Palyja Jakarta (a drinking water company) and the West Sumba administration. The project cost approximately Rp 550 million.
Asked if Graff could be made a village chief, resident Rawa Kabeko said, “He should be higher than a village chief. We want him to be a regent.” Several youths favored the idea, “That’s right, a regent.” According to Kabeko, local people need encouragement. “They tend to be lazy and need to be persuaded. Before any government moves, Andre initiated well-digging and we were happy,” added Kabeko.
Graff has won the hearts of people here in Sumba, especially the Lamboya community, whose elders granted him the honorary name Amae Nodu. From the Loli ethnic group (in Waikabubak, the capital of West Sumba), he got the name Ama Soli, and from people in Kodi (in Southwest Sumba) the name Rangga Mone. Former Pacala Bawa village head Timoteus Tede Bola said with the clean water, malaria, dysentery and skin diseases rarely affected people like before. “The illnesses used to be common here due to the consumption of dirty water. I hope they will preserve the water quality and pay a contribution of only Rp 10,000 a month,” Timo said.
Also with this water local people can raise cattle and grow vegetables near their homes. Housewives
and young girls, who once had to search for water in far-off areas several times a day, can now
concentrate on household chores and activities like weaving and other crafts.