Convincing the doubters, battling local government and keeping entitled men in their place: A day in the life of the South Sudanese women leading the delivery of water services in their communities

Siama Juma, Chairperson Of Wmcs Poses For A Picture At Atalabara Water Point1

Siama Juma, chairperson of a Water Management Committee (WMC) in Kapoeta, South Sudan, posing at Atalabara water point.

Siama Juma is no shrinking violet, and that’s a good thing considering her role as leader of a team of six overseeing a Water Management Committee (WMC) in Kapoeta, South Sudan.

This story was adapted from a piece written by Pasquina Acidria from DT-Global GASWASH Project.

“The men do not want to follow the line, they instead come straight to the collection point and this creates a lot of confusion in enforcement of the bylaw regulating order at the water point. These men are also quite resistant in paying for the water services, saying that the system was freely installed and so it should be used for free … When we had to hand over funds to the municipal council and repairs were not timely, the water users used to insult me, saying me and my team were misusing their money for personal gain. Many times, I wanted to step down and do my other businesses, but the community won’t allow me because they believe there is no one who can manage this water point the way I do,” Siama announces proudly.

And Siama has reason to be proud. She is a great example of the many women who lead WMCs in her country, delivering sustained water access at communal points paid for and maintained by local users.


Siama Juma (Left) Narates Her Story, Joined By The Care Taker
Siama Juma (left) narrates her story to Pasquina Acidria of DT-Global GASWASH Project, joined by the WMC's caretaker

Community ownership

WMCs – of which there are many – aim to ensure ownership of the water infrastructure and are comprised of local community members trained in minor operations and maintenance of boreholes, pumps, and small water distribution systems. WMCs collect maintenance funds or in-kind contributions (such as groundnuts or sorghum) per household per month to buy spare parts and pay for mechanics to do repairs to ensure water points function.

Siama and her WMC team were trained as part of a package comprising a borehole, pump and watertank provided by the Dutch-funded and NIRAS-implemented Water for Eastern Equatoria project that ended in 2019. The NIRAS project management team facilitated the training that today has been taken over by VNG International, the international cooperation agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities. Siama organises the committee meetings and remains accountable to the community on the spending of funds. She is also responsible for implementing bylaws that have been passed by the boma or village WASH committee.

“Besides daily monitoring of the money collections from the water users, I monitor the work of the caretakers and the hygiene promoter” she said. I also oversee that order is kept at the water points, opening and closing hours are respected, and the area around the water point is cleaned.”

IMG 2604 2
Some members of the Water for Eastern Equatoria project team

Fighting mistrust and delivering results

One of Siama’s biggest achievements has been to win the respect of the community. When she took up her role in 2018, 50% of monthly collections from the community were handed over to the municipal council for repair services. But because the council did not conduct repairs to the extent expected and 90% of the remaining balance went to pay for the power system, repairs were not timely and the community wondered why they should continue to contribute. Siama asked VNG to facilitate a dialogue with the municipal council leadership and as a result, the WMC no longer had to hand over 50% of its tariffs, leaving sufficient funds for results that can be seen by the community.

“Up to 2022, we planned as a team and replaced one of the broken 5000-litre plastic water storage tanks. We also replaced the worn-out side of the chain link used for fencing the tap stand and replaced broken taps. We are also able to pay monthly power costs to back up the solar system to improve water production,” Siama explains.

She says the community is willing to contribute when the need and benefit is openly and clearly communicated: “We did not have enough money to cover the 5000-litre storage tank so we called for a community meeting through the boma committees who are the link between the community and us, the WMC members ... The users agreed to an amount of 500 ssp (€3.5) per household to top-up what was needed, and this was quickly mobilised. I am happy to report that the new tank up there was as a result of this collaboration with the boma committees!” she exclaims excitedly, pointing to the tank.

Animals Drinking Water At Lokosok 1 Water Point
Cattle often share the same water point as humans, making maintenance of hygiene around the water point a challenge

A burden shared is a burden halfed

Siama is not alone in her battles. Ludia Pasquale leads a WMC but in the north of Kapoeta. Her role is very similar as the chair of a group who mobilises resources from the community for operation and maintenance of the water points and enforces water point rules. Not one to give up, Ludia is a regular fixture at the county office where she fights to get major repairs done.

Like Siama, Lidia has faced challenges of suspicion by the community of misuse of contributed funds and has difficulties in accessing spare parts or knowing a fair price to pay. One of VNG’s roles when gathering these types of testimonies is also to hear what the local community thinks of the WMC and to address any misunderstandings and share best practice of how other WMCs manage conflict and tackle challenges.

Ludia Pasquale (Left) At The Investment Site
Ludia Pasquale (left) at the water point speaking with Pasquina Acidria from DT-Global GASWASH Project who is gathering testimonials

Men also create problems for Ludia.

“They wash their legs from the tap stand and get angry when we talk about this with them. This makes our work of enforcing cleanliness at the waterpoint very difficult especially as animals share the space with human beings. Enforcing good hygiene practices at the water point is challenging as the animals are around the water point almost fulltime due to the dry season,” Ludia explains, “But we do our best.”

It would seem a few entitled men and wayward cattle are no match for strong leaders like Siama and Ludia.