Until recently the 12-year-old and his friends have had to go to a local spring before school and fill a minimum of two five-litre jugs, once for each hand, for the school’s daily water supply.

“It was very heavy,” says Izak. “We would just walk step by step, set them down for a minute, then pick them back up again and go. Some people carried 20 litres.”

It was even worse in the rainy season.

“We would wait for the rain to stop, then we would walk. Then the rain would start again and we would wait for it to stop, then go again. Now it’s a lot better.”

It’s better because the local Red Cross, Cruz Vermelha de Timor-Leste (CVTL) and funding partners including New Zealand Red Cross, have built a new gravity-based water system, meaning Izak’s school now has safe, clean water for the students and teachers.

There are also taps strategically placed amongst homes in Izak’s remote village of Hohorai, Timor-Leste.

The village head, Renaldo Amaral Soares, says before the new water system was installed people in the community used to suffer more from malaria and diarrhoeal diseases. Contaminants in the water, combined with the trips required to obtain it, took their toll on the health of the villagers.

“The Red Cross activities here are very good,” Mr Soares says. “Before, from the house to the school, some of the children had to walk for one hour with the water. Now, they don’t have to do that.”

Jose Nunes, one of Hohorai’s volunteer teachers, says the old water system was unreliable and when it broke he had to send the children out to fetch water, even if it was in the middle of the school day. Now they can focus on learning.

New Zealand Red Cross has long supported safe water systems like the one in Hohorai, which is one of 82 the local Red Cross has completed since 2002.

The programme takes a year from start to finish, including consultation, construction and training on how to maintain the system. There is also a component on hygiene promotion.

To ensure ongoing community buy-in, volunteers from the village help build the system, supported by qualified local Red Cross staff. In Hohorai, even students like Izak chipped in, helping mix cement for the water tanks.

“The village is involved in the whole process, so the people have ownership over it,” says CVTL Health Coordinator Joao Pinto Soares. “They are helping their own community, and they are in charge of making sure the facilities are maintained and can be around for a long time. Sustainability is the most important thing.”

This year, CVTL plans to help build water systems in 10 more villages in Timor-Leste. New Zealand Red Cross will contribute by supporting the work in Bobonaro district.