The village of Kulimbu is situated in the mountains of the Mul Baiyer District, Western Highlands Province, where the people must travel long distances to find water. The women trek difficult terrain with dirty dishes, laundry and young children in tow, to bathe and fetch water for consumption and cooking back in their villages. As water is scarce, basic hygiene practices like hand washing are uncommon.

In the height of COVID-19, Jolly Kulimbua, an Australia Awards PNG alumni, became concerned that her village would be at risk to the rapid spread of the virus. With the intention to safeguard her community’s health, Jolly applied for an Australia Awards PNG Alumni Grant. She planned to provide a direct and clean water supply to Kulimbu village and raise awareness about the importance of hand washing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses.

A successful grant application saw the initiation of a community Water and Sanitation for Health (WASH) project in November 2020. The grant funded and facilitated the installation of three, 9,000 litre water tanks supplying 14 installed taps and wash basins in the main village. Simultaneously, through outreach, the locals learnt about water borne and contagious diseases, the risks of poor hygiene and the importance of healthy practice.

An elder spoke of learning of the dangers to her health, which prompted her to wash her hands regularly. “Mipla ino sawe wasim han bipo bikos wara stap longwei na mipla les long westim taim ron igo daun lo wara, so mipla klinim han long dirty trousis na skirt tasol, na ino sawe bisi tumas. Training Jolly givim i mekim mipla poret long kain sik so nau, wara istap klostu long haus do ana mipla gat moa taim lo go lo garden, kam bek, kisim wara isi, kuk, drink na displa i helpim mipla lo luksawe osem wara em laif.” (We never washed our hands regularly before because the water was so far away, so we cleaned them on our clothes and did not really think too much about it. Jolly’s training made us aware and afraid of catching diseases. Now that the water is close by, we can easily get water, cook, drink and have more time to go to the garden. We now realise that water is life.)

In March 2021, Jolly and the Kulimbu community completed the WASH project. Today this water source supplies clean water to five villages including Kulimbu. Locals have since been inspired to regularly wash hands, use water wisely and take care of their WASH facilities. Projects like Jolly’s are instrumental to community health and wellbeing and improving lives by bringing the most basic and necessary human needs (like access to clean water) to rural communities