Meet the 46 year old President
By the time I arrived in Tsirangtoe, a small crowd has already gathered around the tap stand, anxious to talk about the difference that clean water has made in their community.
At the front of the pack, neatly lined up are four members of the local water committee or “Thungchu Tshogpa.” They stand tall, three men and two women, as they introduce themselves and their responsibilities one by one.
I am Pema Dorji, the plumber.
My name is Tashi Dorji, Treasurer or Acountant.
Tshomo, the head of maintenance.
And then the final introduction, which comes from the seemingly shy 46-year-old woman on the end. “My name is Sonam Lhamo,”she says. “I’m the Chairman.”
Hold on. The Chairman!
A note about the water committee or ‘Thungchu Tshogpa.’
With NAPA II Project: water implements, we require communities to elect a water committee. It’s a team of 5–8, usually half men and half women, who are responsible for the long-term sustainability of the project. They maintain the water point, develop a business plan so they can purchase parts for future repairs and educate community members about health, sanitation and hygiene. It’s a huge responsibility, and it almost always comes without a pay or once in year.
I look back at Sonam and notice her stance: feet wide apart, arms crossed proudly across her chest. She shoots me a pleased half-smile.
It’s 6:10 a.m., and Sonam has already had an overwhelming morning. As the mother of seven children, her to-do list is much longer than that of her children: sweeping up loose sand and dirt from their home, washing dishes from last night’s dinner, filling vessels with water, boiling water in preparation for breakfast. She’s been hard at work since 4:30 a.m. But there is a willing smile on her face.
Multitasking, she ducks into the family’s house to drop off her 8 years old son to the school and emerges eagerly clenching the straps of her jacket. She’s excited because she knows that what took 20 minutes this morning used to take hours. Two years ago, before her village received a water tank and tap stands, Sonam would’ve still been collecting water in line at this hour — waiting to get dirty water from a pond or puddle outside her village. And though she’s always loved sending her children to school, back then her children could only go after collecting water. Often, that meant they’d only get to go to school twice each week.
But not anymore.
In 2016, her village received a three reservoir tanks of varying sizes, thirty one roof top for rain harvesting tank and tap stand right in their community — where all of the women can easily collect water as much clean water as they need. And they can fetch it quickly. Now, Sonam doesn’t wait in line. At 6:10 a.m., having already gathered water for her family, she’s on the way to herd her cows and then to work on her field.
In rural parts of Tsirangtoe, women and children lose precious time every day walking and waiting in line to collect water. Families who have less water than they need are forced to choose how much they can afford to use for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing. Between the time commitment and poor health conditions, it’s common for girls in particular to spend far less time in school.
But we have the power to change that and the community did that.
Earlier in the day, I asked Sonam’s husband what he thought about his wife as the community water President. He said, “Our dream is for Sonam to become a Local Representative of the community.”
Without missing a beat, Sonam corrected her husband, “I don’t want to be an exemplary or Local Head; I want to be the root of change!”
That’s the moment it clicked for me.
46 years old. Female. None of it matters. Those things are trumped by Sonam Lhamo’s belief in herself, confidence and tenacity.
Sonam’s opportunities are promising for women and young girls in rural Tsirangtoe. But they’re even more promising for the people in her community.
I can’t imagine anyone could find a better President than her.