In the middle of 54,000 runners at last week’s Paris Marathon, Siabatou Sanneh stood out. Carrying a 40-pound (20kg) water container on her head and wearing her race number 64173 on top of a multi-colored traditional dress, Siabatou wanted to make a statement.
It was the first time the mother of four had ever left her country, Gambia, but this didn’t deter her from wanting to raise awareness about the difficulties African women face in accessing clean drinking water. Siabatou was there on the behalf of Water for Africa, a non-profit which builds boreholes in her village.
“I came to Paris to do the marathon to raise awareness and help the African women get clean water for their domestic use – for drinking, cooking, washing and gardening to grow agriculture,” the 43-year-old told IBTimes UK, speaking through a translator.
“In my country, you grow what you eat and you eat what you grow, but you can only do that with sufficient water.”
By walking the marathon with a plastic barrel of water on her head, Siabatou is hoping to send a message to the leaders at the 7th World Water Forum – which runs until April 17th in Daegu-Gyeongbuk, South Korea. Her statement is simple: she does not want to be drinking water from wells any more.
“I want them to help us dig bore holes, a sustainable water source, but not only more holes, I want more sustainable ones too. That’s all we need. I don’t want my children to be collecting water from dirty wells when they are older,” she said.
In Gambia, Water For Africa estimates between 200 and 300 water pumps would be necessary to supply the population and overcome the 40% to 60% of wells or pumping systems that are crumbling.
Siabatou, who lives in the small village of Bullenghat, which has a population of 300, first started collecting water when she was just five-years-old. “I wake up in the morning, and go and collect water from a well. I have to walk 8km there, and back. I do this three times a day at least.”