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With urban drifts in developing nations, women are finding it even harder to supply the family with water for a day. Land is subdivided for resorts or farms and suddenly the daily trek is doubled. Mothers sometimes keep their daughters home from school to keep up water supplies. This puts the women in vulnerable situations both physically and educationally.

Manufactured water tanks may be available but for people living outside the cash economy buying one is an unattainable dream. If people live near a city then tap water may be available but again the price is prohibitive and the quality may be dubious. Collecting water in open buckets and bowls adds to the risk of mosquito borne diseases.

If the problem of safe water is going to be solved then it’s going to be done by developing world women living in poverty. One woman in Vanuatu is giving it her best shot.  

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Meet Lesieli Joseph

Lesieli Joseph is the president and founder of the Ernas women’s centre Port Vila Vanuatu. Five years ago she teamed up with a Sydney mother and four years ago they introduced earthbag building to Vanuatu. They pulled together a great group and built a women’s centre, a house and three water tanks. No one payed much attention to these women’s houses.

Cyclone Pam hit Port Vila as a category 5 cyclone in March 2015. Many water tanks were destroyed, pierced by debris, and houses lost. For the first two weeks the only clean water available on half road Erakor was coming from the earthbag tanks. Suddenly everyone understood what the women had been trying to do.

Lesieli has built 40 tanks since cyclone Pam and has started women’s groups in seven islands. A tank in the islands costs $600 to build including materials and labour, although it is one third of the price of a manufactured one, the price is still prohibitive for many families.

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Women and their families working together with whatever they have

Leiseli organises the women into groups according to location. The families each contribute and work together for three days to complete a 4,000 litre tank. Those that don’t have money can pay in handicrafts or other goods that are taken back to Port Vila for sale to the tourist market. All group members share the tank until they have raised the money for their own tank.

Lesieli has now had to start her own not for profit building business called Vanuatu Earthbag Building. You can check them out on Facebook.  Water security is becoming a huge issue as the Pacific suffers the effects of climate change. 

Building water tanks without government help or charity

This is a great initiative from a group of marginalised women. Lesieli has used her foreign friends and contacts to secure essential items for the women she works with. She has distributed many water purification kits, 8 sewing machines, 31 laptops for girls (donated by work ventures Australia), solar lights, tools, clothes, medicine, free dental checks and other other essentials.

After cyclone Pam she raised $5,000 cash that was distributed amongst the 108 members of the women’s centre. She has also taken every opportunity to learn new skills like food preservation and she gives sewing lessons in the islands.

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Lesieli works entirely without government help or charity. This year she has committed to build 100 tanks on the island of Ambae and she is funding her expenses by selling barrels of second hand clothes from Australia (donated by Ciao Bella Moda). She says she has to make it happen now because the people in Ambae suffer while the government and the charities argue. 

Other founding members of the women’s centre have their own water tanks now and have moved on. One started up a wedding dress hire business, a food store, and several have women’s market stalls selling clothes, some of their children have won scholarships to further study.

Lesieli is happy to teach her method to start projects in Fiji and the Solomons or other islands. You can send someone from your community to work with her and learn or you can sponsor her to visit you. 

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Can you help?

If any tourists to Vanuatu or your family would like to sponsor a water tank and help to build it, Lesieli can organise that experience for you, to fit in with your holiday plans. You can do it fast or slow depending on how hard you want to work. If you want someone else to build a water tank for a woman, you can sponsor it without leaving your armchair. 

Lesieli hosts groups of Australian school children three times a year. This enables her to direct free tanks to communities near Port Vila that don’t have the money or the handicrafts to fund their own.


Anyone wanting to get involved or learn Lesieli’s building techniques can contact Vanuatu Earthbag Building on Facebook or [email protected]. Be aware that there are other people on the internet that claim her work as their own and have fake fundraising sites related to the project. One man who visited the project is selling the blueprints for the tank that she created and pioneered in December 2013. Lesieli does not take charity. She only accepts sponsorship for tanks.

By Liz Sherborne