- see the wells
As our relationship with schools in rural areas strengthened, we began to take notice that the drop-out rates for girls were much higher than boys. There are many contributing factors to this disparity, but one reason is that because girls are the primary water gatherers for their families, they miss on average about one full week of school every month.
This monthly absence soon makes the girls feel they are so behind on their work that they drop-out and deny themselves the education they so desperately need. This lead us to start forming support groups or Girls’ Clubs.The clubs are designed to encourage regular attendance and also provide health education and some groups even provide basic sanitation items like soap, shampoo, and feminine products for developing girls to keep them safe and healthy. The combination of Girls’ Clubs coupled with a clean water well often results in the school enrollment doubling or even tripling.
One of the most glaring problems we saw early on during our trips to schools in Africa were old pit latrine toilets that not only polluted the immediate environment and emitted an awful smell, but also were full of flies – one of the main ways disease is spread in the developing world. A recent statistic stated that 38% of girls never use the pit toilet that the school provides, and after seeing it first hand, it was very clear why. We knew we had to develop a better toilet for these kids, one more suited for the needs of a rural school that would never fill up and become a potential health hazard.
Two engineers from our advisory board came up with a simple, yet innovative sewage processing system that requires no electricity and actually treats sewage instead of just storing it. The result, a toilet that doesn’t smell, doesn’t attract flies, doesn’t need to be relocated and never fills up.
Building wells is the easy part, keeping them working over time is considerably more difficult. Just like cars, computers or almost anything else that gets a lot of use well pumps are going to eventually break. The repairs are often simple and cheap, but a repair that costs just a few dollars will leave a well broken if the villagers do not have the money.
In order to deal make sure the funds were always available, we developed a Village Savings and Loan Association program called Essential Flow Funding. This funding is put in place to ensure the community will keep the well working for years.
The VSLA program is a highly structured system of saving, borrowing and lending money generated from local contributions that provides a financial incentive for those in the community to maintain the wells. Before we move on to our next well, we train a few local workers on how to fix any problems they might encounter. These workers, like anyone, charge a small fee from the community for their service. The money to pay the workers comes directly from the community, creating a sense of ownership and independence.
After the villagers have collected enough money to cover any of the inevitable repairs, any additional money collected can be lent out to community members with personal business ideas. Any loan is decided on by association members and must be used for income-generating activities. This loan is expected to be paid back with interest. Once a year the interest earned is divided among the association. This provides a fund to cover future repairs and maintenance on the wells, but also provides an opportunity for the villagers to make money and achieve financial independence for themselves with their own businesses.
Toilets can never be placed too close to a working well without the potential for groundwater contamination becoming a huge problem. But people need to be able to wash their hands after using the bathroom. This raises the question: even if people are aware of the importance of hand washing, will they be as willing to wash their hands after using the bathroom if the hand washing area is far away?We needed a solution that could place a water source next to the toilets with a replenishing supply of clean water. The problems we were facing were: no piped water, no electricity, and something that did not require expensive fuel that would need to be constantly replaced by the school.
The answer was right in front of us, kid power. By harnessing the energy of children playing, we were able to create a roundabout pump that worked in conjunction with the existing hand pump on the well (however, if there is ever a problem with the roundabout pump, the community is still able to get water from the well).
When rotated by kids doing what they do best, having fun, the roundabout pump moves water from the underground reservoir tank over to the water tower and the hand washing station next to the toilets. Because the toilets are a good distance away from the well there is no risk of groundwater contamination. Problem solved, though don’t tell the kids they are doing more than just having fun.
- More than half of Africa's people lack access to safe drinking water (UN)
- Over 80% of the disease in developing countries is related to poor drinking water and sanitation. (WHO)
- Every day 4,500 children under the age of 5 die from water-related illnesses. (WHO)
- The average distance a woman in Africa and Asia walks to collect water is 6 km (3.75 miles) (WHRNET)
- The weight of water that women in Asia and Africa carry on their heads is equivalent to the maximum baggage weight allowed by airlines 20 kg, or 44lbs (WHRNET)
- Medical research has documented cases of permanent damage to women's health as a result of carrying water, such as chronic fatigue, spinal and pelvic deformities, and effects on reproductive health including spontaneous abortion. (UNHABITAT)
- In some parts of Africa, women expend as much as 85% of their daily energy intake on getting water, increasing incidences of anemia and other health problems. (UNHABITAT)
- Half of the world's hospital beds, at any point, are occupied by people suffering from water-related diseases. (UN)
- Floods and droughts affect 1 in 3 people worldwide. (UNEP)
- If all the world's water fit into a one gallon bucket, all of the water available to us all to drink would be the equivalent of only one tablespoon. (UNFPA)
- 2.2 million people in developing countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. (WHO)
- 783 million people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, roughly one-eighth of the world’s population. (WHO)
- Half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from water related illnesses. (UNEP)
- Half of the people in the world lack access to any kind of decent sanitation. (UNICEF)
- 80 percent of diseases in the developing world are caused by contaminated water. (WATERAID)
- The average person in the developing world uses 2.64 gallons of water a day. (UN)
- The average person in the United States uses between 100 and 175 gallons every day at home. (UN)
- The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. (UNDP)