Today, March 22, is World Water Day, a day designated by the United Nations (UN) to bring attention to the importance and need of safe water worldwide. Water is life, and access to safe water is a fundamental human right. However, 771 million people worldwide continue to live without safe drinking water affecting their health, wellbeing, education, and livelihoods. Water is so critical to life and wellbeing that the UN added it as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6), which commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030.
This year’s World Water Day theme is groundwater and making the invisible visible. Groundwater is invisible, lying underneath the dirt, yet its impact worldwide is visible everywhere. Groundwater provides the majority of the water that sustains us. As we face climate change and increased pollution, the role of protecting our groundwater could never be more important. Since the beginning, EOS has been working hard to protect our watersheds by implementing our Circuit Rider model of training, education, and sustainability of rural communities’ water systems.
Just two weeks ago, I joined our US-based team on a visit to Honduras, and for a few of us, it was our very first time on the ground seeing our work. We watched a water chlorinator being installed in an extremely remote community called La Cañada, located high up in the mountains in Gracias, Honduras. Reaching the community was not for the faint of heart, as the roads are almost non-existent in parts and it requires patience and perseverance to make the bumpy drive up the mountain to reach the village.
It is almost unimaginable how vastly different life in the pandemic is here in the United States and thousands of miles away in India and other parts of the world. As Memorial Day Weekend comes to a close and life has bounded back to almost as it was before the pandemic across much of the United States, India is faced with a second wave of Covid-19 that is more aggressive and deadly than ever before. While the US still sightly leads the world in number of reported cases and deaths, a huge difference exists in the overall impact of the fierce second wave that is striking India and other parts of the developing world: The desperate lack of healthcare and infrastructure that was problematic well before the pandemic struck.
Due to the crowded living conditions of disadvantaged communities, lack of adequate sanitation, and proper health care services, India is very vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 especially in its rural communities which represent a vast majority of India’s 1.3 billion people of population. Furthermore, with vaccination rates well below that of the United States (41.2% fully vaccinated) and only 3.2% of India’s 1.3 billion fully vaccinated, India has a long, difficult road ahead.
For over 20 years, the Rural Development Trust’s Bathalapalli Hospital has provided quality healthcare in rural India. Today it is on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic and thankfully organizations such as the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and its local partner, the Rural Development Trust (RDT) in India are taking charge and doing whatever they can to save lives. While the challenges ahead are huge, there is hope.
Save the Children, the world’s leading independent organization for children, has released the second annual End of Childhood Index in honor of International Children’s Day, a day to celebrate and raise awareness on children’s rights and wellbeing around the world. Save the Children’s annual End of Childhood Index ranks 175 countries based on eight childhood “ender” events that jeopardize children’s chance of a happy, healthy and safe childhood. While the report shows that the majority of countries have made progress for children since last year (95 out of 175 countries), conditions in about 40 countries appear significantly worse and are not improving fast enough.
No country is on track to meet the 2030 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) for children. Over 1 billion children around the world live in countries plagued by poverty and it is not just a developing world problem. In the 2018 report, the United States didn’t rank in the top 10 or top 25. Instead, the U.S. shockingly ranked 36th place smack between Belarus and Russia. The growing urban and rural child poverty rate within the United States continues to widen. The results of the report may surprise you.
This year’s report has two components: “The Many Faces of Exclusion” and “Growing Up in Rural America”, a new U.S. complement that offers first-of-its kind analysis of rural child poverty rates across America as well as state by state ranking of where childhood is most and least threatened. In advance of the report’s release, I listened in on a telebriefing by Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children to get some of the key highlights of the report and a call to action by governments around the world.
Here are some of the key findings worldwide and in America.
For many of us, clean water is so plentiful and readily available that we rarely, if ever, pause to consider what life would be like without it. – Marcus Samuelsson
Today, March 22 is World Water Day, a day designated by the United Nations to bring attention of the importance of water. Today, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water affecting their health, wellbeing, education and livelihoods. Water is life and in my opinion access to safe water is a basic human right. Water is so critical to life and wellbeing that it was added by the UN as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) which commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes measures to protect the natural environment and reduce pollution.
In my work, I’ve had several opportunities to write about water and have recently witnessed firsthand the impact of bringing safe water to communities during a trip to Western Kenya last month with LifeStraw.
In light of this important day, I wanted to share with you a few shocking facts about the lack of safe water around the world, ways that single use plastic water bottles are threatening our planet and ideas on how you can help. Please feel free to share this post and help spread awareness of this critical issue.
Demonstrating washing hands with safe water
Trying out the LifeStraw Community Filter
The youngest child at the school, age 3, takes her first sip of safe water
Did you know….
World population impacted by unsafe water:
Globally, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. By 2050, the world’s population will have grown by an estimated 2 billion people and global water demand could be up to 30% higher than today. (UNESCO-United Nations World Water Development Report 2018)
Today, around 1.9 billion people live in potentially severely water-scarce areas. By 2050, this could increase to around 3 billion people.
2.5 million children miss school every day around the world due to waterborne illness
29 percent of the global population (2.1 billion people), and 42 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa, lack access to safe drinking water services. (UN)
I rose with excitement and anticipation to the pre-dawn sound of the birds outside my hotel room in Kakamega, Western Kenya. Although the sky was still an inky black, the world outside my window was alive with noise and commotion as drivers rolled into the parking lot thumping African rap music and fellow LifeStraw staff for the LifeStraw Follow the Liters Campaign began to start their day. The smell of breakfast being served two floors below crept through the cracks in my door. Despite not having a huge appetite in the early hours of the morning, I knew that the omelette and perfectly ripe mango I had that morning at 6 would have to fill me up until dinner time.
I jumped out of bed, untangling myself from my mosquito net and quickly dressed in my uniform for the day. A blue LifeStraw t-shirt, a long pair of gray cargo pants, closed-toe hiking shoes, sunscreen, hat and ponytail. Today was to be my first day out in the field and I didn’t want to be late. Despite utter exhaustion, jet lag and concern that I had only slept a little over an hour the night before, I could hardly wait. It was the start of our campaign to reach the one millionth child to receive safe drinking water. Little did I know what a massive operation this would be and how incredibly inspired I’d feel by the end of the week.
Given the size and scale of the campaign, our international team of 130 LifeStraw staff and volunteers were divided up into 15 teams with the goal of reaching 3-4 primary schools per day all in different parts of Western Kenya. My team was called “Team Crocodile” and was lead by Rebecca Masoni, the local Area Coordinator for LifeStraw. We also had local Sub-Country Coordinators Vincent, Patrick and Dorice (known as Mama LifeStraw) and Dehli-based Raju, myself, and mother and daughter pair Detria and Sophia, from California. Over the course of the next five days, our team alone would reach 15 primary schools and 11,923 school children throughout Vihiga, Hamisi, Khwisero, Butere, and Lurambi counties in Western Kenya.
By 6:30 am, the parking lot was jammed pack with a motorcade of SUVs, drivers and enthusiastic LifeStaw staff and volunteers all setting out to start the day. Some of the teams had already departed as early as four in the morning to reach some of the most remote schools. We were lucky to have the region surrounding Kakamega meaning our daily drive to reach the first school would only take about two hours.
As we left our base, we set off into the rising sun leaving behind the chaos of early morning in Kakamega. Markets of fruits and vegetables stands were being set into place. Clumps of shoes, clothing and homewares were laid out on colorful blankets across the dirt ground. Motorcycles of entire families and buses packed to the rim were scurrying around. Children in their school uniforms of baby blue and white, pink and green, maroon and navy blue, were walking alongside the road heading to school.
After a half of hour, the paved roads ended and we began our trek along the bumpy, pot-holed dirt roads of rural Kenya. The roads that always remind me of what it is like to get around in the developing world. The urban landscape began to fade and the beauty of rural, Western Kenya greeted my hungry soul. The lushness and greenery such a delight to see after so many months of colorless winter back at home.
We passed several single-plot farms growing maize and tea surrounded by traditional mud huts interspersed by small rural towns of nothing more than a few shacks and rundown buildings. Women walked side by side gracefully balancing 20 liter jerrycans of water on top of their head while farmers worked the fields. Children frantically waved and yelled “Mzungu!” (foreigner) as our car passed them by along the way. As the morning dew began to lift off the horizon, the beauty of the landscape took my breath away. It was spellbinding.
An hour and a half later we reached the entrance of our first school, the Khanirir G. Jeptorol Primary School in Hamisi. A faded hand painted wooden sign stood proudly at the gate beckoning us to enter. Our caravanof three SUVs slowly drove up the dirt path to the school, to the sound of laughter, cries of joy and song. As we got out of the car, a large cow bell was rung and out came 500 excited school children dressed in green and pink uniforms, running out the open doors of the school rooms thrilled to meet us.
As much as we ached to say hello and greet the children, I quickly learned that proper protocol is of utter importance in Kenya. The first thing our team had to do was go inside to meet the Head Teacher and cover a few formalities. We briefly introduced ourselves and went over the plans for the next two hours. At the first school, we would be installing five LifeStraw Communities. Each LifeStraw Community can serve 100 children and five would serve the entire population of the school.
While our drivers began installing the LifeStraws, our team assembled inside a large circle with the children surrounding us, for introductions which of course involved song and dance. This was my absolute favorite part of the presentation! It is hard to put into words the feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of joyous children singing, dancing, clapping and laughing together as one. By the end of the week, I couldn’t get the songs out of my head and still wake up in the middle of the night singing them.
Since I had such a hard time capturing my experience into words, I created this short video of some of the footage I took during the week. Every time I watch the video it makes me smile. Hope you can get a sense for what my week was like by viewing it
“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step”. – Lao Tzu
I left for Kenya on a Thursday afternoon feeling the normal pre-trip jitters of an exceptionally long 24 hours of travel ahead. I was flying from Minneapolis to Amsterdam with a five hour layover, and then I had another eight hour flight to reach Nairobi. I knew that it was going to be a long, exhausting journey yet I was exhilarated all the same to be off on a trip into the unknown.
I boarded my first flight with anticipation wondering what was in store for me when I finally arrived in Kenya. I had been chosen to join LifeStraw’s Follow the Liters campaign to reach the one millionth child to receive safe drinking water. I had a packet of detailed information about the program and the campaign but that was all I honestly knew. I was traveling alone and would meet up with ten of the 130 members of the the LifeStraw team in Amsterdam to continue our journey.
LifeStraw, a part of the Vestergaard global health company, began the Follow the Liters program four years ago in Western Kenya after realizing they could be a catalyst for positive change throughout the region. Children were missing many days of school due to waterborne diseases and illness caused by drinking unsafe water. Some were even dying. The need was immense, and LifeStraw had the answer.
With over twenty years of experience working on global health issues in Kenya, Vestergaard understood that Western Kenya was the perfect place to launch the campaign given the fact that it is one of the most populous, rural parts of the country which is in dire need for safe water. At the end of 2014, 158,000 school children were reached during the first Follow the Liters Campaign. Four years later, we would be reaching one million kids! I could hardly wait to be a part of it.
Giving Back through Retail
LifeStraw is not a pure one-for-one program (like TOMS shoes) because the needs of the retail market and local market on the ground in Kenya are quite different.
For each LifeStraw product sold in retail markets in Canada and the U.S, one child receives safe drinking water for a year. It is not a “buy one give one” model but instead a comprehensive program implemented and adapted for the needs of the local market. For each school LifeStraw serves, they provide ongoing training, education and follow-up for a minimum of five years. It is a long term commitment that employs local staff from the community to ensure sustainability of the program.
This is the consumer LifeStraw product. The straw inside allows you to drink untreated water safely.
This is the LifeStraw Community (LSC) that is provided to the schools. Each LSC filters out harmful waterborne parasites and bacteria which lead to disease.
“For it is in giving that we receive”. – Francis of Assisi
Sometimes life takes an unexpected curve and you just have to go for it. Back in December, as I was preparing for the busiest time of the year for me and my family I received an email telling me about an opportunity to join LifeStraw, a water filtration social enterprise owned by Vestergaard,on their upcoming trip to Kenya in February on a special project: To reach the one millionth child to receive safe drinking water.
I dropped everything I was doing that December day and applied for one of three spots to attend as a storyteller and volunteer on the trip. I hoped for the best and left for the holidays returning right after the New Year to receive the exciting news that I was selected to join the 2018 Follow the Liters team to Kenya!
As I prepare to leave for the trip today, I want to tell you a little bit more about LifeStraw and the what I will be doing for the next week in Kenya. I am thrilled to be going and doing the work I love so much. Traveling, volunteering and doing good! Making a difference has become so important to me throughout the years. I have been blessed with so many opportunities to travel and have realized how inequitable the world can be. Giving back to my family, friends, community and those around the world in need is a critical aspect of my life. I look forward to making a difference over the next week.
“There’s a false perception that women in Africa somehow don’t love their babies they way we do, don’t grieve their loss the way we would. That is simply not true”. – Melinda Gates
Did you know that every day in 2015 nearly 830 women died giving birth around the globe? Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 550 out of the 830 daily deaths. Ghana has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the region, yet much progress still needs to be achieved in the rural, hard to reach communities where the death among pregnant women remains much higher. Today, in Ghana the maternal mortality rate is 319 out of 100,000 live births as compared with 527 out of 100,000 in 1996 (World Bank). (The 2015 maternal mortality rate in the US is 14 out of 100,000 live births).
The good news is most of these deaths are preventable. By increasing access to health care services for expectant mothers (pre and post natal and labor and delivery by a trained midwife) more women and babies will survive.
A midwife holding a newborn baby in rural Ghana. Photo credit: USAID-funded project Saving Maternity Homes in Ghana
Banyan Global, a small women-owned and run international development consulting business has partnered with the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and Ghana Registered Midwives Association to help save the lives of women in Ghana through their Supporting Ghana’s Midwives: Strengthening Maternal and Child Health in Rural Regions Campaign.
The Saving Maternity Homes in Ghana program is one of the US Government’s initiatives combatting maternal and child mortality across the regions of Ghana.
Photograph of Midwives during GRMA 80th Anniversary Celebration. Photo credit: USAID-funded project Saving Maternity Homes in Ghana
I had the opportunity to speak with Tanya Hurst, Senior Program Coordinator at Banyan Global about her recent trip to Ghana last month to view the work on the ground. Tanya provided the following firsthand narrative of her experience working on the project and visiting the midwives in Ghana:
“Why Jobs? Because everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive. Yet, 1 billion people still live in extreme poverty. We have the power to change that”. – Becky Straw and Jody Landers, Co-Founders of The Adventure Project
The more I travel and learn about the world, the more inspired I am to give back and make a difference. Besides writing on non-profits and volunteering, I also like to donate money to causes and non-profit work that I believe in. However, if you are like me, it can be extremely daunting knowing where to even begin especially because there are so many ways you can give and so many charities out there. You can give a one-time donation to a charity that you love, you can purchase a “gift that gives” back, you can finance micro-loans to small businesses or even pay for a girl to go to school or a clean birth kit for a mother in Africa. The list of ways to give back is endless.
Perhaps because it can be so incredibly overwhelming yet exciting all the same, I am passionate about finding new models of giving back and sharing these organizations with you on my blog. Today, I would like to introduce The Adventure Project, a non-profit that “adds venture” to offer education, tools and resources for people to become entrepreneurs and change their lives. I had the opportunity to speak with one of co-founders, Becky Straw, and learn more about the inspiration behind The Adventure Project and what she and co-founder Jody Landers are doing to change the world. Here is what I learned.
Author’s note: This post is part of a series on my recent trip and climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, to read all posts click here.
Wherever I travel in the world, the one thing that always touches me most is the children of a place. It amazes me that joy, creativity and the desire to be loved is a universal thing that transcends borders, cultures, languages and even circumstances in life. Despite some of the utter hardships some children face – whether it be war, poverty, hunger or disease – I find that kids are still kids no matter what. They all love to play, to learn, to have attention and love, and of course to smile.
Visiting children at either a local school, community-lead program or orphanage has become something I try to do on every trip to the developing world. I have found that even a short time spent playing and interacting with children, even if we can’t speak the same language, does wonders for the soul. There are tons of places in need of volunteers and visitors however finding the right place to visit can be the tricky part. Thankfully the perfect place to visit was just a short walk away from the gates of our hotel in Moshi, Tanzania
Right behind the Springlands hotel lies an entire community of homes. I could smell the smoke from the fires filtering into my hotel room and wondered where it came from.
The Springlands Hotel is the base of Zara Tours, one of the leading trekking and safari outfitters in Moshi and is the company we employed for our climb to Mount Kilimanjaro. Run by Zainab Ansell, Zara Tours has been brining guests on amazing adventures for over two decades and has also given back to the community in which they serve through the Zara Tanzania Charity. Zara Charity works to develop and support vulnerable groups within their community such as porters, Maasai women, and local orphans improving the lives for many.
Like most parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Tanzania has been ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that swept across the continent killing an estimated 30 million people from AIDS-related causes since the beginning of the epidemic twenty years ago (UNAID 2010 report). In Tanzania alone, HIV/AIDS has devastated an entire generation leaving a nation of orphans. UNICEF estimates that there are over 3.1 million children in Tanzania living without parents of which an estimated 1.3 million are orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. For many of these children, an orphanage is the only place they have to find food, shelter, education and medical attention.
This post was first published on Motherly, a new digital community to help modern women thrive that was launched today.
Mother’s Day is always a special time of year as it is a time for mothers to be celebrated, appreciated and loved for the endless work we do to raise, nurture and love our children. Being a mom is one of the most wonderful gifts I’ve ever received and as a world traveler and writer on global health issues, I’ve realized how lucky we are as mothers to have the things we need to raise healthy children.
It wasn’t until I began traveling in the developing world that I got a sense of the enormous inequities for billions of mothers and their children who don’t have access to health care, clean water and sanitation, food and immunizations to protect themselves and their families. As an American, middle class mom of two, I took all these things we had for granted until I visited India, Ethiopia, Haiti and parts of Central America where I witnessed the struggles and tragedies that many mothers around the world face. So many moms lost their lives in childbirth delivering at home with no help or lost their babies due to preventable causes. It is heartbreaking and incomprehensible.
“Water is life….especially where every drop of water counts”
Today marks World Water Day, a day that people come together to advocate and fight for the fact that over 748 million people continue to live without safe water. It is unimaginable.
As someone who has traveled to the developing world and witnessed firsthand what lack of safe water is like, it has truly touched my soul. Women and girls are impacted even worse. They are generally the ones in charge of spending hours a day fetching and carrying water on their back or taking care of family members who are sick (or worse yet even die) due to lack of safe drinking water.
Now lets talk toilets. Not having access to sanitation is horrible as well. It spreads disease. It is embarrassing and it is not safe. Girls have been kept out of school due to lack of latrines or have been raped while trying to use them. When people are forced to open defecate it is humiliating and contaminating spreading disease.
Woman leaving the newly constructed toilet compound thanks to WaterAid.
Even here in the US we are witnessing great water shortages. California has experienced severe drought and has had to replace restrictions on its people. What will happen in 2030 when it is estimated by the UN that we could have a 40% water shortage worldwide?
What is not an infinite resource. Like many things, we need to protect and preserve it, not waste it but also give it to those in need.
We have a lot of challenges lying ahead. It will be the policies enacted today that will determine our future.
To join today’s actives and learn more, jump on twitter and follow the hashtag #WorldWaterDay. There are links to all sorts of articles on the concerns we are facing with water and sanitation.
I have also written quite a lot about water and sanitation on my blog. To read these posts, click here.