LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

How LifeStraw is Saving the Planet and Lives

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 brining 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.

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

Demonstrating washing hands with safe water

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

Trying out the LifeStraw Community Filter

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

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)
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LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

What a Week in Western Kenya with LifeStraw Taught Me: Water is Life

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.

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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.

The arrival

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 caravan of 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

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Kakamega Rainforest, Kakamega, Kenya

The Journey to Reach the One Millionth Child with Safe Water in Kenya

“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.

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Andrex Angola

Andrex® partners with UNICEF to help save lives in Angola

Clean water, basic hygiene and sanitation – collectively referred to as WASH – are essential for the survival and dignity of people around the world. Despite being a basic human right, clean water and adequate sanitation is tragically not available to millions around the world; especially the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

It is hard to imagine that today there are around 2.4 billion people who do not have access to improved sanitation, and 663 million who do not have access to improved water sources (1). Without these basic requirements, the lives of millions of children are at risk. Children under the age of five are especially at risk, as water- and sanitation-related diseases are one of the leading causes of death. Every day, over 800 children die from preventable diseases caused by poor water and a lack of sanitation and hygiene. (2)

Angola, a country of roughly 23 million people in Southern Africa, has tried to move forward after 27 years of brutal civil war yet remains a struggling country with high levels of poverty, maternal and children under age five mortality rates, and one of the worst sanitation problems in the world. The most recent National Census figures (2014) report that more than 10 million people lack access to improved sanitation, with the majority of the unserved living in rural areas, where only one in four has access to adequate basic sanitary services (3). Open defecation rates average 40 percent nationally, with 74 percent open defecation found in rural areas. Only 36 percent of the population report that they wash their hands after defecation. As a result, contamination remains widespread in Angola, with frequent cholera outbreaks and a high level of deaths in children under age five caused by caused by diarrhoeal diseases – the vast majority of these caused by poor sanitation and hygiene [4]. The good news is that this can be improved and lives can be saved.

Andrex®, the UK’s leading toilet tissue brand, is partnering with UNICEF, the world’s leading children’s organisation, to help tackle the sanitation problem in Angola. The Andrex® and UNICEF partnership is funding a Community Led Total Sanitation programme in Angola that provides knowledge and resources for children and their families about the importance of sanitation and helps them build their own clean, safe toilets. With knowledge and resources, communities are empowered to develop their own clean and safe toilets stopping the spread of dangerous, often fatal disease and also providing people with dignity and respect

Andrex Angola

Edson Monteiro, Water and Sanitation Officer for UNICEF engages with the Waleca Village on issues of hygiene and sanitation during the Andrex® and UNICEF field trip, May 2016. Photo credit: Slingshot Media

 

Tom Berry, head of sustainability for EMEA at Kimberly-Clark commented:

“Every child deserves a safe and clean toilet. Lack of basic sanitation affects people’s dignity and escalates the spread of life-threatening diseases that can be fatal to children and their families. My recent trip to Angola highlighted how people are positively affected by partnerships like this. In the three-year partnership, Andrex® and UNICEF are aiming to raise £600,000 and impact over 180,000 lives in Angola.”

Andrex Angola

Victorina Tchinhngala, 13 years old from Waleca, an open defecation free village washes her hands outside their latrine during the Andrex® and UNICEF field trip, May 2016 demonstrating how Andrex® funding into safe sanitation is impacting the lives of children and families in Angola. Photo credit: Slingshot Media

SOCIAL GOOD

The things we take for granted: Access to safe water

Today’s post is a guest post written by Sarah Dobsevage, Institutional Development Manager of WaterAid America. The post is about her recent experience in Senegal when a water pipeline broke down causing severe water shortages throughout Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. 

DSCN3843

The author, Sarah, with her mom, Ruth, and daughters, Meira, standing, and Talia, in her arms, in Saly. Photo credit: Sarah Dobsevage

 

As a mom, as a professional and as someone who loves to dive deeply into new cultures and experiences through travel, I’ve had an admittedly good lot in life.  I have two beautiful daughters, a tremendously fulfilling job at an international non-profit called WaterAid, and the opportunity to spend time overseas in support of WaterAid’s programs that are helping poor communities in 27 countries across the world get access to toilets and clean drinking water.

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Guest Post: On the Ground in Madagascar with WaterAid

Clean water and sanitation are a worldwide problem that impacts millions around the globe. The figures are startling and unimaginable. Per WHO/UNICEF estimates, 783 million people  (11% of the world’s population) in the world do not have access to safe water. 2.5 billion people (35% of world’s population) in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation. Tragically, around 700,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation – that’s almost 2,000 children a day.

WaterAid is one of the world leaders in providing clean water and sanitation throughout the developing world. I have been honored to see their work on the ground during a May trip to India and have been sharing stories about their amazing work around the globe on my blog. Earlier this summer, I shared a story about the work WaterAid is doing in Madagascar to provide toilets and taps to school children.

Over the summer, WaterAid has worked to to reach 12,000 children in 31 schools by providing 150 taps and 100 toilets in Madagascar. Ernest Randriarimalala a field officer with WaterAid visited one of the projects in mid-July and I’m honored to share his update of the progress that has been made on the ground below.

Per Randriarimalala, “A key element of the photos here is about the hopes, dreams and potential for the future of the children in this primary school in Tsimahavaobe village. Some photos show children drawing and presenting their drawing of what they want to be when they grow up“. I hope you find this report inspiring of the the good we can do by giving people the simple luxury of safe water and sanitation.

WaterAid Madagascar

Children who have been helped by WaterAid’s work in Madagascar. Photo credit: Ernest Randriarimalala/WaterAid.

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WaterAid: Imagine life without access to clean water

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All photos credited to WaterAid and used with permission.

Can you imagine living a life without access to clean water or sanitation? Something as basic yet critical as clean water and access to a toilet is a luxury that many people around the world in developing nations simply don’t have.

Global Health Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises Poverty SOCIAL GOOD