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The Original Loom this Mother’s Day

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Each Mother’s Day, we lift up and celebrate the work of mothers and community caregivers around the world. It is no easy task to nurture children, birth movements, or protect our shared future on Earth.

We know that you share our vision that through women’s leadership we can create a future of balance, health, and peace for our world, and we never forget that your partnership is making this vision possible — today and throughout our decade. This Mother’s Day, with your support, WEA’s carefully planted seeds can bloom.

WEA Project Lead Sunita Rao is the Director of Vanastree Collective and Project Lead for our Seeds of Resilience Project in Karnataka, India. Sunita’s work ensures that rural women leaders and small-scale forest home gardeners in one of the most richly biodiverse and therefore severely threatened regions of southern India can advocate for their rights, promote indigenous climate-resilient seed saving practices, and support climate adaptation and mitigation.

Sunita Rao teaching a group remotely about Indigenous seeds and the Vanastree seed bank to preserve this knowledge.

In her own reflection on what it means to nurture and protect, Sunita shared:

“Women…are able to sense the pulse of things in the natural world, which cannot be explained by words. It seems to happen almost by instinct, by an ancient calling that is written into their genetic code.

[It is] the feeling that happens to each of us as we touch our foreheads to the earth — the prostration is almost by reflex, unthinking, something you are so used to. Yet, each time there is that something that sparks off a connection to the Other, that almost gives you the power to be invincible while bringing that keen awareness that you are but a humble drop.

If you remember, that is — remember where the Source is, where the original loom where your own fabric was woven came from.

We are being bombarded by change that has made social and ecological refugees of many of us. In these dark times, the hope lies in the original memory of who we really are, in the primordial bond that connects us to the earth, in what we as women are capable of and…in keeping the sacred alive.

For it is this that will continue to nurture where all else fails. And this is what we must uphold, celebrate, and bring forth over and over again.”

In honor of our mothers — and all the unstoppable women in our lives — we invite you to make a tax-deductible contribution today. Stand with us and with leaders like Sunita as we remember the connection to our original loom, and preserve this hope for future generations.

From our hearts to yours, we wish you all the happiest of Mother’s Days!

Ripples from West Africa, a partner update from Ghana

Project: West African Women Providing Safe Water and Sanitation

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In 2010, Monica Ayomah participated as one of the eight local women trainers in the West African Women and Water Trainings in Ghana. We were thrilled to hear from Monica this month and learn how her leadership has so beautifully unfolded over the years. Today she is a WASH trainer in Ghana, touching the lives of countless more women — causing ripples of leadership, healthier communities, and a thriving earth!

Here’s a short clip of Monica during the training, reflecting on her role as a woman trainer and how important representation is for women in technology.

 

“They were thinking it was only men who can do construction, it was only men who can work on water for women to use.” 

It is widely understood that women are those most affected by poor water, sanitation, and hygiene deficiencies. In sub-Saharan Africa it is estimated that women spend a combined total of 16 million hours a day collecting drinking water. The hours spent gathering water are a significant loss of time that could be spent on generating income or engaging in other productive activities. The physical burden of carrying heavy amounts of water over long distances can lead to back and neck strain, and navigating unsafe distances place women at risk for assault and rape. Furthermore, as primary caretakers of the family, women often feel an increased burden when family members contract waterborne or related illnesses.

While many clean water initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa focus on installing wells or supplying communities with technology that could require maintenance as years pass, trainings that invest in the existing leadership and knowledge of women have long-term benefits. When women leaders who know what their communities need most are able to access what they need to be water and sanitation trainers, gain entrepreneurial skills, and receive seed funding to launch their own water projects designed to last, a ripple of change can take place. Monica has found that when women with established leadership introduce water and sanitation technologies, and are able to assess and communicate their viability to the community, the projects are well-received and sustainable over time.

The West African Women and Water Training, hosted by the Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) — an initiative co-founded by WEA, A Single Drop, and Crabgrass — supported women to become entrepreneurial leaders in the WASH sector through workshops on capacity building, business development, and technical training in a range of WASH development projects. The project also served as a platform from which the local women trainers could launch their facilitation careers. GWWI is now its own organization, continuing this vital programming in East Africa.

Monica trained the 15 teams of two on how to set up rainwater harvesting systems. Taking on that kind of leadership role, Monica said, she saw concrete ways her work could have lasting and far-reaching positive impact for other women and their communities.

“It wasn’t until I participated in a workshop,” she said, “that I realized I was empowered as a woman to empower other women to satisfy some of their own needs.”

She explained that participating in the trainings connected her with a network of grassroots change-makers. This network helped her see how WASH intervention had the potential to empower more and more women. She saw how she could positively impact communities by providing education around safe water practices.

“The training brought me outside my shell,” she said.

Monica came away from the 2010 Women and Water Trainings emboldened to carry her knowledge forward and help others gain skills, tools and confidence to realize those goals.

So, Monica started her own civil engineering firm!

Shifting professionally from masonry in private homes, Monica started a civil engineering firm and named it Won-Nyeya, meaning “God has seen” in the Builsa language. The firm works with WaterAid Ghana as a WASH construction partner and has five employees: a project officer, monitoring and evaluation officer, engineer, community development educator and a secretary. In the last few years Won-Nyeya has worked in the Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Volta regions of Ghana to implement Water Sanitation and Hygiene services to underserved communities, schools and clinics.

Monica Ayomah started a civil engineering firm, Won-Nyeya. The firm specializes in WASH construction and always involves the women of the beneficiary communities in order to ensure their lasting efficacy and because women get things done!
Women are mobilizing local materials for the construction of water points. They also take part in the construction process so that in the future, they can also repair the water points should it develop some problems.
Won-Nyeya building an institutional latrine for a community in what Monica described as one of the poorest districts in Ghana.

Sometimes, Won-Nyeya’s work involves constructing or improving infrastructure like wells, rain harvesting systems and latrines. The firm may also be called upon to train Sanitation Management Teams or conduct WASH trainings at schools and health clubs.

Monica credits the 2010 Women and Water Training for helping her see ways to build Won-Nyeya as a firm with an effective engagement model that puts women at the center of their own community’s progress. 

“Before implementing any WASH project we ensure that women are actively involved at the awareness creation and community level planning,” Monica explains, describing strategies Won-Nyeya uses that are clear and concrete while staying flexible enough to use effectively in various communities with different needs. In fact, water and sanitation management teams that are formed have at least three women occupying executive positions, training women as pump mechanics so that they are “actively involved in community decision making.” 

A training of water and sanitation management teams to ensure sustainability of their water resources. Women are in the picture are elected as executives by the community to manage the water points.

And she is just getting started! In the future Monica hopes to develop construction and engineering programs specifically for women and girls in technical and vocational schools, as well as continue to increase access to potable water and sanitation services in underserved communities. Won-Nyeya is still a young firm and Monica’s direction is taking them in exciting and inspiring directions!

These are the ripples of co-empowerment that grow and move outward from this work in endless directions, everyday!

An innovative partnership for peace, justice and environmental healing

Project: The Ripple Academy

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Have you heard about The Ripple Academy?

For the last 6 months, WEA and United Religions Initiative have worked together to develop a framework and launch this innovative new partnership, and we couldn’t be more excited to be working together to support more women around the world than ever before!

This holistic training program merges the very best of our organizational models, integrating leadership, conflict resolution, and peace-building with action-oriented skills and tools for on-the-ground impact. By combining WEA’s capacity-building training model with URI’s vast network of women’s circles around the world, thousands more will be reached and provided with the skills and tools necessary to spark lasting change.

For WEA and URI, this partnership has been like finding a long-lost sibling. As URI Executive Director Rev. Victor Kazanjian explains, our organizations share a “deep-rooted connection to the empowerment of grassroots people.” WEA and URI are both organizations deeply invested in listening rather than telling. We share the core understanding that the wisdom necessary for communities to create change already exists within those communities.

URI Director Rev. Victor Kazanjian (right) with special guests at the launch of “The Ripple Academy” in early March. Photo: Eli Zaturanski Photography

After years of arriving at the same conclusions – that environmental protection and women’s empowerment are essential precursors to developing stable and thriving communities worldwide – our organizations have chosen to link efforts to develop a unified strategy that will create a greater impact than either organization could achieve on its own.

For URI, this comes from years of understanding the nature of patriarchal religions, shares Victor. URI has worked in over 97 countries worldwide, and has seen that women are often the most effective grassroots leaders in their communities, despite the structural and societal limitations they face. This experience has strengthened URI’s commitment to working with and supporting women’s leadership networks. Women are getting the work done!

“What we know is this,” Victor says. “Where women thrive, communities thrive.” WEA obviously could not agree more!

The Ripple Academy is not about outside experts telling communities what is needed. This innovative partnership will provide training to women grassroots change-makers so they have the skills they need to affirm their own visions for their communities.

“We are both light framed organizations,” Victor explains, “we are not organizations looking to build a big center that dictates what should be done. We’re not a development agency. We push resources out into communities to women so they can create change in their own communities.

URI and WEA come together at a critical time – when efforts to build bridges across nations, learn from each other, and activate people power are needed more than ever. Our partnership enables both organizations to reach deeper and wider, catalyzing a global ripple effect that begins in our communities. The time is now.

WEA Celebrates World Water Day with Together for H2OPE!

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Happy World Water Day! Today, we celebrate all the amazing work grassroots change-makers around the world are bringing forth to ensure more women, more children, more families and more communities have access to clean water and healthy water systems. We couldn’t think of a better way of doing this than by uplifting the incredible efforts of the Together for H2OPE Project and its partners in Assam, India!

 

Together For H20PE

In the Spring of 2016, WEA partnered with Numi Organic Tea and the Numi Foundation on Together for H2OPE, a project committed to ensuring clean water to all 6,500 residents of the Tonganagaon tea community in Assam State, Northern India. Along with the Chamong Tea Company, which manages Tonganagaon’s tea leaf production, and local NGO partners Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) and Social Action for Appropriate Transformation and Advancement in Rural Areas (SATRA), this project is supporting Tonganagaon in implementing a multifaceted and comprehensive water system that will ensure clean and healthy water in their community for generations to come.

Assam state is famous for being one of the world’s largest producers of high quality black tea, and the Tonganagaon tea community is also Numi’s largest supplier of organic, Fair Trade black tea. However, the region is one of the poorest in terms of access to clean water; fewer than 1 in 15 households have access to tap water. The Numi Foundation has committed to ensuring that all of Numi Tea’s source communities have access to clean water, and reached out to WEA to collaborate on a comprehensive approach to ensure safe water access to all 12 villages of the Tonganagaon tea garden.


Why Water and Women?

It’s no secret that access to clean water is crucial to eradicating extreme poverty; when the UN introduced the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, they included a goal to ensure that everyone has access to safe water by 2030. Water is an essential building block of life; a community whose water sources put them at risk for illness face barriers of mobility. Water is often the first step toward ensuring a communities livelihood.

Furthermore, challenges to accessing safe water disproportionately affect women and girls, particularly in rural communities. It is most often women who collect water for households, risking their safety and health by traveling for hours a day to and from a water source. Water is a WEA issue because access to natural resources, education, and health are all women’s issue. When women thrive, communities thrive. 

 

WASH and the Importance of Grassroots Implementation

Ensuring a community has access to clean water is often more complex than providing a well. Public health workers use the term WASH to refer to the interconnected variables of water, sanitation, and hygiene. These are the measurable pillars that make up a healthy water system. If latrines aren’t up to date or well-placed, a monsoon could contaminate an otherwise safe water source; if clean water is stored improperly, contamination can make that water unsafe. No one principle of WASH is effective if all three aren’t implemented.

The goals of Together for H2OPE are in-step with a comprehensive WASH program:

  • Improve Infrastructure. Reduce contamination of the 900 existing wells by ensuring proper drainage and upgrading hand pumps and other hardware.
  • Ensure Treatment. Help the community learn how to boil and filter water to minimize bacterial contamination and iron, especially during the monsoon season.
  • Safe Storage. Support community members to safely handle and transport water once it is treated so it does not become re-contaminated.
  • Upgrade Latrines. Provide guidance to Chamong Tea Company, who will be improving existing latrines and constructing 900 new facilities over the next 3 years.
  • Engage the Community. Implement a training program that supports the community’s adoption of good practices in water management, sanitation, and hygiene.

The residents of the Tonganagaon tea garden will have safe water systems for generations to come. A safe water system is not just built by the engineers who are updating and adding safe and strong wells, but by members of the community who are deeply involved in and vital to their own transformation.

Water is a WEA issue because effective water solutions are never a top-down operation. Water solutions live within communities and the grassroots leaders like Bondita Acharya, Director of PBET, who explains that, “PBET’s role is to bring women into the core of the discussion on safe drinking water. Women spend most of their time, especially in the rural areas, tea gardens and hilly regions, fetching water from far flung areas. But when it comes to decisions on managing water they are sidelined. Access to safe drinking water is a basic right of every citizen, and is directly linked with reproductive health rights. However, it is not possible to access it if it is not integrated with sanitation and hygiene.”

As part of this integrated approach to ensure a sustainable impact for generations, in Tonganagaon, key members from each of the 12 villages will become WASH leaders and practitioners themselves. They will be trained to become trainers, holding demonstrations to educate their neighbors in healthy hygiene and sanitation practices.

 

A Unique and Effective Partnership

The partnerships of Together for H2OPE are in-step with what makes the WEA model so effective while remaining adaptable and light-framed. By connecting with mission-aligned partners like Numi Foundation, and woman-run local NGO’s like PBET, the project is ensuring that solutions are in reach of the visionary community leaders invested in their lasting application. This is how WEA and our partners support communities to thrive on their own terms and in ways that will have lasting effects.

This unique collaboration leverages local leadership to ensure relevance, while providing access to the globally recognized best practices and needed resources. We believe it’s a model that will maximize impact and sustainability, ensuring the farming community enjoys access to clean, safe drinking water for generations to come.  — Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Executive Director of the Numi Foundation

Join us this World Water Day to ensure that women, families and communities have access to clean drinking water. By supporting grassroots leaders, we support sustainable and long-term solutions to one of the world’s most most pressing concerns. You can learn more about this work here. Thank you for standing alongside us!

Stories are seeds that grow

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This International Women’s Day we are celebrating women storytellers around the world who protect our earth and safeguard our histories and traditions. Today kicks off a month-long tech drive to Support Women to Tell Their Stories. We are seeking donations of digital cameras, iPhones and other recording devices, iPod Touches, and laptop computers. 

As part of WEA’s training model, women participants gain skills in multimedia and storytelling so they can design and share their own narratives. Participants learn how to use cameras, recording devices, and laptops, as well as master effective storytelling and dissemination. Imagine how quickly our grassroots partners will be able to share replicable solutions with access to better tech tools!

Check out this slideshow from WEA Project Partner Vanastree. It depicts the Malnad Mela — a seed sharing festival in Bengaluru, India. This annual event spreads and celebrates women’s indigenous knowledge of their food forests, builds local economies around indigenous seed and food, and exchanges vital information about adapting to climate changes. Our partners could really benefit from having the tools they need to tell more stories like this.

To support women storytellers around the world on International Women’s Day, check out this flyer for details. Don’t have any tech to donate at the moment but still want to get involved? We are also accepting financial contributions!

Learn more here.