Florence and Fulera bring Improved Access to Drinking Water to Ghanaian Schools

Project: West African Women Providing Safe Water and Sanitation

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The following article was written by Beth Robertson, Research Fellow at Women’s Earth Alliance. This article was published in the Spring 2011 “A Matter of Spirit” newsletter published by Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center.  To read more click here.

4544593725_836a1d379d_bIn 2010, two powerful women leaders from Ghana—Florence Iddrisu and Fulera Mumuni—participated in a training through the Global Water’s Initiative.  They were introduced to four different area appropriate technologies designed to address issues of water and sanitation.  Following the training, these women leaders developed an action plan to construct a rainwater harvesting system that would serve the women’s dormitory at their local high school.  Florence and Fulera chose Bimbilla High School for their project because, like many schools across Africa, it was not equipped with ample water facilities.  Students and teachers would often have to bring water to school or fetch water during class time, limiting time devoted to studies.Women in Bimbilla, Ghana—and women all over the world—are the cornerstones of their communities.  They shoulder the burden of water-harvesting, spending countless hours fetching and managing water for drinking, agriculture and cooking.  Women are also key to improving access to safe drinking water in their communities.

Florence and Fulera’s pilot project brought tremendous change to Bimbilla, decreasing the hours that female students have to walk in search of water.  The female dormitory at Bimbilla High School now has a complete rainwater harvesting system that serves 210 female students, providing them improved access to potable drinking water at the school. Today, Florence and Fulera continue to spread knowledge of low cost, effective solutions to inadequate sources of water in other areas in their community.

Safe drinking water is a human right and the participation of women in conceiving technologies to address issues of water and sanitation is essential. The Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI), a program of Women’s Earth Alliance in partnership with Crabgrass, embraces the idea that local women leaders who understand the needs of their communities merely need the resources, confidence and training to inspire change and improve the health of their communities. GWWI holds capacity-building trainings throughout Africa to equip local women leaders with technology training, networking support, and seed funding to launch sustainable water projects in their communities. “Access to fresh water and sanitation does not only improve the health of a family, but it also provides an opportunity for girls to go to school, and for women to use their time more productively.”  Women are the stewards of their natural resources in their communities and therefore hold the key to improving access to safe drinking water in their communities.

Florence and Fulera’s model succeeded because of its bottom-up, grassroots nature. Top-down, dependency driven development solutions have failed communities too many times.  Co-designing solutions to development challenges based on local vision rather than outside wants are the foundation for sustainable development—investing in existing leadership and knowledge of women who know what their communities need most. This approach avoids the pitfalls of top-down practices and outsider-generated attempts at assistance that can fall short or even reinforce damaging dynamics. For sustainable development to take root, we must rely on the local, environmental stewards and community caretakers to identify and co-design solutions that address issues of water and sanitation. Local women understand the needs of their community; all they need are the resources and confidence to design solutions and engineer change.

We are Together: Sharing observations from the 55th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women!

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UN Women's Commission on the Status of Women
UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women
 By Maame Yelbert-Obeng, WEA’s Africa Program Director

During the first week of March, I had the opportunity to attend part of the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) organized by the United Nations at its headquarters in New York. This year’s CSW session, focusing strategically on “Gender, Education, Science and Technology, and Employment,” was special as it coincided with the historic launch of The UN Women—created from the amalgamation of the various gender units of the United Nations. The UN Women has a strong foundation from which to build, drawing from the lessons learned by the various gender units that have now combined to create the new collective approach for addressing women’s rights and empowerment. Thankfully, the organization’s focus on connecting with grassroots women already is a positive sign for engaging and amplifying the voices of women and girls who for long have been invisible and marginalized in the mainstream women’s movement. It is exciting to know that UN Women will draw from multiple talents from diverse backgrounds to accomplish its mandate.

The Commission’s strong focus on youth is a key, as youth leadership is crucial to designing innovative solutions to the world’s challenges. Young women and men who are part of networks such as the Moremi Initiative, an organization with the vision to engage, inspire and equip the next generation of women leaders and Young Women’s Knowledge and Leadership Institute (YOWLI) showcased the leadership potential and on-going creative solutions being generated by youth for social change, at the CSW event. Sitting in the various spaces where these dialogues and sessions occurred, I felt not only a glimpse of hope, but also gratitude for the abundance of resources not in the traditional sense of money, but in the potential for what  strategic engagement and investment in youth could contribute to addressing the world’s challenges in a holistic and equitable manner.

Being part of an organization that is filling in the gaps and making linkages between women and the environment via innovative solutions to food, land, water and climate justice, it was invigorating to see the urgency the CSW created around addressing the impact of climate change, particularly as it affects women. Several panels and sessions focused on creating integrated solutions and resilience to this issue, and in the African context, it was groundbreaking to see grassroots women leaders and groups as well as youth from Uganda, the Gambia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Namibia and Kenya, sharing their stories of how they are mitigating the impact of climate change. At the same time as the CSW program, Groots International/Huairou Commission organized an extended session on leadership training for grassroots women globally, who are working directly at the intersection of gender and the environment.

I made some personal and important connections at CSW that will allow for a deeper engagement with networks and organizations on the ground in Africa to ensure economic and environmental security for women. These connections along with Women’s Earth Alliance’s core programs in capacity building, communication and advocacy will strengthen our work in Africa and contribute to making meaningful and sustainable changes in the lives of women and girls on the continent and in the diaspora. They will also inform our partnership model based on mutual respect for local knowledge and expertise, peer learning, and the ability to prioritize the most marginalized groups, as we equip them with various skills and resources and facilitate the space for them to set the agenda and design innovative women led solutions to environmental challenges. I believe that on this journey to ensure women’s livelihoods and environmental justice, we work, sing, dance and fight together and never alone.

Indigenous Women and the Way Forward from Fukushima

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Photo: Havasupai prayer items at uranium mine near Red Butte in Northern Arizona.
“In a [Navajo] creation story, the people were given a choice of two yellow powders. They chose the yellow dust of corn pollen, and were instructed to leave the other yellow powder—uranium—in the soil and never to dig it up. If it were taken from the ground, they were told, a great evil would come.”
—Winona LaDuke, Director, Honor the Earth
While Japan reels from tsunami and an escalating nuclear catastrophe, the Obama administration last week affirmed its commitment to nuclear power’s role in our national “clean energy” portfolio.  Our leaders can’t account for the safety of our 104 domestic nuclear power plants in a major earthquake, the national security risks of nuclear proliferation for energy, or the nuclearwaste disposal conundrum.  Nonetheless, uranium mining and the development of new nuclear power facilities continues apace.

 

Women are raising their voices to demand safe energy.  Renowned activists like Helen Caldicott and Joanna Macy, along with scores of concerned women at the grassroots, denounce nuclear energy as a dangerous and foolhardy enterprise from its cradle – the environmental and public health damage wrought by uranium mining, to its grave – the unsolvable problem of radioactive waste disposal. 

These leaders call attention to the unique and often disproportionate health impacts borne by women, children and fetuses from nuclear radiation.  They describe the outrageous risks of nuclear energy as an intentional or accidental weapon of war.  And they share a vision for a nuclear-free U.S. energy portfolio.

 

Indigenous women, particularly, stand at the front-lines of the nuclear energy debates, with their lives and the lives of their families and communities threatened by uranium mining.  Southwestern tribal peoples such as Navajo, Havasupai and Western Shoshone suffer the egregious impacts of uranium extraction on water, land, and health – especially because of the relative lack of federal protection for tribal natural resources and public health in the face of the uranium boom. 

In some Navajo communities, for example, one person on average from each family – thousands of people, overall – has died from health issues related to uranium exposure in the mines.  The largest nuclear spill in U.S. history took place on the Navajo Nation, at Rio Puerco in 1979 – and yet the federal government recently authorized the reinitiation of mining activities at that very site.  Lands surrounding the Grand Canyon are uranium-rich and targeted for mining – threatening the water sources and lives of Havasupai peoples who live downstream from many of the proposed mines. 

But women like Carletta Tilousi (Havasupai), Anna Rondon (Navajo), and Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) speak out about the dangers of nuclear energy to their peoples’ bodies and sacred lands. These courageous women are part of a larger movement of Indigenous leaders articulating a powerful vision for a carbon-free, nuclear-free future.  Tribal lands, currently exploited for coal, oil, gas and uranium, are replete with renewable energy resources – it is said that the entirety of the Southwestern U.S.’ solar energy potential could power the entire U.S. electricity grid. 

 

WEA’s Advocacy Network stands in solidarity with Indigenous women environmental leaders, providing critical technical expertise to support the realization of their visions for a sustainable, balanced, just energy portfolio.  Tribal lands, presently exploited as “energy colonies,” can lead by example towards a renewable energy-powered future.  The crisis in Japan calls us to move towards a stable, life-protecting energy portfolio – fortunately, Indigenous women leaders are offering us all a map to this powerful, necessary path.

 

Caitlin and WEA in the news

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Women Earth Alliance’s Advocacy Director Caitlin Sislin was interviewed by VolunTourism, an organization that promotes volunteering around the world.
In it she says,

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“Collaboration with and support of … women leaders is really an investment in health, sustainability and justice for communities.”

Read the full interview here!

Report from the West African Women and Water Training

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Preparation Days-Global Women’s Water Initiative West African Women and Water Training
By Mariah Maggio

The latest adventure of GWWI’s Women and Water Training program in bringing powerful African women together to create solutions for water issues has begun!

The phrase, “hit the ground running” was never as appropriately applied as to how it describes the flow of our schedule when we stepped off the plane into the muggy enveloping heat of Accra, Ghana’s coastal capital city, at 9:00 p.m. on Monday night. Within two hours of stepping off the plane we were meeting with the director of Kokrobitey Institute, the venue where the Training is being held. 

The first steps when we arrive in the host country are to connect with our host country partners, search for materials, coordinate logistics of travel for the participants and ensure everything is set up and operating smoothly by the time the participants arrive. 

The GWWI Women and Water Trainings have a component which aims to teach the women participants about appropriate technologies through practical hands-on learning. The West African Women and Water Training gives the women the opportunity to learn one of three technologies (BioSand water filters, composting toilets, rainwater harvesting), along with the construction of Solar CooKits and water testing with the Portable Microbiology Laboratory.
So the challenge lies in locating, purchasing and delivering all of these materials in one week! The days were full, often eating the noon meal at 3:00 p.m., hot, hectic and absolutely productive! This was due in large part to the efforts, attitude and graciousness of one woman, Cecilia Mensah, who works with ProNet Accra, our on the ground partner for the Women and Water Training. She and I spent the day together, driving around Accra in her car, checking off lists and ending the day with a call to plan for the next day and say good night. Her daughter, Samuela, selflessly gave us her mother for five straight long days and we are truly grateful! Here they are below sitting down on our last day of shopping waiting for the welder to finish making our BioSand filter mold. 

If you have never had the experience of having a personal shopper I suggest you try it here! Start with a list of the things you need, locate a shop that looks reputable that you pick at random or have been pointed to, get rushed out of the hot sun and into a chair, the list is whisked out of your hands and two or three young men are employed to rush around, appearing and then disappearing from sight, finding all of your materials and adjusting them when it’s not quite what you wanted. All this while you are chatting with the store keeper, sipping icy “pure water” out of a 500 ml plastic sachet and eating fresh mango or pineapple pieces out of a plastic bag (which you got from the lady walking halfway down the street who had the tray of fruit carefully balanced on her head)! I did at one point, while navigating the narrow lanes of Accra’s central market, move the 20 liter buckets we had just purchased onto the top of my head, purely out of necessity for trying to squeeze through the crowds, and what a reaction I received from the women to see this white lady carrying her goods in the African way! 

I was accompanied the last day by the two other technology trainers, Ayooma A. Monica and Nasiba Sibaweh, who come from a town called Tamale, Ghana. These ladies are experts in the construction of community toilets and rainwater harvesting systems. Their efficiency in finding and buying their outstanding materials was impressive, especially when Monica essentially took over this man’s plumbing shop and had to turn people away when they asked for her assistance. With our hired truck piled with materials we arrived at Kokrobitey Institute and got to work on preparations for the technology trainings. With the help of two local masons we enlisted, we built three BioSand filters, the foundation and cover for the composting toilet and the foundation for the rainwater harvesting tank (located at a nearby primary school that has no access to water). Nasiba is seen below forming the squat holes for the composting toilet in the wet concrete.Also joining us for the technology preparation was Faustine Odaba, “Mama Solar,” from Nairobi, Kenya who participated in the 2008 African Women and Water Training and is here again to teach the women about the incredible potential of cooking and pasteurizing water with the sun. She painted pots and buried herself in carton boxes, working non-stop to get her materials ready. 

So we are prepared and ready to receive these women and teach them the a few simple, appropriate technologies which they will be able to take back to their communities and implement!

 

I am humbled by all of the people I have met and observed in the week I have been here, from the woman who’s shop we frequented for construction supplies telling us she was so glad we had come because now she could pay the school fees for her daughter in secondary school to the children by the roadside selling us plastic jerricans (for carrying water) for $0.80. 

Day 1-Global Women’s Water Initiative West African Women and Water Training

The anticipation and preparation has been building for a long time for this day! The first day was filled with gems, from stories to realizations and lessons learned, shared by the women participants, organizers and trainers!

 

A powerful tradition has started to open the GWWI Women and Water Trainings with a water ceremony allowing women carry water from their homes to the Training and together we pour our water together in one vessel, telling our stories and uniting as one from the beginning with an understanding and respect for what we have come together for during the next seven days. 

We learned about the issues surrounding the water we all brought together; about how young girls are dropping out of school due to the demanding daily chore of collecting water, how water sources are shared by animals and people alike, how contaminated water caused the death of 14 children in one village in one week, how some water is abundant but taken for granted, the time and distances it takes for some women to find their daily water, how successful rainwater harvesting projects have brought clean water to school children…the stories were moving and inspiring and at times shocking, horrifying and humbling. Here are a few highlights that stuck with me from what the women shared: 

  • “The only water source in this community is like Milo (the local brand of chocolate milk powder); all you need is milk and sugar to take it.”
  • “I want to use the school children as agents of change to help the community change their attitudes and behaviors.”
  • “When you start in development another issue always rises up…we were waiting for a savior to come (to help us) and it happened with the announcement of this Women and Water Training.”
  • The babies are drinking this dirty water when they are only two days old; tears almost flew from my eyes when I heard about it.”
  • “These horrible water situations are keeping women’s attention when they should be using that time to be involved in economic activity.”
  • “The people in Lagos (the capital of Nigeria) run their taps when they aren’t even using the water and they don’t think about the people 5 kilometers away that don’t have water…wastage in one area is a lack in another.”
  • “I was humbled when I learned that not only was the water coming from my household tap in the United States, but also the water in my toilet, was drinkable!”

 

The impact of the ceremony created in everyone a real sense of responsibility to take what they learn at this Training back to their communities to help create change for those whose stories we had just told.

The morning hours of the Training are filled with sessions on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and action planning while the afternoons are devoted to practical technology training sessions. We discussed as a group, with brilliant insights and sharing from all of the women, the challenges and opportunities of African women in relation to water and the effects of climate change on water and their environments.

Today we started the afternoon sessions on a high note with Mama Solar, Faustine Odaba, giving a demonstration on solar cooking and directing the women in making their own CooKits, which they will take home with them. This dynamic, energetic and inspiring woman has been cooking with the sun for over 20 years and has motivated these women to change the way they have until now thought about the sun in their daily lives. She endears herself to an audience in the first few moments she speaks. 

The anthem for the day came from one of the Cameroon participants, Catherine Makane Mwengella, which we stood and sang many times to remind ourselves of the common goal of being here this week talking about women and water, challenges and solutions.
“We are one. Eh Eh! We are together. We are one.”
 

The next few days will be intense and rich and rewarding and we are excited to channel knowledge and new skills to the women from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Togo, and Liberia to strengthen the work they are already doing on water, sanitation and hygiene in their communities to create more waves of healthy change.

And as we fall asleep tonight the rain has begun to fall here in Ghana!