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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!

WEA not alone

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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“As a young child, barefoot women and girls carrying heavy containers of water on their heads, walking long distances under the searing sun were a common sight. The reality of this stayed with me, and I knew I would do something about it someday.”

 

Meet Olanike Olugboji, a WEA founding mother, who participated in our first Women and Water Training in Kenya, and then returned to Nigeria with a clear vision and a strong network. Equipped with technical skills, entrepreneurship training, and seed funding, Olanike launched her own NGO called WISE, which today has trained over 3,000 women in clean energy, safe water technologies, and entrepreneurship. Her work has created refuge for Nigerian women, who risk rape or assault on the long walks to fetch water and firewood, as well as opportunity for women to create a livelihood and secure a future for their children.

After joining WEA as a regional coordinator, Olanike linked with women around the world, and today has a global reach. Olanike is a correspondent with World Pulse, a recipient of numerous international awards, and a participant in several prestigious leadership trainings. WEA is now collaborate with Olanike and her team at WISE to train women in promoting and selling clean cookstoves, linking up with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in Nigeria. (If a woman cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner over a wood fire, she suffers the equivalent of smoking between 3 and 20 packets of cigarettes a day. Over 120,000 Nigerian women die annually from inhalation of firewood smoke.) Olanike’s impact on the environment and on women’s well-being and livelihood has only just begun.

Together, we can build the leadership of women who will create a future of balance, health, and peace for our world.

Women Climate Warriors

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“I’ve got a 25-year-old son named Abe. I’ve got a 20-year-old daughter named Jessie. I would throw myself in front of a bus if it was coming at them. We all need to throw ourselves in front of this bus called climate change.”
— Mindy Lubber, one of Vogue’s 13 Climate Warriors

 

Have you seen the absolutely stunning piece VOGUE published just as COP21 was getting underway? The articleand the profoundly beautiful photographs by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin that accompanied itfeature 13 of the formidable women leading the way on climate action.

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Meet all 13 of these fierce women by checking out the full article here.

While we so deeply respect these women climate warriors and all they do, we also recognize that there are many more women living on the frontlines of climate change and taking action to protect their communities.  We are humbled and honored to support a number of these women and communities.

[In the News] The First Woman Of Women: How Melinda Gates Became The World’s Most Powerful Advocate For Women And Girls

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We’re loving this look at the life and work of Melinda Gates, co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and a champion for the health and rights of women and girls.

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Photo: Forbes

Melinda Gates has stepped up to use her voice and platform, as well as make those huge, critical investments. We are so inspired by the message this sends about the importance and global impact of investing in the leadership of women and girls.For the first decade and a half of its existence the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation deployed its remarkable scale toward eradicating polio and malaria, and experimentation in education issues. But over the past few years Melinda Gates has embraced having her name on the letterhead of the largest-ever charitable foundation, along with the influence that comes with that. She has become the most powerful person on the planet whose singular focus is women and girls…

“When you get women in roles of leadership, we make things happen,” Gates says. “It takes us using our voice, and it also takes us making investments, huge investments, in women and girls.”

It’s through women leaders like these, believing in the women leaders on the ground, that we can change the world.

Read the full article on Forbes.

Phionah: From Sex-Worker to Water Champion

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By Gemma Bulos, Global Women’s Water Initiative Director

I have been a sex worker for so many years, but when I met Godliver (GWWI Head Technology Trainer), I have withdrawn. She trained me on tanks, now I can make bricks, I can make a tank… I think I can almost be a technical engineer!
Phionah Mbugua

Every once in a while you come upon someone who is truly the embodiment of transformation and inspiration. For our Global Women’s Water Initiative, Phionah Mbugua is that person.

Phionah came to GWWI through Life Bloom Services International. Life Bloom works with commercial sex workers providing them with emotional counseling and services as well as vocational training to consider alternative livelihoods to uplift themselves from their situation. Life Bloom women leaders have been participating in the Global Women’s Water Initiative Training Program since 2011, where they have been learning to  become water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) technicians, educators and entrepreneurs.

Phionah was one of Life Bloom’s clients. When her husband left her 14 years ago with 2 kids, she had to raise her children on her own. And with a 7th grade education, she felt her only alternative was to sell her body.  She was invited by Life Bloom to learn how to build a rainwater harvesting system and tank from GWWI Technology Trainer Godliver Businge. Phionah was astounded to meet a woman who not only could build things like tanks and toilets, but who was teaching other women these same skills.

Because of Phionah’s talent and interest, Life Bloom’s Executive Director who has been elected as the Board Chair of her local water board, withdrew from the GWWI training program to let Phionah take her place. Phionah has since been hired by Life Bloom as their first WASH program manager and is currently construction WASH technologies, offering WASH education in schools and in the community. And she’s getting getting paid to do this work.

In this video Phionah shares with her GWWI sisters and fellow participants her story of transformation. (Transcript below)
 

Hello. I think I’m one of the retired sex workers! I have been a sex worker for so many years, but when I met Godliver, I withdrew. She trained me on tanks, now I can make bricks, I can make a tank, I think I can almost be a technical engineer. Yea, with my fellow colleagues the sex workers,  we have done the first tank we did it in a primary school and we want to do the other tank in a primary school.

So my fellow sex workers, they are very happy because when you come from building the tank, in the evening, we are so tired, even we can’t be able to go to the streets! I appreciate Godliver for the change she has brought to us because we were selling our bodies day and night you see because we don’t have anything to do in our life. Like, we don’t have courses. Like me, I learned up to class 7.

So right now, I’m learning, I want to do my class 8 next year. I want to get my diploma certificate this year so I’m sure I’ll do it, because you have empowered me.  Now my children are appreciating me. They are appreciating my job, even my family. Because before I was a drunkard, I couldn’t even listen to them. But right now I’ve changed. Like now my mom yesterday was asking me

“Oh, where are you going?” and I told her,

“I’m going meet other women in Kisumu. I’ve never been to Kisumu.”

And right now, even me , I don’t even feel like selling my body.  I’m very fit now. I’m 45 years (old). I’m retired and I don’t want my young girls who are behind me to follow my steps. Right now I want to follow these steps – of building tanks. Building biosand. And I think for biosand I am qualified because the last three weeks, the mortar followed me so I think  I have one certificate.

So I thank you ladies. We are together. I’m from Life Bloom. And I think because I’m interested, that’s why my boss withdrawn for me, ‘you can go instead of me Phionah.’ Because I’m interesting, interested and I’m strong.  And I will do it. And right now I’m going for another tank. Thank you so much!

For more inspiring stories, follow GWWI on Twitter at @womenwater -or- @gemmabelle, and join us on facebook.com/womenwater.