The Weight of Water

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Photo Credit: Kate Clayton-Jones
Photo Credit: Kate Clayton-Jones
“I came into this world carrying water on my head, and I refuse to leave this world still carrying it.”
—Mildred Mkandla from an interview with WEA Research Fellow, Beth Robertson, during the 2011 GWWI Women and Water Training in Uganda.

Mildred Mkandla, known as “Mama Maji” (Mama Water in Swahili) is the “MacGyver” of rainwater harvesting. She believes that every drop of water is precious and can be harnessed, captured and stored using almost anything. Give her some rocks and she’ll make a water catchment system. Give her a plastic tarp and she’ll capture rainwater off a thatched roof. Give her a piece of bamboo and she’ll make a gutter. Because rural grassroots communities may not have access to financial capital, appropriate roofs to hang gutters, or even the materials necessary to build tanks, Mama Maji works with African women to provide access to different water harvesting options that are financially feasible and contextually appropriate.  As the Rainwater Harvesting Trainer at both the 2008 and 2011 GWWI Women and Water Trainings, Mama Maji helped to construct various rain catchment systems for our participants to learn, including an 11,000 liter Ferro-cement tank.

Mildred first came to the Global Women’s Water Initiative in 2008 from Ethiopia where she was the External Relations Director of EarthCare Africa Policy Monitoring Institute. At the time she was a development activist with more than 35 years experience in the fields of health, education and environment focusing mainly on women and children. She shifted her focus to water, gender and health in 2000. Now a seasoned RWH trainer, Mama Maji has offered trainings all over Africa. Her biggest achievement in this respect was a project on Empowering Women through Rainwater Harvesting in Kenya. This project concentrated in Kajiado District amongst the Masaai Pastoralists where women compete with livestock for water access.

Mildred has since moved back to her homeland of Zimbabwe where she believes that everything must start at home. She lives on her organic farm with her family and practices what she preaches. She has a 46,000 liter tank, that she built, which provides enough water for her family and the workers who live there. She is reconnecting with her community to share the knowledge she has gained from her work around the continent.

 Mildred believes that teaching communities to create their own water source by capturing and storing rainwater is just one step in relieving women and girls from the burden of accessing water. The rest lies in the trainee’s commitment to enroll others in their vision.

“After building this tank in my community I have heard of others who want them too … I see a seasonal build — this season we build for one person, the next season we build for another person. We build and build until the whole community is covered with tanks and no one has to walk for water….”
—Grace Kyoma, 2011 GWWI Training participant from Kiotjo Integrated Development Association (KIDA), Uganda after she installed her first Rainwater Harvesting Tank in her community

Even with her contributions, Mildred believes that there is much work to be done. At the 2011 Training in Uganda, she encouraged the participants to sign the Buziga Declaration, stating:

“We 56 women from Sub-Saharan Africa and the United States attending the East Africa Women and Water Training at Buziga Country Resort, Kampala, Uganda from 4th to 17th July 2011; having reaffirmed the integral role of women in water security, sanitation and hygiene-WASH, Do here by commit ourselves to working towards a world water movement that is committed to ensuring that every woman has adequate access to safe water and sanitation by 2025.
Signed this 18th day of July 2011
Kampala, Uganda”

The signatories hope that the Buziga Declaration will raise multi-level awareness to ensure access to safe water and by so doing lift the weight of water off of women and girls.

We stand in solidarity with Mildred and are inspired by her efforts to do her part. Together we are doing the best that we can, like the story of the hummingbird as told by the late Wangari Maathai. Click the following links to see Mama Maji in action at the 2008 Women and Water Training and the 2011 East African Women and Water Trainings.

small tools, BIG transformation.

Project: Women Building a Water Movement in East Africa

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By Maame Yelbert-Obeng (Africa Program Director) with support from Kaitlin Swarts (2011 Intern)
 
The Africa Team is back from Uganda!

This month, we welcomed back the Africa Team from the 2011 East African Women and Water Training in Uganda.  This was our third Global Women and Water Initiative (GWWI) Training, following the 2008 and 2010 Trainings in Kenya and Ghana.  GWWI began in 2008 as a collaborative venture between Women’s Earth Alliance, A Single Drop, and Crabgrass and is currently a program of Women’s Earth Alliance in partnership with Crabgrass. In line with our values of recognizing the importance of home grown and locally-led solutions, GWWI builds partnerships with Africa-based organizations and African women trainers to undertake its training programs. In Uganda, we worked alongside a Uganda-based organization, iCon Women and Young People’s Leadership Academy, to amplify the voices and inclusion of grassroots women in the WASH sector.  Furthermore, GWWI knows the power of building alliances with men, and our training programs invite men to support this vision.  The GWWI Trainings create a space for women to connect, engage in dialogues around leadership and climate change, and develop specific technology skills to address issues of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

In 2011, GWWI featured two complementary trainings—the Advanced and Grassroots Trainings—over a two-week period from July 4-18.  We were thrilled to have some former graduates from 2008 participate in the 2011 East Africa Training as trainers-in-training.  We also welcomed 10 Fellows—four East African women and six international women—to offer peer support and in the process, enhance their knowledge and understanding of WASH-related issues. The Advanced Training laid the foundation for the strategies that were explored in the Grassroots Training.

Thirty-two women from communities across Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, joined the 24 women from the Advanced Training in the Grassroots Training. Over the course of the week, the women learned hands-on WASH technologies, engaged in group sessions, and upon completion of the Training, received seed grants to support the implementation of water projects in their communities. The teams of women representing their communities came to the Training having conducted a basic needs assessment to determine the appropriate technologies to address WASH needs in their communities.

Building on past trainings, participants focused on various aspects of WASH, including sanitation, water access, water quality, and alternative energy.  In addition to studying the theory behind these technologies, women learned to construct a ventilated improved pit latrine (or a VIP latrine), a rainwater harvesting system, a biosand filter, and solar cook kits. They also learned games designed for community sensitization and to improve hygiene and sanitation habits. The VIP latrine helps to improve sanitation by providing alternatives to open defecation and poor disposal of human waste, while the rainwater harvesting system allows for the collection and storage of large quantities of rainwater that can be accessed year-round. Biosand filters remove harmful bacteria from water, and the solar cook kits can be used for a variety of purposes, including cooking and pasteurizing water for drinking. The African continent is blessed with incredible natural resources like the sun.  Our hope is that the solar cook kits will optimize the abundance of this resource, and in the process, promote the well-being of women and girls who otherwise would be spending their time out of school and walking long distances to collect water and fuel facing the risk of violence.

Ventilated Improved Pit Latrine
Ventilated Improved Pit Latrine
Rainwater Harvesting Tank
Rainwater Harvesting Tank
solar cook kits
Solar Cook Kits
Biosand Filter
Biosand Filter
Investing in women transcends beyond hands-on skills and access to resources, to creating spaces for women to re-define gender roles and build their confidence and self-esteem as whole women leaders. The steps to building the water technologies enable women to break the stereotypes of women’s capabilities and allow women to identify with roles beyond that of mothers and caretakers, to non-traditional ones such as carpenters, masons, and technicians.
Mama Solar sawing a brickwoman roofing the VIPL
Our time together in Uganda also allowed for dialogue around the direct impacts of climate change on women and girls, as well as the access to and quality of water. Out of this dialogue came ways in which women can draw upon their leadership, knowledge of technology, and support networks to respond to the environmental challenges they face.
classroom speaker
As women remain at the helm of collecting and allocating water for various uses, it becomes even more critical to listen to their voices and apply their wisdom to designing efficient and effective solutions to water-related issues.
As the participants of the 2011 East Africa Training continue on this year-long program, they will implement two WASH projects with their target communities and with support from GWWI, the Trainers, and the Fellows. The Women and Water Trainings is one of several strategies in the larger response to the varying impacts of climate change on women and girls. We cannot wait to see how our partners in East Africa will build alliances with more women, girls, and men to begin a process to transform their communities!
women with tools

A Trainer-in-Training shares her story from the 2011 East African Women and Water Advanced Training

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The following blog post was written by Advanced Training Participant Nansubuga Immaculate.  Immaculate is a Trainer-In-Training at the 2011 East African Women and Water Advanced Training in Kampala, Uganda, where she is training to become a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) practitioner. She has come to the training from Katosi, Uganda, along with two other women from her organization, Rose and Mastuula, who participated in the Grassroots Women and Water training.  You can read Immaculate’s inspiring story below.
 

Nansubuga Immaculate (in pink hat) at the 2011 GWWI Training in Uganda.
Nansubuga Immaculate (in pink hat) at the 2011 GWWI Training in Uganda.

 

While at work, my boss sent me a link to the 2011 Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) East African Women and Water Training in Kampala, Uganda and encouraged me to look it up and apply. Honestly, it took me a whole week to visit the link. But when I did, I just knew I could not miss out on this opportunity. Prior to the training, I believed that I was not a whole woman leader, even though my profession required good leadership traits. Despite this, I wanted to attend the GWWI training because I considered it a great opportunity to elevate my Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) skills and bring positive change to the Mukono community, especially among the women from Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT).  The action-planning component of the Training appealed to me. I have always wanted to know how to make an action plan and be able to implement the strategies from start to finish. Despite my keen interest, I questioned my ability to contribute to and qualify for the 2011 GWWI Training. After all, I had never attended a GLOBAL conference before. 

Despite my fear, I was selected to be a participant (Trainer-in-Training) of the first annual GWWI Advanced Training Program, where I joined an amazing group of women leaders from around the world to discuss water and sanitation issues that threaten East Africa. During the training, I yearned to be a loud and strong speaker, but I realized that I am soft-voiced. Thank God for the Personal SWOT  [Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats] analysis. Through this exercise, my leadership style was realized, and I gradually understood that my weaknesses are another’s strengths and that working together makes our impact stronger. I am now content with my communication skills. I am soft-voiced, but firm and eloquent, which is an added advantage while facilitating trainings, interviews, and the one-on-one conservations that I facilitated during the Grassroots Training. Using my new-found strengths, I discovered that though quiet of voice, I can still be a strong lobby for rural communities to achieve equal development.

Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT) selected Rose and Mastuula to attend the 2011 Grassroots Training in Kampala. Mastuula and Rose saw the training as a great opportunity to learn to construct a Biosand Water Filter (BSF) to increase access to clean water in women-run households throughout the Katosi District. At the training they stood beside their East African sisters, affirming that women are the water stewards in their communities and have to stand up and act for themselves–especially widows. Women should stop self-pitying themselves because it is a strong contributing factor to under-development in rural communities. Through the training, they embraced the power of collective sharing, working in sisterhood with participants from communities throughout East Africa to change attitudes and negative behaviors of communities towards water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).
At the training, we learned that it is crucial to consider and integrate all community stakeholders and their needs when establishing any new water project. We covered sessions on climate change, leadership, WASH and appropriate technologies. The climate change sessions really resonated with me. In my community, climate change and its impacts are gradually affecting the livelihoods of the rural people. Their economies, health and environment are dwindling. The last long dry spells early this year affected agricultural productions and contributed to scarcity of water. Three KWDT women’s cows died and over ten were infected with diseases. The reduction in food productivity led to malnutrition, and scarcity of water increased poor sanitation–especially in schools and communal centers. My team identified the need for our community to be sensitized and made aware of the climate change impacts, mitigation, and adaptation techniques.
And to achieve my team’s WASH vision of “increased accessibility to clean safe drinking water in rural households,” we have to use an inclusive and participatory approach.  My team wants to achieve this big vision of all rural women living healthy lives and empowered to participate in economic, social, and political development processes. We also want to be free from dependency and achieve self-supply of not only WASH facilities, but also what the world offers for a better change among rural women.

So, this training is a big step to achieving our goal. Though this is a big challenge ahead of Katosi Women, we have to put the fears aside and stand strongly to achieve this.
Thanks to Gemma, Jan, Maame, Debbie, Beth, Women’s Earth Alliance, iCON, Crabgrass, the GWWI participants, the strong communities and NGOs for enabling us to take this step.
EEEEEE….. WOMAN EEEE…!!!

Fellows in Action! 2011 East African Women and Water Training in Kampala, Uganda.

Project: Women Building a Water Movement in East Africa

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IMG_1799

Photo: Beth Robertson

The 2011 East African Women and Water Training has begun! Women’s Earth Alliance’s Global Women’s Water Initiative, in partnership with Crabgrass and iCon Women and Young People’s Leadership Academy, is currently leading the third African Women and Water Training,  strengthening women’s voices  in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector.  To learn more about GWWI and the 2011 East African Women and Water Training  in Kampala, Uganda, click here.
GWWI Fellows  are women graduate students and development professionals from around the globe who act as global peers for participants of the 2011 Grassroots Training in Uganda. For full bios of the 2011 GWWI fellows, click here.
The following post is written by GWWI Fellow Samantha Winter

  
I have always imagined a world in which every woman could stand up in front of a room full of sisters, friends, or strangers and say without hesitation, without self-doubt, without self-criticism, “I am a powerful woman! I am a leader! I am a global water champion!”

Today was an inspiring manifestation of the strength, wisdom, compassion, and hope of every woman that lives each day with a dream that global access to reliable, adequate and safe sources of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is an achievable reality. It was the first official day of the 2011 East Africa Global Women’s Water Initiative Training in Uganda—a day in which the seed of an empowered world was planted. I have no doubt that it was also the first day of many in which that seed will continue to be nourished through the actions, love, and support of GWWI women leaders from across five nations. Although today was only the beginning of our journey as GWWI fellows, there is already a sense of kinship and camaraderie among the impassioned women, and it gives me hope that the transition for a better world is alive and well within the hearts, minds, and work of every woman around the globe.

Each woman present in the training shared a unique and fundamental connection to water; yet, despite the many differences in personal experience, background, or knowledge of water, almost everyone seemed to embrace the ideas that water is the essence of women, women are the heart of water, and water symbolizes peace. Today was an internal journey as much as an external forum for cross-cultural information sharing. It was an opportunity to rekindle the spirit of water and leadership within each of us, and to open up our minds, bodies, and hearts—our whole beings—to the power and knowledge of ourselves and our fellow water sisters and champions. Through leadership activities, program and personal introductions, and a discussion on climate change I felt the enthusiasm, the, passion, and the exuberance surrounding women’s connection with, roles in and contributions to WASH expand steadily throughout the day. In addition, I watched every participant gallantly bridge cultural and racial boundaries, form relationships, build trust, and put her faith in the power of a unified network of resilient women that will, undoubtedly, expand the reach of WASH throughout communities around the world. I truly believe that together we will exceed expectations, shatter social, political, and institutional boundaries, and show all the men, youth, children, naysayers and future leaders in our own communities and around the world that empowered women have the power and the capacity to create lasting, sustainable development, particularly in the WASH sector. After all, water is the essence of women, women are the heart of water, and water is peace.  We are the peace leaders!

So let the GWWI games continue!

Women in the Center of Crop Diversity & Food Security

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Women farmers displaying indigenous seeds that they save at a community seed bank in Karnataka.
Women farmers displaying indigenous seeds that they save at a community seed bank in Karnataka.
Blog entry by Rucha Chitnis, India Program Director, who is traveling in Southern India to research women farmers’ green traditional knowledge systems for farming, seed saving and managing their natural resources.
Let’s start from the very beginning.  And some might say that it all began with the seeds. Seed, a symbol of fertility and perpetuity, of culture and sustenance in India, is also becoming a symbol of self-reliance and a key resource to preserve the biodiversity of indigenous crops on small farms across the country.In Southern India, GREEN Foundation, a community-based organization that works with small and marginalized farmers, including tribals and Dalits, in semi-arid regions of Karnataka, has immersed itself in this challenge of promoting the conservation of indigenous seeds among farmers since 1996.
 
During my visit to the Foundation, I learn that women farmers are in the center of their seed conservation efforts due to their gendered roles as the primary seedkeepers in India.  The Foundation began its work with five women farmers and a handful of indigenous seeds. “When we began talking to the farmers, we realized that traditional varieties of seeds had almost disappeared. Without seeds what we were attempting to do would be a non-starter,” notes Dr. Vanaja Ramprasad, founder and a seed conservationist.
The Foundation believes that women farmers also hold the key to preserving the biodiversity of the crops and their knowledge systems of seed saving and mixed and natural farming are vast, which need to be documented and promoted.  Dr. Vanaja shares an example of an elderly woman farmer, who identified nearly 80 varieties of greens in her field, as well as their uses for medicinal and nutrition needs. “Her knowledge was phenomenal,” she says. “When it comes to food security, women play a key role in identifying food that is available. In lean seasons, they trek to the nearby forests, and they are able to identify roots and tubers for their food requirements and medicinal plants.”
Dr. Vanaja Ramprasad, founder of the GREEN Foundation
Dr. Vanaja Ramprasad, founder of the GREEN Foundation

 

This intimate knowledge of women, believes Dr. Ramprasad is often undermined by the scientific community and biotechnology companies who promote agro-technologies, which might not be appropriate for rural communities, and especially for the economically disadvantaged farmers. Dr. Ramprasad shares that some of the greens on the farms, which poor farmers in India subsist on during lean periods, might be considered as weeds by some agro-companies, which are eliminated by herbicides.

The Foundation programs promote the conservation of agro-biodiversity, ecological farming practices, seed conservation and creation of community-managed seed banks.   Seed conservation has been in the center of the programmatic efforts of the Foundation. Their research and analysis showed that India’s Green Revolution in the 1960s eroded the diversity of indigenous seeds with the introduction of the high yielding varieties of seeds and pervasive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  As farmers moved away from the practice of saving and exchanging seeds with their neighbors and families to buying the HYV seeds from the market, their own indigenous knowledge systems related to farming and seed saving became slowly irrelevant in the face of industrial agriculture.

 Gene bank of indigenous seeds set up by the GREEN Foundation
Gene bank of indigenous seeds set up by the GREEN Foundation

 

“India is a land that had over 100,000 varieties of rice,” she says, but now only a few popular varieties are sold in urban markets. The Green Revolution also focused on intensive cultivation of rice and wheat and ignored other indigenous varieties of crops, like millets–considered to be a vital source of nutrition in rural India.  The Foundation encourages women farmers to save indigenous varieties of millets, which are ideal crops to grow in arid and semi-arid areas as some varieties are drought-resistant and require little water for irrigation, compared to rice and other cash crops. As small-scale and marginalized women farmers largely depend on the rain for their irrigation needs, millets are an important source of food security in areas where recurring droughts or dwindling and unreliable rainfall cause stress among farmers.

“In many ways, we have to rekindle the pride that the farmers have in their traditional farming systems,” says K. P Suresh, Associate Director of the Foundation. He believes that the traditional role women play in seed selection, seed conservation, and seed treatment to prevent the crop from developing unhealthy, are critical and need to be documented and promoted.  Seeds also symbolize the cultural heritage of communities across India, and they are an integral part of many rituals, ceremonies and festivals.  And seed conservationists, like Dr. Ramprasad, affirm that the practice of seed saving has been a cornerstone of farming traditions that made agriculture, itself, a way of life.