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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!

Taking steps toward clean water in an Assam tea garden

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Assam, India is famous for its high quality black tea and home to Numi Tea’s largest supplier. Yet Assam is one of India’s poorest states, in terms of access to safe drinking water. Fewer than 1 in 15 households have access to tap water. Many women and children walk up to 3 hours per day to collect and carry water for their families, facing security risks, poor health, and barriers to productive livelihoods.

In 2016 WEA and the Numi Foundation teamed up with local NGOs and the Chamong Tea Company to launch the Together for H20PE Project in a commitment to bring clean water to all 6,500 residents of the Tonganagoan tea community, and to ensure residents have the knowledge and resources they need for a healthy water system for generations to come.

Together for H20PE’s first step in the spring of 2016 was to conduct a preliminary WASH assessment of Tonganagoan’s water system. “WASH” (shorthand for water, sanitation and hygiene) is a multi-faceted approach to assessing and developing healthy water systems. A WASH program looks at resident’s access to clean water as well as the community’s sanitation and hygiene practices. A good example of a WASH approach is recognizing that improperly stored water, even clean water, can cause contamination and make someone sick. Each aspect of a healthy water system enforces the others.

Demonstration on hand washing
Building a diverse and comprehensive outreach plan is essential to widespread adoption of healthy WASH practices.

The project’s implementing partner Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) brought in Aranyak, a local conservation NGO, to help assess Tonganagoan’s existing water infrastructure and understand resident’s current water practices. Their comprehensive assessment guided the team in planning structural improvements while PBET designed an outreach approach to ensure the widespread adoption of healthy WASH practices.

From summer to fall of 2016, the team conducted a pilot program in one of the 12 villages that make up the Toganagoan Tea Garden. Over the course of two Training of Trainers workshops, volunteers learned the ins and outs of the technical WASH principles and built up their communication skills. These new trainers will be leaders for healthy water practices in their community. To support their outreach efforts, the team specifically learned some songs to remember WASH practices and developed a street play for public WASH demonstrations. (Below is a snippet of a song about hygiene!)

In the Training of Trainers workshops, volunteers learned how to conduct water tests and interpret the results from samples.
Volunteers learned songs and put together skits to engage their community in WASH techniques. Listen to one of the songs about hygiene that the new trainers teach to children.


The pilot program answered many key questions about outreach and education in the community. Extensive home visits and demonstrations helped the team pinpoint which water treatment practices are most readily adopted by residents and how to help volunteers be effective stewards of WASH practices.

Using everything they learned from the pilot program, we’re busy collaboratively designing a Master Plan to engage the other eleven villages in WASH practices. We’re so excited to see Together for H20PE take shape and make an impact in these communities.

Photos Show Why The North Dakota Pipeline Is Problematic

Project: Shedding Light on Environmental Violence in North America

Topics: , , , ,

A protester is arrested for standing on the outer layer of barricades that separate the protest site from the police line and construction zone on Monday morning. Photo: Daniella Zalcman
A protester is arrested for standing on the outer layer of barricades that separate the protest site from the police line and construction zone on Monday morning. Photo: Daniella Zalcman

Last week, the U.S. federal government gave approved the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will run for 1,172 miles to transport crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields to Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline would travel through lands sacred to the Lakota people, and cross under the Missouri, Mississippi, and Big Sioux rivers. Just one spill would mean contaminating farmland and drinking water for millions.

Hundreds of land defenders and protectors, including Indigenous community members and their allies, are gathering at the Sacred Stone Camp to say no to the pipeline.

This article from Buzzfeed shows what’s happening on the ground through a series of beautiful photos. And this article by Democracy Now! features an interview with Indigenous leaders and those standing on the frontlines of this battle.

Climate Change Effects Lead to Mass Migration in India

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

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Source: Neeta Lal/IPS
Source: Neeta Lal/IPS

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“Displacement for populations due to erratic and extreme weather, a fallout of climate change, has become a scary reality for millions of people across swathes of India. Flooding in Jammu and Kashmir last year, in Uttarakhand in 2013 and in Assam in 2012 displaced 1.5 million people.”

South Asia continues to be hard hit by the effects of climate change. High temperatures, rising sea levels, and increased cyclonic activity in India are creating large-scale migrations. Just in the eastern Indian state of Assam and in Bangladesh alone, its been estimated that a million people have been rendered homeless. As droughts and flash floods prevent the success of crops, as much as a quarter of India’s population has been affected — many of whom, as we know, are women farmers who are the backbones of rural communities.

With precious resources, like land and water, being depleted by every passing day, we as a global community must come together to support one another as we address ‪climate change, and find solutions for those already hit the hardest. We believe women are key to finding, and implementing, these solutions.

To read more about this issue, click here.

Why Women Have the Solutions to Climate Change

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india washing

According to Yannick Glemarec, deputy executive direct of United Nations Women, and mirroring what WEA has seen in our own work in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, “Women are the first to be affected by climate change in every single country in the world.” Furthermore, women in so-called developing countries are hit the hardest.

As primary caregivers, many women in poorer countries are responsible for trekking miles to collect water and fuel. When climate change depletes water, women notice first. Water is a climate change issue, and climate change is a women’s issue…

As climate change puts pressure on natural resources, fresh water is becoming scarcer, food prices are increasing, and infectious illnesses like the Zika virus are on the rise. Worldwide, women tend to be poorer than their male counterparts and have less representation in policymaking. All this means they are the first to be affected by climate change and the last to be heard on how to combat it.

But even as women are typically the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the ripple effect that causes (e.g. natural disasters, food and water scarcity, etc.), they are also the ones best positions to develop and implement solutions.

Read more about how this informs our work and what we do about it, and read the full article, “Why Fixing Climate Change is Women’s Work” over at Yes! Magazine.