GWWI Women and Water on Wednesdays: The Future of Women and Water – Meet GWWIs Youngest Participants

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Martha and Irene
Martha and Irene
Martha and Irene were the ‘baby sisters’ of the GWWI 2011 Training! At 18 and 19 years old, they hail as the youngest participants to ever attend a GWWI training. But they are far from ‘babies”! Their vibrant spirit, fresh perspective and youthful curiosity was only overshadowed by their incredible leadership! Martha and Irene came to us from Educate!, an award-winning organization that trains select high school students to participate in a 2 year program to become social entrepreneurs. This was an exciting collaboration forged by Echoing Green Social Entrepreneur Fellows Gemma Bulos, Director of Global Women’s Water Initiative and Eric Glustrom, Executive Director of Educate! As part of Educate’s program, youth work in collaboration with communities to help them identify their most urgent needs, and water has emerged as one of the priorities.
Martha in action
Martha in action
With Global Women's Water Initiative Director Gemma Bulos
With Global Women’s Water Initiative Director Gemma Bulos
Enter GWWI and Martha and Irene! All of the GWWI participants, young and old were so impressed by Martha and Irene’s inspiring public speaking savvy and their capacity to lead, despite their young age. Martha and Irene learned how to build various rainwater harvesting systems and were the first of the 15 teams to be able to implement their technology! Within 2 weeks of the GWWI Kampala training, they were on site in the village of Kagulu in northern Uganda. They were able to build a roof catchment and ISSB tank (interlocking stabilized soil block) at the Blessed Family School in 5 days as well as offer a community workshop on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) education and introduce the Solar CooKits – making a solar cooker out of cardboard and reflective material for cooking and pasteurizing water.

In the following interview, Martha and Irene talk about their experience – what they learned, what they were able to do, and how the GWWI support team of Fellows and Trainers helped them to realize their goals!

“GWWI gave us a Support Team …. and these guys have been our heroes! They’ve helped us see things in a different perspective…. It has been one huge experience!

We hope you are as inspired as we are by these young “Water Champions”! The future of women and water is bright, thanks to these Martha and Irene!

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International Women’s Day: A Powerful Reason for Hope

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Women farmers and rural NGO leaders sign a Declaration of Women Farmers to assert their rights as farmers at the 2011 India Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training Program
Women farmers and rural NGO leaders sign a Declaration of Women Farmers to assert
their rights as farmers at the 2011 India Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training Program
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Happy International Women’s Day!
It is fitting that we take this inspiring day to focus on women’s leadership. In 2012, WEA will be deepening the conversation about the centrality of grassroots women’s leadership in sustainable development processes.
At WEA, we have seen first-hand how grassroots women leaders are driving change in their communities.  Through our partnership with the Global Women’s Water Initiative, we see how women are stewards of their water resources and are providing safe, clean drinking water to their communities. Similarly in India, our partner, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group has been holistically building the capacities of small and vulnerable women farmers so that they can reclaim their rights as farmers: overcoming hunger by farming organically, saving their indigenous seeds and restoring the health of their soil and natural resources. And in North America, Indigenous women leaders are organizing to protect their traditional homelands from industrial and commercial development.
Grassroots women’s leadership is key to building community resilience. Women are leading by example. Their work is community-based and community-driven. And women are building the leadership of others to meet the environmental and climate challenges of our time.
Small tools, big impact!
Small tools, big impact!

Here are some inspiring stories where women are leading by example: Manju Devi, a farmer and trainer in Bihar, India, is participating in the Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training Program, a partnership of Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group and WEA.  Manju has gone on to mentor and guide 144 women on seed saving, mixed farming and organic farming practices in her community. And in Kenya, two inspiring participants of the 2011 East African Women and Water Training brought clean water and hygiene education to a women’s prison Kenya in partnership with their organization, Life Bloom Services.  We also recognize that the exclusion of women from the planning of development programs—whether it is water and sanitation schemes, sustainable land and resource management efforts or climate change adaptation programs—can lead to a high rate of failure.  Through our partnerships with grassroots groups, we can see that when women have access to information, resources, training and peer support, they are able to promote the food and economic security of their families and build their resilience in the face of environmental and climate challenges. And we are honored to support the efforts of grassroots women leaders around the world and share stories of their accomplishments.
It is amply clear that when we invest in women, we invest in food and economic security, community health and protection of land and our precious natural resources. Join us as we deepen the conversation in 2012: how can we powerfully stand with the leadership of grassroots women leaders who are on the forefront of struggle and transformation?
We hope that you will consider making a tax-deductable donation in support of women’s leadership to usher a safer, more equitable and healthier world for all.
In solidarity,
WEA Team

GWWI Women and Water on Wednesdays: Celebrating GWWI Water Champions on International Women’s Day

Project: Women Building a Water Movement in East Africa

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GWWI Women &Water training 2008 with Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai

GWWI Women &Water training 2008 with Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and we here at the Global Women’s Water Initiative can’t imagine a better way to celebrate than to highlight the work of the GWWI grassroots teams and Fellows! It has been 9 months since the GWWI East African year long training program launched in July 2011 and since then fifteen water programs in three countries have spawned!

When the Global Women’s Water Initiative was first birthed in 2008 by Gemma Bulos, Jan Hartsough and Melinda Kramer and their respective organizations (A Single Drop, Crabgrass and Women’s Earth Alliance), we set out to find powerful grassroots women leaders and coordinate trainings to equip them with tools and skills to address one of the most pressing global issues of this century – access to clean water and sanitation. Since then we’ve met, learned from and shared with who we believe are some of the most inspirational women in Sub-Saharan Africa who are making significant contributions to their community. Many teams came to us with little or no experience in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, but had missions that were focused on the empowerment of women tackling issues such as community health, environmental degradation, land rights and poverty.
The teams who applied and were selected to participate in our GWWI trainings knew that their programs to address these issues needed to be supplemented by women’s access to clean water and sanitation.  As Kofi Annan stated
The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights.” – Kofi Annan

Since 2008, GWWI has supported women who have never picked up a shovel in their lives and watched them transform into powerful WASH agents of change in their communities! Since then,

  • 45 two-person Teams have participated in three GWWI training learning WASH Education and Technology Implementation
  • GWWI teams have built technologies providing over 6000 people with improved access to clean water and/or sanitation and thousands more have benefitted from their WASH education seminars
  • 1/3 of the programs are income-generating
  • GWWI graduates have professionalized their services been hired as WASH Education facilitators and/or technology implementers
If you’ve been reading our blogs, you’ve read about Catherine Wanjohi and Susan Njeri Karaja of LifeBloom who uplift ex-commercial sex workers and create alternative livelihood programs for them. LifeBloom has integrated the WASH technologies and strategies they learned from GWWI as part of their vocational education. They have since been hired to install Biosand Filters into a women’s prison in Kenya. A hearty congratulations to Catherine who has since been accepted at Kenyatta University pursuing her PHD degree in Women and Development, specifically focusing on issues of the sex workers community in relation to development.
You’ve also met Rose Wamalwa, one of GWWIs African Fellows who has been our ear to the ground and an incredible support for the GWWI Kenya and Tanzania teams.  She recently founded Women in Water and Natural Resource Conservation in Kenya and credits GWWIs mentorship as the impetus to start her own organization.  And we offer her another heartfelt congratulations for Rose’s nomination as a Darwin Scholar to participate in the Monitoring and Communicating Biodiversity program hosted by the Field Studies Council in Oxford, UK.
We invite you to read more about all of the women who have come through our program! You can read about the teams from our blogs throughout the years.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks to meet more of the GWWI graduates and Fellows in our GWWI Women and Water on Wednesday series!
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We love to read your comments! Please let us know what you think 🙂

King Peggy : A Royal Example

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 By Maame Yelbert Obeng , Africa Program Director at WEA
This past thursday night-February 23rd, as I was flipping through the TV channels, I stumbled across a program with Tavis Smiley on PBS.  I was immediately attracted to the program just from the clothing of the guest on Tavis’ show and the accent seemed quite familiar—the guest was adorned in rich and detailed traditional attire worn by royalty in Ghana and the articulation was certainly coming from someone with roots in Ghana, I thought to myself. Tavis was engaged in a very captivating and educational conversation with Peggielene Bartels on the book she co-authored, “King Peggy”, in which she writes about her unique journey as a Secretary at the Ghana High Commission in Washington DC, her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of how she is making meaningful changes in the small Village of Otuam in the Central Region of Ghana.
I was inspired from the onset; even after the interview ended my mind still lingered, probing deeper into why the story of Peggielene resonated so strongly with me. It occurred to me that her story touches some key issues and debates around development and progress in Africa: To begin with, as the first female ruler she is building on the precedent that is emerging for African women’s leadership at various levels of society. This story, like others where women are serving as presidents (Liberia) or are the majority in Parliament (Rwanda) are helping to transform and emphasize how women are core to development and community resilience.
King Peggy is already investing in education, counseling young girls on their futures, and bringing basic amenities such as clean water to her village. King Peggy maintains her job as a secretary despite her new duties in Ghana, which enables her to mobilize resources to support her village–Perhaps it takes a smart, diligent and humble King to do as such. King Peggy stands as a potent example of how when you educate, invest and elevate the leadership of women, development blossoms. Now more than ever, there is enough reason to invest in women because when women thrive, communities and future generations also thrive.

I am also reminded that in the dialogue for development in Africa, the community-based approach to development is a very viable option that needs to be explored and employed along with various structural adjustments and macro-level strategizing. Gleaning from Peggy’s story of how she is bringing social and structural transformation to an impoverished village of 7,000 residents, it is clear that we can approach development from the ground up, one community and village at a time. With bold and visionary leadership as showcased by King Peggy, It is possible to generate alternatives that resonate powerfully with the various conversations happening around how to move the development agenda of the continent forward.

In broader meaning, King Peggeliene Bartel’s story is a powerful example of how when each one of us activates our inner power, we can transform every space and every moment in which we exist. There is a king in each one of us, waiting to be awakened.

You can hear more of Peggielene’s interview with Tavis Smiley :

The book is “King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an Africa Village.”
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Mama Solar Shines with Solar CooKit

Project: Safe Water Solutions for Sub-Saharan African Women

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Mama Solar Shines

Faustine Odaba, or Mama Solar as she has been so aptly named, is the Sun Queen  – teaching women all over Africa how to cook and pasteurize their water using simple solar technologies. She is the award-winning Founder and Director of Natural Resources and Waste Resource Alliance dedicated to promoting eco-friendly technologies. Her motto, “Waste No Waste” embodies the work she does by teaching grassroots women to pasteurize water and cook using the solar technology, conducting simple water tests using the Portable Microbiology Lab, and making bags, mats and other household products crocheted out of used plastic bags.

Mama Solar has been one of GWWI’s core trainers, having joined us at our Women and Water Training in 2008 in Kenya, 2010 in Ghana and again in Uganda 2011.  We first met Mama Solar at the World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya in 2006. We were researching and laying the foundation for our first Women and Water Training and connecting with Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement and GROOTS Kenya, who ultimately became our partners for our 2008 Training.  Mama Solar’s bright smile and infectious spirit not to mention her delicious corn bread amongst the 100s of thousands of people, drew us into her tent where we discovered one of the most intriguing and simple technologies.  She introduced us to the Solar CooKit as an affordable technology to using fuel and firewood for cooking and boiling water!

The Solar CooKit is one of the few free ways to treat water by pasteurizing it with the sun. The process of pasteurization doesn’t require the high heat of boiling (100deg Celsius) but rather a sustained lower heat for a longer period of time. With a sunny day, a black pot to increase the heat, a plastic bag to place the pot to trap the heat and the Solar CooKit, women can treat their water. Its free and because they just put it in the CooKit and leave since it requires no tending, they have time to do other things like chores or even avail of livelihood opportunities.

cooking with the solar cookit

The Solar CooKit is made simply out of cardboard, glue and reflective materials. Its can be used anywhere there is sun. Mama Solar has brought the technology to women in refugee camps in Somalia and the Sudan, slum dwellers in Kenya, and rural women all over Africa. She has stories of women collecting old boxes and the foil from cigarette packages and inside juice boxes to make their own CooKits.

With women like Mama Solar who shine as powerfully as the sun, the future of women and water in Africa is bright and full of hope!

Learn more about GWWI.