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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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!

Special Announcement: Mama Catherine, 2010 GWWI Training participant, will be at WEA’s Gala!

Project: West African Women Providing Safe Water and Sanitation

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Mama Catherine and Alice, participants of the 2010 GWWI Training in Ghana, parade the Biosand Water Filter they constructed with their community through the streets of Cameroon.
Mama Catherine and Alice, participants of the 2010 GWWI Training in Ghana,
parade the Biosand Water Filter they constructed with their community
through the streets of Cameroon.


What could be more exciting than having one participant of the 2010 West African Women and Water Training in Ghana join WEA to celebrate its 5th Birthday!

On May 18th, Catherine Makane Mwengella from Cameroon will join our community for the 5th Annual Gala at the Julia Morgan Ball Room in San Francisco. We cannot imagine a better way for our community to directly hear the voices of our Africa-based partners with whom we have collaborated to design and implement sustainable water projects to improve the health of communities across Africa.

Catherine Makane Mwengella, who acquired the nickname “Mama Catherine” during the 2010 training, is the President of the NGO Women for Peace in Cameroon. In Ghana, she taught us several songs which have been woven into the fabric of WEA– “We are Together” and “Progress.”

With overwhelming support from their community, Mama Catherine and her partner Alice Balemba Njanga, the Deputy Mayor of the Konye Rural Council in the Southwest region of Cameroon, came to the 2010 GWWI African Women and Water Training in Ghana on a mission to provide clean drinking water  in communities across the Southwest region. Mama Catherine and Alice’s vision of ensuring safe drinking water is imperative to their communities health and safety, since most families have little access to potable drinking water (approximately 5 gallons per day).  

While in Ghana these two dynamic women received training on the Biosan Water Filter (BSF). Alice and Catherine took this knowledge back to their communities and immediately started to inspire better health in their region. Not only have these two incredible women joined their community in constructing a Biosand Water Fiter, they have also taught over 188 people in four villages the principles of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) since March 2010.

We are thrilled to share our respect for Mama Catherine and our incredible pride in the efforts she and Alice are bringing to Southwestern Cameroon with our WEA Family on May 18th.

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.

Ndudi and Elizabeth Improve Sanitation and Community Health in Western Nigeria

Project: West African Women Providing Safe Water and Sanitation

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Elizabeth at the 2010 GWWI Women and Water Training in Ghana
Elizabeth at the 2010 GWWI Women and Water Training in Ghana

The Global Women’s Water Initiative continues to make ripples of change! 2010 GWWI team Ndudi and Elizabeth of Western Nigeria recently met with members of the Idoye community to collaborate on solving  issues of water and sanitation in their area. During the meeting Ndudi and Elizabeth introduced the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) program and, with the help of the community, constructed a much needed Eco-san composting toilet.  To the members of the Idoye community, the Eco-san toilet will decrease the amount of open defecation and bring real change, improving the health of the community and ensuring the well-being of future generations.

Ndudi at the GWWI 2010 Women and Water Training in Accra, Ghana
Ndudi at the GWWI 2010 Women and Water Training in Accra, Ghana

The 198 participants included school children, the community chief, community health officers and women leaders. Through WASH education activities, these groups learned about water collection, safe storage, the importance of clean water and the benefits of sanitation. In order to promote sustainability, the toilet was constructed with local materials, keeping the costs low while supporting the local economy. Ndudi and Elizabeth also gave an orientation and posted instructions about the proper care and use of the toilets. By mobilizing a maintenance committee and sharing the knowledge of the technology with a diverse group of community members, Ndudi and Elizabeth have ensured that the facility is kept clean and continues to be useful for the Idoye community.

The project was an extraordinary experience for the GWWI team, Ndudi and Elizabeth and the community at large. As the team reported, “It was a very great opportunity to improve the health condition of our women and children who are most vulnerable to poor environmental conditions.”

With dedication, compassion and joy Ndudi and Elizabeth, along with the members of the GWWI Team and the Idonye community, have brought real change to the region. Their inspiring story adds a drop in the rapidly spreading ripple of the Global Women’s Water Initiative. To learn more, visit GWWI.

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.