Friday, March 30, 2012


n:  an Nguni word from South Africa that addresses the notion of our interconnectedness as human beings. Sentence: "Umuntu ngumuntu ngamuntu:" “I am a person through other people.”

I have been contemplating the implications of ubuntu in my journey to finding my life’s purpose. One February afternoon, I met with Phil Hutchings, founding member of BAJI (Black Alliance for Just Immigration), to learn how his experience with activism could inform my direction as an emerging activist. During the civil rights movement, Phil played a role in organizing youth to protest racist Jim Crow laws, leading to his involvement in the founding of BAJI.  His work with in the civil rights movement manifested ubuntu in a profound way – it brought attention to our interconnectedness as humans.

I was born in Ghana, but have lived in the United States since I was eight years old. My efforts to embody ubuntu remind me of the privileges I enjoy in a society where I have all the tools to reach my highest potential. Reflecting on the tension between my privilege, and having family members who don’t enjoy the same privileges, influences what I do. Currently, I am a Research Fellow at Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA), an organization that highlights the role of women in the environmental sector. I spend my time with the Sub-Saharan Africa program that supports ongoing efforts of African women to create holistic and women-led solutions to environmental challenges. The recognition of our interconnectedness and interdependence is reflected in WEA’s core belief that “when women thrive, communities, the environment, and future generations thrive.”
 Global Women's Water Initiative East Africa Women and Water Training Program 2011
If the notion of ubuntu is to be manifested in our everyday lives, then we have a responsibility to act when other human beings cannot enjoy their basic rights and live a life of dignity. Ubuntu presents infinite possibilities for us to bring our highest selves, knowing that “when we do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”   

"Umuntu ngumuntu ngamuntu:" “I am a person through other people.”

By Priscilla Ankrah, Research Fellow, Sub-Saharan Africa Program - Women's Eartha Alliance

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

GWWI Women and Water on Wednesdays: How Do I Know My Water is Contaminated?

Results show water is contaminated
Can you tell if water is not contaminated just because it is clear? Don’t be fooled! Micro-organisms or germs that can make us sick are too small to see with the naked eye. In fact, 1000s of micro-organisms can even live and multiply on the tip of a pin!  I’m sure we all knew this from our high school biology classes.

However, even if we didn’t take biology in school, we’ve not, as a culture, ever had to wonder if the water we are drinking and using is contaminated because we have incredible infrastructure that purifies the water before it gets delivered to us and then processes our waste in our sewerage systems. But obviously, that is not the case everywhere. In the regions where the Global Women’s Water Initiative works, you would be surprised to know that the majority of the people may not even know that it is contaminated water that’s making them sick or even if they did, they wouldn’t know how to identify which water source is contaminated. 

So the question is: How do you determine if your water is contaminated? If you know that your water is dirty, how do you determine how it got contaminated in the first place? And to ensure that proper water protection and treatment are being employed to reduce risk of illness, how do you teach ‘germ’ education when you can’t tell if water is contaminated just by looking at it? 

Mildred testing water
So the simple answer is water testing. Just to give you an overview, when testing water for biological contamination like cholera, typhoid, parasites etc, obviously, it would be extremely expensive to test for each disease.  However, it was discovered that all of these diseases are spread through feces. So in 1900, it was realized that the best “indicator” to determine if any one of these diseases are present in water is to test for E.coli, a naturally occurring bacteria in a mammal’s digestive system. Testing for the presence of E.coli in water would indicate that there is recent fecal contamination and the water has high risk of disease.

However, current water testing methods are extremely expensive, labor intensive and requires expertise. Many developing countries don’t have the resources to test water regularly, which is necessary since water’s quality can change especially during rainy season. 

Robert (Bob) Metcalf, Professor of Microbiology at California State University, Sacramento has come up with a solution. He had been traveling to South America and Sub-Saharan Africa introducing solutions to treat contaminated water, but found it very frustrating not to be able to have a cheaper and simpler way to test if a water source was safe or if a treatment was effective. Bob used a combination of existing tests and designed a simple and cheap water testing methodology called the Portable Microbiology Lab. 

Comfort Incubating PML
The PML uses tests that don’t require expensive equipment or labs. The PML can be used directly at the water source, be incubated by our own body heat, and the next day a community can determine if their water source is contaminated or if a water treatment is effective. This methodology is currently being implemented by organizations around the world including UN-Habitat in East Africa and being hailed as the ‘missing link’ in implementing effective water and sanitation solutions. 

The PML is one of the most important technologies that we introduce to the GWWI participants. We ask the participating women to bring their community’s water to the training and they learn how to use the PML by testing it.  At every single training, we have witnessed one of the most profound collective “aha” moments because a majority of the women ultimately discover that their water is contaminated and they didn’t even know it. 

When the women return to their communities after the GWWI training, they use the PML as an educational tool to determine the quality of water in their communities and spur action!  Using the tests have been a catalyst for the women to introduce WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) education around the importance of proper hygiene practices, source protection, water treatment not to mention as a tool to create demand for their water strategies.

With tools like the PML, GWWI women have an opportunity to really impact health in their families and communities! 

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

GWWI Women and Water On Wednesdays: Katosi Women's Development Trust Wins the 3rd Kyoto World Water Grand Prize!

CONGRATULATIONS are in order! Global Women’s Water Initiative is thrilled to share that our resource partner Katosi Women's Development Trust (KWDT) has just won the 3rd Kyoto World Water Grand Prize at the World Water Forum in Marseilles, France!
KWDT Co-ordinator Margaret Nakato receiving the prize
KWDT is such an incredible organization. KWDT enables rural women to effectively manage their social, economic and political development processes for improved livelihoods.  It started out as a small fish farming project with a single women’s group in Katosi and has since evolved into a network of 16 groups with 365 women! Since its inception 15 years ago KWDT has listened to the voices of their women’s groups and expanded their focus beyond fish farming into organic farming and sustainable agriculture production, animal husbandry, women’s maternal health, HIV/AIDS and of course WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene).  They further enhance these programs by supporting the women to create livelihoods with these skills and tools.

In terms of WASH, KWDT takes the provision of water and sanitation to a whole other level as they train some of their members in basic masonry skills to be able to build various WASH technologies. Through KWDTs micro-credit program, women can purchase a rainwater harvesting tank, a biosand filter and/or a composting toilet which will be built by their fellow members. The implementing members challenge gender stereotypes and get paid for their construction services and even dress the part!  

KWDT building tanks
For their innovation, KWDT was awarded the Best Performing WASH organization in Uganda two years running in 2008 and 2009!

In our partnership, both GWWI and KWDT knew there was so much we could learn from each other. At the GWWI training in Kampala last year KWDT contributed and participated in a multitude of different ways. Margaret Nakato, Co-ordinator of KWDT shared KWDTs inspirational evolution and hosted our Advanced Training Team who paid a visit to some of KWDTs women’s groups. GWWI Trainers in Training were able to interview some of the women implementers who built the technologies, and were also excited to see how many women were able to access all of KWDTs services. We were able to visit schools and households where KWDT implementers built tanks, filters, hand-washing stations, dish dryers and toilets.  We also delighted in homemade frozen yogurt made from cow and goat milk that was bought from women who benefitted from the KWDT animal husbandry project.  It was so thrilling to see women helping women in a way that was demand-driven and benefitted the entire community while providing livelihoods for women to uplift themselves and their families.

KWDT site visit

 Also, KWDT sent Immaculate Nansubuga, KWDT Junior Project Officer, who attended our Advanced Training Program as a Trainer in Training whom I hope you met in one of our past blogs from July 2011. Immaculate deepened her skills as a WASH facilitator and trainer adding more tools to her stable of WASH skills like water testing with the PML and the construction of the Biosand filter.

Mastula & Rose
Finally, the Founder who started the original KWDT Program, Namaganda Mastula and her colleague Namukasa Rose participated in the Grassroots Women’s Training. Mastula and Rose attended to learn the Biosand Filter, which is currently only offered in a few KWDT target areas with the intention of spreading it across the regions of all 16 KWDT teams who are interested.  More about Mastula and Rose in a future blog!

With the kind of endurance, innovation and stellar leadership that KWDT exemplifies everyday, it’s no wonder they are being honored at the highest level of recognition in their country and the world. Brava KWDT!

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

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

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

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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Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day: A Powerful Reason for Hope

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!
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.
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.  
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

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

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

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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Saturday, March 3, 2012

King Peggy : A Royal Example

 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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