Written by Beth Bogdewiecz, in partnership with Water for People.
Originally featured in the Summer 2023 Clove & Twine Lookbook.
The other day, while sipping my morning cup of coffee, I thought about things I often take for granted.
The fresh water, straight from the tap that I boiled to make my coffee. The ice cubes I pulled from my freezer to cool my drinking water (which my refrigerator conveniently makes). The clean water that I brushed my teeth with.
My hot morning shower.
Using a toilet, in a private room.
Washing my hands and face with clean water.
The dish I washed in my sink after breakfast.
The list just kept going on and on.
Fresh water is so readily accessible to us that we have never known what our lives would look like without it. In 2014, when the water crisis happened in Flint, Michigan, the United States got a real glimpse into what would happen if our water infrastructure failed. And yet, many people all over the world have gone their entire lives without easy access to clean water - even for their most basic needs.
Water For People is working to help communities worldwide meet their essential water and sanitation needs. When I first met Julia Correia, the Senior Business Development Manager at Water For People, her excitement radiated when speaking about her work was tangible. It’s not every day that I get to connect with someone who is so genuinely passionate about what they do.
During our meeting, she explained that Water For People is working toward so much more than clean drinking water. They are working with communities to help:
Reduce the amount of time people have to spend walking miles to fill jugs of fresh water each day (so that they can go to school, take care of their families, rest, and work on other things)
Increase basic hygiene practices with hand washing stations
Give women and girls clean, private spaces when menstruating (many girls drop out of school when they get their periods)
Maintain pumps and toilets in communities
Train mechanics within communities to make long-term water maintenance repairs
Create sanitary services for hospitals, medical systems, and schools
Empower local governments to invest more energy and funds into their water infrastructure
Monitor where they’ve made improvements to ensure everything continues to run smoothly
Reduce & eliminate waterborne diseases like cholera and diarrhea
Improve safety when people need to find a bathroom during the night
It’s a good reminder that this also means more children grow up healthy and happy. This is the power of water. Helping people have access to clean water changes everything. From their personal lives, to their families, their communities, the local economy, their education, to their health & safety - clean water improves it all. Everything is connected.
Here is more from my conversation with Julia.
Clove & Twine: When compared to water issues in the U.S., it can be difficult to understand the challenges that countries around the world face. Can you give some additional insight into what it means for people that lack access to basic services like water and sanitation?
Julia Correia, Water For People: An example that hits home for many folks is its impact on children, specifically girls. Women and young girls are often the ones who are tasked with getting water, and when there is no water readily available in or nearby their homes, that could mean a long, sometimes treacherous journey. For kids, this journey can happen early in the morning before sunrise. Can you imagine having to get up, walk multiple miles in some cases to get water, and then have enough energy to pay attention during a full day of school? Only to return from school and repeat the same walk when you get home? That’s the type of burden young children are facing. And that’s how you start seeing the ripple effects that are created when communities lack access to water. As you said, everything is connected! Access to water means less time walking for water. More time to focus on school. More brain space and energy to pursue other studies or economic opportunities. More time for kids to have fun being kids!
For sanitation and hygiene, there are similar ripple effects. Globally, too many children are dying from preventable water-borne illnesses. As one example, in addition to the impacts of Cyclone Freddy, Malawi has been dealing with a cholera epidemic for the last year that was initially sparked by water and sanitation issues caused by previous cyclones.
On a global level, people without a toilet spend over 250 million hours EACH DAY finding a place to go to the bathroom. For women, this also means making sure that place is safe. It’s hard to conceptualize that amount of consideration just to go to the bathroom, but it’s A LOT of time and mental energy wasted. People are putting their health, time, and economic development at risk when they don’t have access to water and sanitation. It’s an everyday burden.
C&T: We noticed “Everyone Forever” on your website & mission statement. What does that phrase mean?
WFP: The ‘status quo’ before 2010 wasn’t as focused on the sustainability of the systems being built, which needed to change. You could go to a system created a few years ago that was often no longer in use. A minor issue could quickly render a system unusable, and local communities weren’t always trained to maintain water systems.
Everyone Forever evolved from a vision to an actionable, proven model where we’ve shown how we can focus on reaching everyone in an area with water and sanitation services AND focus on how those services are being sustained into the future - that’s the Forever part.
Everyone Forever also represents our commitment to equity. Within districts where we work, there are often more remote, dispersed communities. These communities are often less prioritized because water solutions are typically more expensive and can require specialized technology. When we commit to reaching Everyone Forever in a district, we also mean partnering with these rural communities so they are included. We want ‘Everyone’ to really mean everyone.
C&T: We know that Water For People works in nine countries, impacting millions of lives. Why did you choose these specific regions of the world?
WFP: When we implemented Everyone Forever as a model and not just a vision, this was also a time when we wanted to narrow the geographic focus of our work intentionally. We realized we couldn’t have the depth of impact we wanted if we were spread out over too many countries and cultural contexts.
The nine countries where we currently work are Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Bolivia, Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and India. Tanzania is the newest country program where we started working last year!
Each of these countries has large portions of the population who need reliable access to water and sanitation services. Simultaneously, there are opportunities within local, regional, and national governments to partner to maintain services for future generations.
Water For People doesn’t always want to be an active player in the countries where we work. We want to support capacity exchanges and mutual learning so governments and local community groups can sustain these services long after Water For People stops working there.
C&T: You work specifically with water & sanitation, but other equally pressing issues exist in many of these countries. Why is water so vital?
WFP: Water is a foundational human right - connected to so many other parts of life. When you talk about water, you have to talk about climate change. The countries where we work are among some of the lowest contributors to global emissions, yet they face the highest risk of increased weather events caused by climate change.
When you talk about water, you have to talk about women’s rights. Women and girls often carry the literal and figurative burden of getting water, hindering their ability to pursue higher education and economic development opportunities. Women are most impacted by the problem, and they need to be central in the solution.
When you talk about water, you have to talk about economic development. Whether it’s the time to pursue economic opportunities or how water availability impacts the success of financial endeavors, water is part of the conversation. For example, farming practices can impact water sources in the same way that household sanitation practices can.
C&T: Women comprise over 75% of Clove & Twine, and supporting women’s needs is very important to us. What does improved water resources & sanitation mean for women and girls specifically?
WFP: I know I already touched on this, but it’s an integral part of our work that’s worth reiterating! The lack of access to clean water and sanitation disproportionately impacts women and girls. One aspect I haven’t mentioned is how we work in schools to promote better access to menstrual hygiene products and education. In many areas where we work, it is common for girls to stop going to school regularly or stop going altogether when they get their period. Schools often won’t have pads or tampons available, and the bathrooms can be shared between boys and girls without a dedicated, private space for girls on their period.
When we work with schools, we want to ensure the physical infrastructure is there to help girls stay in school even when they have their periods, AND we want easy access to information. This means that all students, not just girls, learn about menstruation. It becomes a more approachable topic when students are equipped with the knowledge and tools to have the conversation.
C&T: I know you’ve traveled a lot with Water For People. I’m sure you’ve seen so many lives transformed. What is one of your favorite moments from these experiences?
WFP: That’s a tough one! A theme for all of my trips has been meeting with and learning from our country staff. Our teams in each country where we work are the reason I can discuss this impact with you. They build the relationships in their communities, influence national policies, and pave the way for a better future. When I’ve met with government officials and community members, they each emphasize how important their partnership is with Water For People, and they’re not talking about me and my team! They’re talking about the collaboration with our local country team, and that’s really special.
C&T: What keeps you personally excited about the work that you do?
WFP: I get excited by a big challenge, and we definitely have a huge one in front of us! It doesn’t mean tackling a problem as significant as the world water and sanitation crisis is always easy, but it requires us to continually learn and innovate. That learning spirit is core to who Water For People is, and I think most of the problems our world faces need our collective creativity and bravery to think differently. We know more people need to be at the table. The voices of communities most affected by these problems need to lead the solutions, but historically, they’ve been left out. I can feel the conversation shifting in the sector, and I think that’s the only way we will solve these global challenges. Witnessing the transformation in how we think and tackle big issues is exciting!
After speaking with Julia and learning more about Water For People, I wake up each morning to start my day with more gratitude than ever. I am so thankful for every ounce of clean water that is so readily accessible to me.