The Women I Can’t Wait to Meet

Written by Alanna Imbach, Media & Communications Officer, WaterAid America

In a few short days, I will be heading to a country as rich in beauty as it is in possibility. And like so many other places in the world, much of that possibility lies in the hands of the women and girls who live there.

For months, I’ve been reading reports about the women that my organization, WaterAid, has been supporting in one of the poorest, hardest to reach and most diverse parts of Nicaragua. From what I can tell, these women aren’t just out to change the world: they’re doing it.

Take, for example, a group of women in Auhya Pihni. Not only did they learn how to install and maintain simple water pumps, drill borehole wells and install eco-toilets through WaterAid’s skills training program, but they’ve turned their newly honed skills right around, using them to train and subcontract their spouses and siblings to help them carry out maintenance and installation work, too. In the blink of an eye, they have become mentors for their daughters and leaders in their communities, taking up roles that have traditionally been reserved only for men. It’s a business model my mother would love.

Photo c/o WaterAid
Photo c/o WaterAid

Together with Mom Bloggers for Social Good Global Team of 200 member, Jennifer Barbour, freelance journalist Caitlin Kelly, photographer Rodrigo Cruz and WaterAid, I’ll be observing World Water Day in the company of the real warriors in the global water and sanitation crisis: women and girls who are changing the face of one of the poorest countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region—one well, rainwater catchment system and toilet at a time.

Years of insufficient public investment, contamination from mining and agricultural activities, and extensive deforestation and soil erosion have left as many as 80% of people living in rural parts of the country without water that is safe for human consumption.

Equally alarming, nearly half of the country has no ‘adequate’ place to go to the bathroom, resulting in the spread of preventable disease, lower rates of girls attending school beyond puberty and a heightened risk of gender-based violence.

All of this is especially bad news for women and girls, who are the ones most often tasked with collecting water from far-off water sources, expected to care for sick family members and who have specific health needs when pregnant or raising small children.

Like many places around the world, though, women in the Miskitu communities are undaunted by the challenges before them. Instead, they are actively seeking out WaterAid’s mentorship in setting up Community Water and Sanitation User Committees, developing action plans to train and assist the local government in how to manage, operate and maintain water and sanitation services, and creatively promoting healthy hygiene practices like hand washing within their hometowns.

This March 22 will be a celebration of so much more than water. We’ll be celebrating the everyday #waterstory of people around the globe, and the transformative power of women and girls in Nicaragua to finally put an end to the water and sanitation crisis. Join us March 16 – 23 by following #WaterAidNica or Jennifer’s blog, and tune in for a live World Water Day Twitter chat about the trip and the women we’ve met along the way March 21, 1-2 p.m. ET.

Photo credit: WaterAid / Alicia Zamora

Sanitation To Education – Inspiring Story of A Girl

Our campaign, which is to spread an promote awareness regarding sanitation, water and its effect on girls’ education has taken us to a school in a nearby urban slum area that is located in Gurgaon, India (New Delhi, National Capital Region).

Conditions which girls have to face everyday at schools while sharing the same toilet with boys,results in dropping out of the girls in huge numbers  which are close to 41 % in India
Conditions which girls have to face everyday at schools while sharing the same toilet with boys. School drop out rates of girls is close to 41 % in India!

As a part of our ongoing awareness programs we are teaching children on how to follow good sanitation & hygiene practices and ways of obtaining safe drinking water. Through the program, one of our team members, Ms. Chinu, came in contact with Sarita, a student in a group of girls to whom she was teaching good practices to be followed on menstrual days. Sarita told Chinu that many girl students here are unfamiliar with the good hygiene practices to be followed during menstrual days, one of the key factors to the drop out rate of girls from schools. These rates are increasing and ultimately bolts their education and career. The girls told our team member startling facts about menstrual practices they are following during menstrual days. In many areas the girls and their mothers use nothing! In some homes the girl and mother both use the same cloth. There are also myths associated to the practice, which makes it even worse. They say “if you wash the fabric and air dry it or if someone sees it you will become infertile” and as a result of this they dry it in the dark and it becomes subjected to germs and sometimes insects, which lead to illnesses, sometimes severe.

Considering it on our priority list, our female staff started giving awareness about sanitation practices to be followed on everyday basis at school, at home during menstrual days, and also the ways to obtain sanitary pads.

During our awareness campaign in schools Chinu came to know that Sarita is not regular in school. She was absent most days. One day Chinu asked Sarita, “why do you remain absent most of the time from school?” Sarita replied with a drenched face that most of the time she is ill due to stomach and intestinal infections, which is why she is not able to attend school, and stays at home. After the conversation with Sarita we came to know that she is living in an area where people don’t follow sanitation & hygiene practices and that she lives in a hazardous environment where diseases like Cholera, Diarrhea and Gastroenteritis are normal. These diseases are mainly due to bad sanitation conditions and unsafe drinking water!

The result of the awareness campaign was that Sarita’s frequent illness faded away, and now she is more confident in her studies and overall development. She is regular in her class and started scoring good marks.

Like Sarita many of the girls who normally skip school on a frequent basis due to lack of awareness regarding sanitation and menstrual hygiene are now regular in their classes.

After this intervention Sarita became a role model for the entire girl community in the area in regard to good sanitation practices and hygiene knowledge.

During this we came to know that there is a lot more need to be done regarding the awareness in other parts of India, like rural and urban slums, where people give more importance to mobile phones than to sanitation, girls’ education & hygiene.

Please also watch the below mentioned inspir­ing video for more information.

The Role of Sanitation in Girl Child Education – A Documentary Film by HEEALS from heeals on Vimeo.

Gagan Deep
Project Officer