As we mark the International World Water Day, we feature a stakeholder in the water and sanitation sector. In an exclusive interview with African Harvesters, Amy Churchill, the co-founder of Just One Africa, explains Water-related issues in Africa and solutions to the UN Sustainability Goal #6 “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.”
See information on the interview below
Question 1: Can you introduce yourself and what your organization does?
I am the Director of Operations and co-founder of Just One Africa. Just One Africa partners with local leaders to create sustainable solutions for vulnerable children and the clean water crisis.
Question 2: What are the causes Just One Africa is engaging to address the UN Sustainability Goal #6 “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.”
We have distributed thousands of water filters throughout Kenya and have trained the recipients on WASH (Wash, Sanitation, and Hygiene) sanitation best practices and simple ways to keep families healthy. Their money is now spent on food and necessities rather than being spent on medicine or medical care. Entire villages are seeing the benefits of having clean water and hope for a healthy future is expanding. Our first deep-water well was dug in 2015. We have built a number of bathroom facilities for schools, orphanages, and rescue centers. (SDG6)
Question 3: What is the scope or your NGO reach? What are the possible locations you would expand to?
We have been working in Kenya since 2012. We presently are working with local leaders in southern, western, and central Kenya. We have found that partnership with high capacity local leaders is key to the success of community development. Learning, listening, and spending quality time with the communities that we serve provides valuable insights into how we work together. We don’t ever want to go in and assume what is needed and how to begin, so we travel to Kenya several times per year investing in our relationships and doing home visits to see the impact our work is creating.
People are really important to us. Our vision is to empower, equip, and encourage others to be the change they wish to see. We know there are incredible change makers all over the world, some of them just feel alone, ill equipped, under resourced, discouraged, and aren’t sure how to keep their head above water. These leaders are working hard at what is in front of them, helping how they can within their own communities. Our heart is to come alongside them and lift up their heavy arms and let them know that they aren’t alone and that we believe in them and the important work they are doing. The work Just One Africa does isn’t about us, it is about the local leaders and the communities we serve. They are the heros, the world changers, the change makers.
Working with our local leaders, discovering what specific challenges they face and taking time to share and talk through different approaches to solutions is so important. When working on sustainability it is paramount to talk through what our local leaders believe to be the best way to create change. They are the most knowledgeable about agricultural needs, educational challenges, food insecurity, and the best income generating projects to start up. This information is the starting point and from there we research and make plans on what they consider the best approach to the needs they face.
Clean water is most certainly one of those needs and we have seen up close and personal the positive impact that comes when consistent access to clean water is there. We have also seen the negative impact that comes when clean water access is limited or non existent. This issue is often the starting point in communities and from there our relationships with them grow, and over time we learn more and more about other needs. Our local leaders continue the conversation as it most certainly opens the dialogue around issues such as FGM, early marriage, and educating girls.
We receive requests from all over the world asking for us to partner with other organizations and areas in need. Right now we are limited by our resources and personnel but it is our goal to be able to expand into other countries as we continue to grow as an organization. It is really a challenging thing to know that there is incredible need and not be able to meet it, especially around the clean water crisis. Having a solution but not have the means to get it out fast enough is a difficult reality. We are working to raise as many funds as possible and partner with new and current donors, businesses, schools, and foundations. Each and every dollar is put to work, allowing us to reach even more communities with hope.
Question 4: Access to clean water or no water is an issue in Africa and the statistics are on the increase. What is your advice?
The issue of access is one that has been at the forefront of the clean water crisis. So often we find that people are mainly focused on drilling water wells “thinking” that it will solve the problem. But what we have found during our time in Kenya walking in community after community, is that there are water wells drilled by large NGO’s or UNICEF but they are no longer working or broken. We have found that water being pumped from a well can still be full of little red worms, amoebas, or contaminated with Typhoid.
While drilling water wells can be helpful it must be well thought thru considering all the factors and other challenges it might create for the community you are aiming to help. Factors that might include maintenance, replaceable parts, repair, oversight and security. We are also aware that different tribes, governments, or rebels groups all fight over access to water as it also means control of surrounding land needed for livestock and crops.
There might need to be a secondary solution for then cleaning the pumped water via water filters. In areas where there is little to no access water wells can help extremely helpful and reduce the walk for water allowing children to attend school and mothers to focus on other important areas of caring for her family. It is also good to learn what has already been done by others so that you can make wise decisions on what course of action is best and what is the most sustainable plan for the future.
I believe it all comes back to building good relationships in community. Being willing to learn, listen and even change your plans to partner in the best way possible. Learning the rhythms of life, cultural priorities, and mindsets of the community are pivotal in seeing good lasting change a reality.
Question 5: Explain more on Just One Africa’s advocacy on Reusing water?
The communities we serve overwhelmingly have access to water but it is always contaminated. They are collecting water from Lake Victoria, streams, run off from Mt. Kilimanjaro, rain water, and water pans where animals are also drinking their water. They can use water from a number of sources and through the Uzima water filter they are assured of safe, clean water.
Question 6: Kindly tell us about your products on water sanitation and new technologies or inventions Just One Africa plans to roll out to help Africa?
Just One Africa uses water filters from Uzima, a company that is based in Nakuru, Kenya. The Uzima water filter is designed after hollow fiber membrane technology, similar to kidney dialysis. The process is easy to set up and run continually, needs no replaceable parts and isn’t dependent of electricity. They are cost effective and we have found an efficient systems for cleaning water for cooking, drinking and other household use.
Our water filter distributions also include an over view of best practices on sanitation and hygiene. If we are just concerned with passing out water filters, not taking into account these other equally important aspects then we undermine our own program and it’s potential impact. Coupled with training and repeated home follow ups to gather data and measure impact we are seeing a 96% reduction in water borne diseases and the need for trips to the hospital and medicine. The mamas using the water filters share that they are reinvesting those funds previously spent on medical needs, now focused on school fees for their children, improved food choices, and even starting small businesses furthering the sustainability of their families.