Category Archives: World Water Crisis

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Taking in the view from the top of the water storage tank – one of the highest elevations in the community of Dipina.

Elation. It is almost impossible to express the feeling of clinging to the back of a dirt bike careening down steep rocky roads that sharply wind through the highest and most expansive mountains, taking in seemingly endless green vistas, crowned in clouds and morning fog, while the sun rises above the peaks and slowly wicks away the moisture. If there were a word to capture this exact feeling and moment, elation could be it. The word comes close to capturing the joyful and expansive soaring of my heart, the wide-eyed wonder, and the adrenaline-cushioned fear, concealed behind my contented grin. Many people reading this will never have the opportunity to see these views or experience this trek, especially not as their morning drive to work. It is a Tuesday morning and I am en route on my first ever community visit in Waslala to see our project progress in the community of Dipina, located deep in the heart of Nicaragua.

Off road racers, mountain bikers, climbers, serious hikers, campers and mountain dwellers can probably wrap their minds around this scene; filled with a mix of intense hiking and effort just to reach the small community of Dipina. I was entirely unprepared. My expectations, formed from previous experiences in which I arrived in a community in the comfort of a 4-wheel drive Land Cruiser, parked, went about my day’s work, and was back in the office by 5pm, completely missed the mark in this case. Until the evening before we left, no one had mentioned to me that we would be riding motorcycles to community, wearing rubber boots with all of our gear to spend a night crammed inside a middle school knapsack. There was absolutely no mention that we would have to ford four rivers, rivers which were easily knee high, pushing our motorcycles. Nor did they mention that this endeavor was only half of the trip and that, after an hour and a half of riding, we would park the motorcycles in someone’s house and hike for another hour and a half along a narrow trail into the mountains – a trail often slippery, pocketed with quick-sand like mud, and at times quite steep as it ascended in elevation until arriving in the community of Dipina.

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Junior and Taleno work together to push one of our motorcycles through the river en route to Dipina.

I kept my pace and tried my best to keep from falling by staring at the ground and placing my boot in the muddy imprint exactly where Junior had placed his boot seconds before. I could feel blisters forming on my feet and my legs quickly turned into stinging rubber weights that grew heavier to lift with each step. The heat and the sun were unrelenting. I almost fainted, and did not have the words in Spanish to explain that everything started spinning each time we stopped to rest, so could we please just keep walking. Junior, realizing how I felt and understanding my soon-to-be defeat, trekked into a nearby cornfield and returned with an ear of corn which he insisted I eat in order to raise my blood sugar.

By the time we reached Omar’s house, the house of our host where we would be eating and sleeping that night, I was unable to do anything more than sit down on a bench and stare. I can only imagine how I looked to everyone else. My shirt was dripping with sweat as if I had dived into one of those rivers fully clothed, which, when considering it, I felt I nearly had done. I had no energy to remove my boots or my waterlogged socks. After what felt like forever, I managed to pull off one boot. Junior pulled off the other and I placed my socks and shirt in the sun to dry.

I felt beyond tired, uncomfortably filthy, run-down and worn-out. What I really wanted was a steaming hot shower and my bed with fabric softener-fresh sheets. I had not physically pushed my body or my mind to that extent since my first time doing P90X Plyometrics or hiking a volcano in Guatemala six and a half years prior. Junior and Taleno just laughed at me. This grueling trek was only the beginning of our hike. Now that we had arrived in Dipina, we had to hike much higher – to an elevation higher than any water point in the community – to view one of the two water storage tanks that would be supplying water to the community. With legs aching, I managed to pull my socks and boots back on and we set off again.

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The view looking up at one of the two water storage tanks that will supply water to the community of Dipina.

When accepting this position, I theoretically knew the need for the work WfW does – because in these parts of the world clean water organizations can change the lives of an entire community or region. I studied the world water crisis and had seen gravity fed water projects in rural Honduras. Still, with this first experience in Dipina, the reality of the need became very real to me. Here was a community more than removed from the main stream of society – no electricity, no cell phones, and until this point in time no running water. All of the community resources had to be carried or hauled by mule for over 90 minutes into the interior of rural Nicaragua. Locations this removed from society almost do not exist in the US. Even in the forests of rural Pennsylvania or the vast plains of the American Southwest, more often than not there is a cell phone tower blinking in the distance. Here there was no restaurant serving pancakes, nor any gas stations within walking distance. If anything was rural, this was it.

All of that hiking, sweat, and pain became so worth the effort once we reached our next stop – the school in Dipina. It just so happened that on this day the trench digging and pipe laying had reached the school. The school children were outside watching the construction efforts and several boys grabbed pickaxes and shovels to help dig the last bits of trench. I stood witness as Taleno and Junior helped the community members cut and glue the final pipes and attach a faucet to the tap stand providing clean fresh water to schoolchildren just outside of their school for the first time ever in the history of Dipina.

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Students grab pickaxes and shovels to help dig the last bits of trench.

We continued onward and upwards to the water storage tank. I arrived at the tank drained, almost less than human. I could not raise my legs or keep my balance to cross the barbed wire fence enclosing the tank. My clean water had run out. We filled my bottle from the pipe at the tank and passed it around, each person drinking almost the entire 800mL themselves. After our tank inspection, we returned to Omar’s house. I am unsure of how I made the descent and barely remember walking back. I do remember how badly I wished for a shower – a truly first world problem in a community that had never had running water. Yet in the end, the day ended beautifully, with a swim and bath in a cool clear stream, hot fresh corn tortillas, a majestic thunderstorm filling the night sky with streaks of lightening, and me passed out cozy and warm in my hammock.

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Sunset in the community of Dipina.

Since my first visit to Dipina I have returned several times as progress on the project nears an end. I have hiked the same route and several different, equally treacherous routes. I have slid down muddy hills so steep that descending on my backside was easier than trying to climb. I have ridden horseback to the second water storage tank, located even higher in the mountains. I rode on the roof of the worn out truck, which I lovingly nicknamed Marcy, that serves as public transportation from Waslala to the town where the trail and the journey to Dipina begins. Once I arrive, I watch students line up to drink clean fresh water from their new tap stand. I observe how much easier life is for families with a tap stand at their home. People constantly express their gratitude for the support of Water for Waslala and the funding that made their clean water project possible. The trip that was initially the death of me has become an amazing adventure and a source of great joy.

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Riding horseback to the second water storage tank located even higher in the mountains.

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The vista from the second water storage tank. In the distance, the roofs of the homes of project beneficiaries are visible.

I love words, conveying ideas, expressing emotions, providing a snap shot into an experience, yet I have done and seen so much in such a short time, I struggle to find the words to explain or express all of it. If you really want to know Waslala and the elation of working here, you will have to visit us and experience it for yourself.

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Marcy about to load up for her 3-hour journey to Waslala. To the right is the beginning of one of the muddy trails into the community of Dipina.

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“Great. Another freezing shower in muddy water,” I shake my head to myself, knowing that I am really thinking, “I am fortunate to have a sufficient supply of running water in which to bathe,” as I step beneath the frigid flow. In this way, enjoying a luxury many people in Waslala are unable to enjoy, commenced my third week in Waslala. Hi. My name is Josh, Josué in Nicaragua, and I am the recently hired Program Development and Strategic Communications Manager for Water for Waslala. It is my task to keep you abreast of our progress, stories, and reflections from here on the ground.

I HATE cold showers, but I am committed to ending the world water crisis and I enjoy pursuing this cause, especially in Latin America. I am thrilled to be working for an organization dedicated to providing the funds and technical expertise needed to implement sustainable drinking water solutions. Despite the cold showers, my first weeks in Nicaragua have been fantastic and packed with contrasting adventures, from meeting with potential funders and buying pipes in Managua, to fording rivers and riding mules to check completed water storage tanks in the community of Dipina.

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Exhausted but content with my first visit to the community of Dipina.

By way of an introduction…

While I was always a fairly stringent environmentalist – bricks in the toilet tank, screens in the faucets, and other water conserving measures – my passion for the world water crisis truly began in 2011 after attending a public showing of Josh Fox’s Gasland, a documentary highlighting the damaging effects of hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. fracking, on watersheds across the United States. After watching this documentary, I stopped to talk to a representative from Food & Water Watch who had set up a table at the showing. In the course of our conversation about environmental activism, I received the recommendation to watch the documentaries Blue Gold: World Water Wars and FLOW: For Love of Water in order to further my understanding of global water issues. Angry about the travesty of fracking and feeling ill-informed, I promptly borrowed both documentaries from the Brooklyn Public Library and watched them.

Watching these documentaries, my anger, and frustration, increased as I realized how many misconceptions I held about water usage and access in the world. I knew that humans needed to conserve water, water pollution was a concern, and that of course, many people did not have access to water. I did not understand the underlying political and economic tensions associated with water, nor did I truly understand the logistics of providing clean drinking water to a human being. In my mind, providing clean drinking water was as easy as digging a well or piping water from a lake or river, treating it in a treatment plant, and piping that water into people’s homes. The same way that water was provided in my rural hometown. It was upsetting to find out that this was not the case.

In the end, it was all well and good to be angry and frustrated on my Ikea futon in my quaint Brooklyn apartment, but anger and frustration would do little to change circumstances. I knew that I could not be angry if I was unwilling to take action. Thus, I focused my energies on learning more about the world water crisis. I read books about water shortages and social movements, wrote program proposals and policy documents about water issues affecting Latin America, and attended the release of the documentary Last Call at the Oasis.

My desire to be active and engaged with water issues took me to Honduras, where I observed first hand what life is like in a rural community without access to clean water. Documentaries do a good job of conveying the dire situation, but they are no replacement to firsthand experience. It turned my stomach a little to imagine drinking water from the streams, however clean they appeared, and mossy black hoses that people used to siphon water from those streams to their homes. I knew that those waters were likely filled with pesticide runoff, fecal material from livestock, and garbage from along the stream’s path. Contracting a parasite or water-borne illness from drinking that water had to be inevitable.

At the same time, I became familiar with the construction of gravity-fed water systems as a solution to provide clean and sufficient water to households in rural communities. It is amazing to witness how an organized community working together, following a system design and with the needed materials, can reverse a dire water situation in a few short months. I love seeing clean drinking water flowing from the taps of a newly completed system and defiantly drinking it, knowing it cannot make me sick.

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Looking forward to the adventures yet to come.

So, like I said, I HATE cold showers, but I am committed to ending the world water crisis. I am happy to be here in Waslala with an organization doing just that. I look forward to keeping you updated as I learn more about the challenges and successes, and experience the pleasant and unpleasant, associated with the work of building gravity-fed water systems here on the ground in Nicaragua.

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By Justin Knabb, Water for Waslala Board Member

Today is World Water Day- a day to celebrate the gift of water in our lives and, most importantly, to draw attention to the importance of clean water for public health.

Water for Waslala clean waterYou should circle this special day on your calendar each year. This international day of recognition has been held on this day since 1992, when it was launched at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Each year since, the UN has chosen different themes that highlight the wide range of ways that water impacts our lives.

Take this one day out of your year to reflect for a moment on how important water is in your daily life. Encourage your friends on Facebook to think about water today too. Let’s stop to think about how water refreshes us, how water keeps us healthy, and how water truly is a foundation for life on this earth. Water is a foundation of our lives… it is a foundation of your life.

Yet nearly 800 million people on earth live without access to clean water. Tens of thousands in Waslala, Nicaragua– the specific region that Water for Waslala supports– live without access to clean water.

Let’s reflect and focus on water TODAY… and consider helping us help others to have the gift of water EVERY DAY.

Here are 10 specific ways that you can learn about water, better save water, and ACT to help others gain access to clean water today.

1. Check out the United Nations website about World Water Day. I linked to some of the UN pages above, but it’s definitely worth mentioning again. The UN site is very well-done–it’s informative, filled with excellent and reputable facts, and the UN deserves tremendous praise for drawing focus to the important issues relating to water.

2. Know your facts about the World Water Crisis. The infographics at Water.org are sobering and straight-forward, but really put the crisis into perspective.

3. Understand the relationship between sanitation and water. As easy as it can be to take clean drinking water for granted in the United States, it’s also easy to take for granted the bathrooms and sanitary water that we utilize several times each and every day.  It’s not as simple for people living in impoverished, underdeveloped regions. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focuses heavily on this issue. Sanitation affects close to a billion people spanning from Waslala to Nairobi to New Delhi.

4. Watch a water documentary. Do a search for “water” on your Netflix or Amazon Instant Video this weekend. Here are some excellent and highly-acclaimed films worth watching:

  • FLOW- this documentary dives into the hot-topic political and environmental issues intertwined with the World Water Crisis. 
  • Tapped- impossible to walk away without forming opinions on the role and impact of bottled water in our world and in our own lives.
  • Blue Gold: World Water Wars- as with the other films, you’ll get a heavy dose of politics here.  But certainly the water crisis is real… very real. Watch and form your own opinion(s)!
  • Or do you have just 6-7 minutes instead of 2 hours? Then learn all about our Water for Waslala charity HERE.

5. Read our Annual Report. Take a few minutes and learn about the great strides that Water for Waslala has made this past year and the past 9 years. We continue to improve upon our traditional gravity-fed water systems that have provided clean drinking water to 2,500 people strong (to-date). Last year we first implemented ferrocement technology to better fortify and control the cost of our systems. And this year we’ll be distributing ceramic filters to individual homes for the first time.

Boy in Waslala6. Check out some other technologies that are helping people around the globe. Water for Waslala implements technology that meet Waslala community goal and budget, but it’s interesting and encouraging to look at other inventions that are being utilized in different regions around the world. Lifestraw, SteriPEN, MidomoLifesaver Bottle, and Lifesaver Jerrycan are a handful of amazing innovations that are all helping to improve public health.

7. Take steps to save water in your home. WholeLiving.com offers 50 potential ways to be a better water consumer.

8. Pledge to limit your access to water for a day. You’ll quickly realize how water is such a key part of each and every day. Follow the lead of Villanova University students, who pick a day each year to host “Water Awareness Day” on the college campus.  
Participating students commit to servicing all their water needs from just ONE source… much like the people living in Waslala and millions more around the world. Limit your own water needs for a day and internalize just how precious and valuable a clean water access point really is!

9. Like us on Facebook and help promote us. The easiest step yet to make a difference. Just a 2 step process… click HERE, and then hit the LIKE button. Join our community and help us raise the awareness and funds to truly help people live healthier lives.

10. Now that you’re a member of our community (welcome aboard), help Water for Waslala any way you can. One simple, concrete and FUN way is to participate in our upcoming Walk for Water at Villanova University on April 14. Sign up here, recruit a team, or if you can’t make it, donate or sponsor our event. Walk to help change the world, one faucet at a time.

Happy World Water Day!

 

 

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By Nora Pillard Reynolds, VP and Director of Communication

In April, fellow WfW board member, Justin Knabb and I attended the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative Conference. The conference, “Measure of Success: Performance Indicators for Drinking Water Projects in the Developing World”, attracted over 100 professionals and students to the University of Pennsylvania for the day.

During one interesting panel, Elynn Walter from WASH Advocates called the audience to “discontinue business as usual”. John Sauer from Water for People commented, “we want the whole process to be in the hands of the people…the customers”. Sauer continued by asking whether we are considering the customers’ goals and satisfaction. Acknowledging the lack of understanding about customers’/ beneficiaries’/ community members’ perspectives, Sauer emphasized that Water for People wants “to do customer feedback type work”. Now I could spend a whole blog post discussing what term we should use…customers, beneficiaries, community members…but, for now, I will stick with the term used in Waslala…the community.

This lack of understanding and even focus on the perspectives of those that we are presumably there to “help” is problematic for several reasons that relate to the sustainability of projects, but I think the importance of community perspectives is best demonstrated through a few stories. Oftentimes, when NGOs or development organizations arrive in a location with their own ideas about what the community “needs”, we completely miss out on knowledge held by community members that would improve project sustainability.

In a past blog post, “What would the pigs eat?”, Jordan Ermilio, the Director of Water System Engineering, wrote about his experience with a failed sanitation project in East Timor.
Another story that demonstrates the importance of communication with community members to ensure sustainability was told to me by a local partner in Waslala.

A group of optometrists travel to a rural village in Waslala to conduct vision consultations. In the village, they are received by lines of villagers waiting to see “the doctor”. The group does have translators with each doctor in order to avoid communication problems. With limited resources, the doctors use Bibles to conduct the vision tests. They ask the villagers, “Can you read this?” Many of the villagers respond, “No”. The doctors give those villagers a pair of glasses, which they proudly put on for their walk home. The villagers are thrilled with their new glasses. The doctors feel satisfied that they have been able to reach so many people in one day who never have access to an eye doctor.

So what’s the problem? Well, the majority of the older villagers in this location are illiterate. When the doctors/ translators asked them if they could read the Bible, the responses meant that they could not read as opposed to whether they could see the words displayed on the pages of the Bible.

Another example from my experiences in Waslala relates to a large water system project funded by a foreign embassy.

The water system was planned to serve most of the Waslalan town center- several thousand people. An outside engineer was contracted by the embassy to conduct the feasibility study. The following year, when I was back in Waslala, I asked the local municipal engineer how things were going with the large water system. He just looked at me and responded, “Well, it works great during the rainy season”.

What is the problem? During the rainy season in Waslala (about 9 months/ year) water access is less of a problem since community members can use water collection techniques. The dry season is when water systems are crucial since community members have no access to rain water. The outside engineer had taken the flow measurements for the new water system during the rainy season when (of course) there was adequate water flow to serve the town; however, during the dry season that water source does not have adequate flow. Months of construction and substantial funding had only resulted in a water system that works during a time when community members already have access to water. The local municipal engineer knows about the fluctuations in flow due to the seasons and, if asked, knows that it is crucial to always do feasibility studies and take flow measurements during the dry season.

Over the years, anyone engaged in development work collects stories that demonstrate the necessity of working WITH the community and letting the community members drive the projects. Some of them would be funny (like the one about the pigs) if it wasn’t so tragic to think about the resources- money, time, energy- that were spent on unsustainable projects. These challenges and stories like this from past work inform Water for Waslala’s approach in everything we do.

Can anyone share some stories of your own?

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Green Philly Blog

Many organizations in the Greater Philadelphia region– including Water for Waslala– are working hard to provide access to clean drinking water in some of the world’s most impoverished regions.  This past Thursday, Green Philly Blog featured a guest blog post on the topic from WfW Director of Donor Relations, Justin Knabb.  Justin writes about WfW’s latest involvement with the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative (PGWI), a local organization that brings together leaders in water and sanitation initiatives.

We’re thrilled to be featured in Green Philly Blog– a blog that informs green consumers, activists, innovators and professionals about Philadelphia-specific news and events on everything green.  Check it out!

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By Nora Pillard Reynolds, VP and Director of Communication

What is World Water Day?

Today is World Water Day! International World Water Day is held each year on March 22nd to bring attention to the importance of water and the management of our world’s water resources.

Today, there are still 783 million people worldwide that do not have access to clean water!

The United Nations declared March 22, 1993 the first World Water Day. Each year has a theme and this year’s theme is water and food security.

What does water have to do with food security?

Each of us needs to drink 2-4 liters of water a day, but water is also a part of any production process. So, a few quick facts…

  • To produce 1 cup of coffee = It takes 140 liters of water
  • To produce 1 glass of wine = It takes 120 liters of water
  • To produce 1 glass of beer = It takes 75 liters of water

Click here for a 2 minute video about the connection between water and food.

What can you do?

On the United Nation’s World Water Day website, there is a list of worldwide events.

But…we also have Water for Waslala’s 8th Annual Walk for Water coming up in exactly one month—April 22nd! Mark your calendars and register today (and start recruiting a team)! The 5K Walk for Water is at 12 pm on Sunday, April 22nd at Villanova University.

Help us raise $30,000 to bring 300-400 Waslalans clean drinking water for a lifetime.

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By Nora Pillard Reynolds, WfW VP & Director of Communication

“The concept that it was completely unacceptable that 5 million people in Malawi did not have access to fresh water when engineers back in Canada were working on problems such as making a photocopier increase its speed from 149 pages per minute to 151 pages per minute. We need to work on problems that matter.”

–David Damberger, founder of Engineers without Borders Calgary

David Damberger

I love TED talks! I send the links to my friends, I show them in class to my students, and, often, I think differently about some idea after watching one. Here is a great one that relates not only to water, but can be applied to all types of organizations.  In this video, David Damberger, founder of the Calgary chapter of Engineers without Borders (EWB), explores the state of the development sector and urges all of us to embrace failure in order to learn and improve.

Failed water systems

Damberger describes his experiences working with EWB in Malawi where he encountered numerous failed water systems. One of his co-workers discovered that out of 113 water systems, only 81 were functioning. He states that “although infrastructure was built, there was no thinking about who was going to maintain the system”. He continues to examine the problem and highlights that “a lot of donors focus on hardware, not realizing the importance of software. If you donate money, you feel better if your money went to something tangible- a well, a school, a goat, not a water committee”.

This is certainly a struggle for WfW as well, but we work to maintain our focus on software because without the software, the hardware won’t matter. We dedicate a lot of time and energy to thinking specifically about water system maintenance and this is something that continues to be a challenge for us as an organization.

In her blog post  The Challenges of Sustainability, Meaghan Gruber, our former project manager, described some of our efforts that focus on water committees and community maintenance funds.  Additionally, Virginia Leiba, our director of community outreach in Waslala, is responsible for conducting community meetings and leading health and environmental education workshops. Although investment in software may not seem as “sexy” as hardware, WfW recognizes and acts on its importance in our work.

See Our Approach for more information related to our emphasis on trainings in the community and on-going evaluations of our systems to ensure that we learn about problems and improve our work.

Through his discussion of failed water system projects in Malawi, Damberger transitions to a more general topic- one that impacts all of us in our personal and professional lives in all sorts of industries…FAILURE.

Failure

Admitting failure is hard! I commend EWB Canada for their willingness to admit failure. They actually publish an annual failure report so that we can all learn from mistakes in order to make improvements! Damberger poses a great question for all of us (working on water issues or not) to consider: how does your organization think about and share failure?

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By Nora Reynolds
VP and Director of Communications

We have been lucky to recently join efforts with the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative (PGWI).  A bit about PGWI, from their website:

The Philadelphia Global Water Initiative (PGWI) is a group of interested organizations and individuals committed to helping to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals for water/sanitation throughout the world. It includes among its members the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Water Department, Water for People, Aqua America, Pennoni Associates, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Uhl, Baron, Rana and Associates, the United Nations Association – Greater Philadelphia Chapter, Meta Quality of Life Improvement Foundation, Traveling Mercies, Keiyo Soy Ministries, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and Rotary District 7450. 

In August, fellow board member Jerica Youngken and I attended our first PGWI meeting where we introduced Water for Waslala and met representatives from numerous Philadelphia-based organizations that are working on issues and projects related to water. Recently, PGWI published their annual report: Philadelphia Heroes in the Global Fight for Clean Water and Sanitation. It is inspiring to read about so many organizations in the Philadelphia area who are working to ensure access to clean drinking water and sanitation around the world. Water for Waslala is featured on pages 28-29 of the report.

We look forward to working with PGWI in the future. Stay tuned for more details about our involvement in their annual conference, Measures of Success: Performance Indicators for Drinking Water Projects in the Developing World, in April, 2012 at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Your’re listening to 106.3, Radio Waslala…

As readers of the Water for Waslala know from Jerica’s recent post, March 22nd was recognized as World Water Day. Here in Waslala, the Parish celebrated the occasion by inviting Virginia and me to host its morning show, La Voz de La Inmaculada on Radio Waslala, the station that the Parish partly operates. Readers of this blog might also know that radio is one of our primarily means of communicating with the rural communities where we work, since these communities typically don’t have cell-phone service, or often even roads serviced by public transportation to allow messages to be couriered.

Virginia and I used the opportunity to remind listeners of how their communities can solicit a project from La Pastoral del Agua and to emphasize the importance of well-organized and active community water committees and their associated maintenance funds. We also hyped up a water committees’ training workshop we have planned for April, in which representatives from communities with existing and like future water systems will participate. To keep the “world” in “World Water Day”, we also discussed briefly on a global scale, from the United Nation’s declaration last year of clean water and sanitation as a human right, to water scarcity, contamination, and deforestation, issues important to the struggle for clean water here in Waslala.

Virginia in the studio

…for La Voz de La Inmaculada on Radio Waslala, this is Iain Hunt, signing off.

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We're Proud to Announce that Water For Waslala Has Been Acquired By WaterAid - Read The Full Announcement

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