This academic year I decided to join the Water Aid Society at my university. This is not actually a part of Water Aid, but a student run society that focuses primarily on fundraising and spreading awareness for the organisation. Upon turning up to the second meeting, there was an option of running for a committee position. I decided to run for the communications role. After a 5-minute speech (made up on the spot), I had convinced them I was right for the role over the other candidate. My role as communications is about making the public (or university students) aware of what exactly Water Aid is and what they do.
I am sure most of you have heard of Water Aid before, but many know very little. So I will do my best to briefly inform you. Water Aid itself, is an NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation), set up in 1981 and works in 37 countries. They focus on three main areas: Safe Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. It is very important to note that they are all interlinked. You cannot have one without the other two. For example, if sanitation is poor, (meaning no toilet facilities etc) then sewage is likely to reach the water supplies. This will contaminate the water (no safe drinking water) and will spread diseases etc, so people cannot clean in it (leading to poor hygiene). Water Aid’s goal is about getting safe water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone, everywhere by 2030.
Water Aid is different to a lot of other non-profit organisations as they do not simply give money and leave. They provide services that will benefit at a local scale. It is all well and good bringing in someone (most likely from abroad) and putting in a well, but what happens if there is a problem with it? These communities are unlikely to have a phone to call for help and will take a while to be fixed. Water Aid in comparison, still bring someone in to do it, but get some of the local people trained so if there is a problem, it can be dealt with. This will give some of the local people skills, better job prospects and safe and clean water. It is a bottom up approach. I must say that Water Aid do not only put wells in – this is just an example.
Water Aid focus a lot on education. It is great to provide safe and clean water supply, but if they do not know how to use it sustainably and safely, then the supply will be only short term. Water Aid goes into schools and local communities to show how it should be used and for things such as hygiene. Water Aid also has a large focus on girls. Women and in particular girls are commonly the ones who collect the water for their families. Some have to travel vast distances. This means that they are unable to go to school and are unlikely to access good jobs in the future. So by improving water in the area, girls are given the same opportunities as boys. Menstrual hygiene education is also provided.
Here at my university society, we have had a couple of fundraisers so far. One being a cake sale and the other selling tickets to a club as well as setting up a barbecue inside. Combined, it estimated that we have made £700. As an added bonus the government, until February 2016, will match any money we make for Water Aid, so in fact we raised around £1400! This was all so much fun and it is going to a worth-while cause. Win win! Recently I attended a Social Impact Conference at my university. I helped run a stall for Water Aid, so people could talk to us and find out more. What became apparent to me was how little people knew about Water Aid. I always thought that Water Aid was one of the most well known International Organisations and hence their work would be known. This was quite a shock to me and means my communications role will be a harder challenge, but something I am willing to work hard on!
Although this is brief and explains only a small aspect of Water Aid, I hope you can see that there is far more to this Organisation than meets the eye. To me it is a very worthwhile investment as water is key to our very survival and I feel it is often overlooked by problems with energy etc. In my eyes, it is the biggest crisis we have on the planet. 650 million people live without safe water and 1 in 3 (2.3 billion) do not have adequate sanitation. Finally, 315,000 children under the age of 5 die due to diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty drinking water and poor sanitation. That equates to 900 children a day. I know that personally I want to do something about that! Hopefully Water Aid holds the key.