January 29, 2011

Transforming the Lives of Women in West Africa

What is the easiest way to transform the lives of women and girls in West Africa? Drill a well and give them safe water.  Giving a rural village safe water as our non-profit, Wells Bring Hope does in West Africa, accomplishes more than saving lives from contaminated water.  Drilling a well transforms the lives of women and girls for generations to come.  When women no longer have to walk many miles every day to get water, their time is freed up to work more productively.

Most people don’t make the connection between providing safe water in a rural village to dramatically improving the lives of women.  We’ve found that women in the rural villages of West Africa need little or no training to earn small amounts of money that positively impact their quality of life.  They know what to do and that is simply providing what their community needs, what they can sell in the local market.  They make peanut oil, millet cakes and raise chickens and goats.  What they need is a little bit of money to help them get started and then they take it from there.  In this remote part of the world, women make jewelry to wear, not to sell, because there is no local market for it.

Most significantly, women want to earn money, they want to contribute to the economic well-being of their families.  They are also instinctively aware that having their own money means a degree of freedom and independence from their husbands.  They have a greater say in how the family money is spent.  And it gets spent on things that will improve quality of life, instead of alcohol, tobacco and women.  Best of all, these female entrepreneurs provide a positive role model for their children, especially their girls.

Our project includes giving women micro-loans, so that women can start small businesses.  Girls, whose help is no longer needed to get water, go to school and get an education.  Girls with an education marry later, have children later, and are less likely to suffer from obstetric fistula.  Why is it that we only make loans to the women?  Because the women pay them back!  Women get together and form cooperative ventures, working as a team to support one another even if they are earning money in different ways.  They instinctively know that the advice and problem-solving skills of other women are invaluable.

Our goal is to continue drilling wells because that is how we can help women the most. Along with drilling wells comes the responsibility of educating people about good sanitation and proper hygiene.  Again, it is the women who are responsible for disseminating information and teaching their community how to keep their children safe.

Most of all, women readily understand that sound health practices can help protect their children from harm.  They are flexible and resilient, able to accept new ideas and bring about profound change for their community.


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