“Insights into Women in Africa” – UCLA African Activists Association Conference

UCLA’s African Activist Association held a conference on May 21st, “Women Agency in Africa: Role, Motivation & Voice.” As a speaker, I was happy to have the opportunity to let African activists know about the dramatic impact of drilling a clean water well has on improving the lives of women. Not many people make that connection. We tend to assume that providing a well helps everyone in a community, and while it does, the positive impact on the lives of women and girls is so much more dramatic.

As the founder of Wells Bring Hope, I am, perhaps, an example of someone who took up a cause based upon a very specific need in an area of the world about which I knew relatively little. Spending the day listening to primarily female academics thoroughly immersed in the culture and life of women in Africa, was an incredible learning experience. Here are some nuggets of new learning:

Have you ever heard of “Nollywood?” No, not “Bollywood,” but the Nigerian version of it, an industry that employs one million people, primarily working in Nigeria. They make films that go direct to video and the market in Africa is huge. The storylines, however, have become more focused on women’s sexuality, films such as “Girl’s Cot,” which focuses on transactional sex on university campuses. In a fascinating way, Elinam Dellor, a graduate student in Public Health at UCLA, gave us a close-up look at four university women who engaged in transactional sex. She explored their motivations, specifically the different sources of power that these women derived when engaged with their clients, each other and their friends. One major source of power was the contacts they had developed, who they could call on when they needed help or a favor.

Another fascinating and not surprising piece of learning was the way in which male writers in Africa criticize and marginalize female writers. They are undervalued and repressed, negating everything about being a woman. They are dismissed as writers and it is very hard for them to work. These women are creating valuable stories about what it means to be a woman in African society today and it is difficult for them to find an audience for their work. It was noted that ancient African cultures didn’t marginalize creative women; current attitudes that prevail today are seen as one of the “leftovers” from the colonial era.

I was extremely impressed with the work of Anakazi, a Los Angeles-based non-profit founded by Yareka Mhango, dedicated to mobilizing business development for women in Africa. She stressed that the greatest obstacle for women entrepreneurs is financing. Since women don’t own property, they have no collateral and the banks are not female-friendly. Typically, women start small businesses but reach a certain level and they cannot grow. These women also lack business support services and skills that are necessary for them to grow. In Zambia, one of the countries where Anakazi is working, most women don’t even ask for outside help. They may ask their husbands, who know little more than they do. Anakazi, tries to connect these women with investors or other markets, sometimes inviting the women abroad for training. They have established a very effective Joint Rural Development program where women in a given district can call in to a local radio station and there are people on the line who offer help or advice.

I found the personal experiences of Amanda Silver-Westrick a UCLA Geography major, with a minor in African Studies, most fascinating. She worked in northern Senegal for two months studying gender roles surrounding water acquisition. Why do women have the responsibility to carry water? According to Amanda’s interviews of 250 people in two districts that didn’t have clean water, it is Koran-based: women must “oblige their husbands,” bringing them the things that they need. Also, carrying water on one’s head is a culturally female thing to do.

Curiosity motivated me to do some online research and I found that in primarily Hindu India, where women are also responsible for getting water, the men get water for the specific purpose of providing it for their animals. Women’s needs for clean water are more diverse, and include a strong need for the cleanest water possible for their children and so because of their greater need, the responsibility falls on them to fetch it. Sad to say, whatever the culture or religion, it seems that the burden likely falls upon women to get water.

A Hard, but Joyful Journey

by Gil Garcetti

Two weeks ago I returned to the West African country of Niger—one of the three poorest countries in the world. I was there to take more photographs, gather more stories, and to accompany the father and 25-year-old brother of a remarkable 14-year-old girl, Kevin Kilroy. She had seen and read my book, WATER IS KEY that focuses on the issue of women, water, and wells. She read and saw the photos of the rural villagers who did not have safe water: the terrible health issues, the unnecessary deaths, and the absence of much hope. But she also saw what happens to a village when a bore hole well is drilled and brings the village clean, safe water: the general health of the villagers dramatically improves, women often become successful small entrepreneurs through micro credit loans that we give them, and girls go to school, sometimes for the first time in the history of the village.

Kevin was so moved that in a matter of a few months she was able to mobilize her school, parishioners at her church, and her family to raise enough money for four wells in four villages. This from a fourteen-year-old girl! Her father, Ken, and her brother, Ross, wanted to see for themselves what they had read about, seen in my book, and heard from me. The report I wrote below was for my family and friends. I have been urged to share it with you. It chronicles a roughly 20-hour period during our trip in Niger.

April 17, 2011

What a day! In about a 20-hour period we experienced a dust storm, 115+-degree heat, and 6 hours on washboard like dirt roads, followed by off road driving on rutted and gully filled sand and loose dirt, driving at night with monster size trucks greatly overloaded with “stuff” and Nigeriens riding on the very top, returning from Libya. I walked into my “hotel” room to discover there had been no maid service nor was there any water in the shower. Air conditioning? Yes, there was a unit and when you turned it on it did make a lot of noise, but no air. Three minutes later all power was lost for a few minutes. (Then 3 more times!) The restaurant was out of everything but skinny chicken, no beer or soft drinks. We wait nearly two hours to get served. I couldn’t sleep it was so hot. I finally got some relief and a little sleep after I soaked a towel with the water from an outside water faucet and then draped it over my body. Indeed a memorable day and night! But I wouldn’t give up that day for anything.

We left our compound before 6AM. After visiting one village, see below, we were eager to go to the village where a well funded by the effort of Kevin Kilroy, was going to be dedicated. The villagers were waiting for us when we arrived and you could sense an atmosphere of great anticipation. Before the well’s hand pump could be used for the first time, the welcomes, greetings, and speeches needed to be completed. The village chief thanked all and emphasized how with the bore hole well the health of his village would dramatically improve, how women would have the opportunity to earn money, and how girls would now be going to school.

When Ross was telling the villagers about his sister, (in blistering heat!) he remembered he had a graduation picture of her in his wallet. He gave it to the chief and told him, “This is my sister Kevin. She is now trying to get 1,000 more girls in America to do what she has done here.” It was a very emotional, joyous, proud, and memorable experience for all of us but especially for both Ken and Ross. Ross remarked to me,” This has been the greatest day of my life!” (Ross, 25, is a former California state chess champion and rugby star at Berkeley).

Being present in a village at the moment a new well breaks through and clean, clear water gushes out is a unique opportunity and we were there to experience it. The villagers erupted with cheers and children ran near the gushing spray wanting to get drenched. The air was filled with their sounds of joy and excitement. The women too were vocally demonstrative and beamed with an understanding of what this well would mean to them individually, to their families, and the village as a whole. The men were there in number too and they eagerly shook our hands and thanked us.

I gave a short speech to villagers explaining how this well was possible because one man in the United States had seen my book about West Africa and wanted to help bring safe water to people like you and your fellow villagers in Niger. This is one of five wells that was made possible by Andrew Cherng, founder and Chairman of the Board of Panda Restaurant Group.

I engaged the women and girls separately, asking for a representative to come forward. A woman who I had already photographed, Zara, was pushed forward. In response to my questions, she told me she was about 40 (They really don’t know since rural villagers never celebrate their birthday.) and that she never attended school because she had to walk about 12 km everyday to fetch water. She would leave the village about 6 AM and return around 1-2 PM. No longer having to walk hours to get water, she would now have time to make money for her family, maybe starting a small business by planting a garden and selling vegetables in the local market. And, of course, she was ecstatic that her daughters would now be going to school. This is what continues to drive and inspire me: giving girls the opportunity to go to school. It is life changing, not just for the girl and her family, but also for the entire village, giving them hope for their future. And it all begins with one well.

Though the trip back to our “hotel” was grueling, dusty, and very tiring, each of us was elated with what we had seen and experienced. Neither Kevin Kilroy nor Andrew Cherng was present, but they were with us nevertheless, and they will be with these villagers for generations to come.

Earth Day 2011 – Santa Monica College

Wells Bring Hope joined other ecologically-minded non-profits on the Santa Monica College campus for Earth Day on April 22. Students taking part in a “Treasure Hunt” had to walk from one end of the quad to the other carrying a 40 lb. can filled with water. They couldn’t believe how heavy it was and to do it for 4-6 miles as women in West Africa do every day was unimaginable. It was an eye-opener for them and a very painful one, realizing how women and girls suffer from the burden of getting water. They were so happy to learn that when a well is drilled, all that is ended and girls can go to school.

Here’s what they had to say after carrying a can with 40 lbs. of water:
“It was very heavy. It didn’t feel good. For girls like me, it would be really hard to carry it. They would feel very tired. It’s sad that the girls can’t go to school. ” —Jade F. 8 years old
“I couldn’t make it all the way. I can’t even imagine having to do that every day, let alone one day for four to six miles.” —Isabella Z.
At first, it didn’t seem like anything. The road gets harder. Imagine doing it for four to six miles. —Jack. N.
“It was horrible. As soon as I got halfway, I got a headache. It was very tiring.” —Shandell
“I can’t believe that African women have to carry these so often. I could barely carry it for a couple of feet.” —Diana P.
“It is very heavy, even for a guy. I can’t even imagine doing it every day.” —Cristian H.
“It was very difficult to carry 40 lbs. of water around. I was exhausted just walking for one minute. I can’t imagine how African women walk for four to six miles carrying this water. That is something that I absolutely can’t do”. —Tran P.

Gil Garcetti’s Story

My journey began in January 2001. I was no longer Los Angeles County District Attorney. A month earlier, I had been the county’s chief law enforcement officer, now I was moving on but unsure of the direction. Life takes interesting detours when you least expect it.

My first trip to West Africa was with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation who thought I might be able to be of use as a photographer. We traveled to Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Niger where we met with NGOs, government officials, and villagers in rural communities. The most startling fact I heard early on was this: close to 70% of rural farm communities throughout West Africa do not have access to safe water.

Visiting the villages quickly brought home the consequences of unsafe water: high infant mortality; severe and recurrent illness for villagers of all ages; blindness; unsanitary living conditions; low farm production; absence of opportunity for private enterprise efforts; and, for girls, virtually no opportunity to attend school. I documented all this but was also mesmerized by images of hope and beauty among their women and children – their eyes, smiles and body language.

After that first trip, I returned to West Africa four more times to photograph and subsequently published the book, “Water Is Key: A Better Future for Africa.” My idea was to use it to make people in the developed world aware of both the consequences of unsafe water and the life changes that come when a well is drilled deep into the ground.

A FEW WORDS FROM GIL…

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World Water Day Walk in the Santa Monica Mountains

It’s hard for Southern Californians to believe that an event they’ve planned–a walk in the Santa Monica Mountains for World Water Day–got rained out but that is exactly what happened. However, that didn’t stop us from having a fun and very successful event!

About 40 of us came together to honor a remarkable 14 year old girl, Kevin Kilroy who made a very short presentation to her church during five Masses and raised enough money for two wells, $11,200! Here’s Kevin, lifting a container filled with water, equivalent to what women in Niger carry every day.

Gil Garcetti, former L.A. County District Attorney and renown photographer presented Kevin with one of his photos, one of a girl in a classroom. The photograph conveys a very crucial benefit of drilling a well in a village—girls go to school and get an education, something they would not be able to do if they had to spend all their time helping their mothers walk miles to get water.

Kevin’s persuasive abilities are clear as is her purpose. She has also inspired her school to help drills wells in Niger and through various fundraisers they have done and more to come.

This Year’s World Water Day Theme: Water for Cities

Every year on World Water Day, there is a theme and this year it is: Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge. The United Nations reports that by 2030, nearly 60% of the world will reside in cities, resulting in critical problems regarding how we manage water as well as wastewater.

Wells Bring Hope does not work in urban areas. The population we serve is rural, in fact, one of the most rural places on earth, Niger, West Africa. However, as we share this planet with those residing in cities, it behooves us to support efforts to strengthen water management programs wherever they are. As more and more villages get wells, people become more economically stable and sometimes migrate to urban areas to experience a better quality of life. Thus, rural moves to urban areas a compound the problem. However, the overriding need is to save lives with safe water and improve quality of life

Our former fiscal sponsor, prior to becoming our own non-profit, was the highly esteemed Pacific Institute. Heather Cooley, co-director of the Pacific Institute Water Program said this: “Today, roughly 141 million urban dwellers don’t have access to safe drinking water, and close to 800 million live without access to improved sanitation.” “We’re working to identify new policies and approaches that insure urban centers have access to adequate, safe, and affordable water supplies, while promoting healthy ecosystems.”

One new approach the Institute is working on is improving water and sanitation services through crowd-sourced map data using mobile phones. The pilot project is in Indonesia, which ranks sixth in the world for number of mobile phone subscribers. This project provides an exciting new tool for enabling information to flow between communities, governmental entities, and service providers, in support of rapid and informed decision-making.

“This tool will give people a way to report conditions such as poor water quality or quantity, well failures, and failure of private water supplies,” said Meena Palaniappan, director of the International Water and Communities Initiative. “It can be a key way to allow poor urban customers to hold utilities and other water providers accountable, as well as give these utilities important information to better plan in the face of climate variability.”

About World Water Day

Do you know how the international observance of World Water Day started? It began in 1992 as an initiative at the United Nations on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. Although the theme changes every year, it is still a time to get people to focus on the need to provide everyone on the planet with safe water.

World Water Day, March 2005 marked the start of a new UN International Decade for Action on water. This Water for Life Decade 2005-2015 was designed to give a high profile to implementing clean water-related programs and the participation of women.

The first water decade – from 1981 to 1990 – brought clean water to over a billion people and sanitation to almost 77 million. But the job was only half done. There are still almost 1.1 billion people without adequate access to water and 2.4 billion without adequate sanitation. Wells Bring Hope exists to make a dent in those statistics. Deaths from bad water, typically children under the age of 5, are horrific. We need to give them access to safe drinking water. Ours is a clean water project worthy of your support.

Wells Bring Hope is supporting World Water Day, 2011, with three events designed to make people aware of how easy it is to drill a well and bring safe water to people in the developing world. At our first event on Sunday, March 20th, “A Walk in the Santa Monica Mountains,” we will give people the opportunity to experience what it is like to carry huge plastic containers of water as the women and girls of West Africa and other parts of the world do. On March 22nd we will do the same thing with students at Santa Monica College. Then on March 26th, at an elegant soiree at the Sofitel in Los Angeles, we will celebrate our accomplishment of funding 55 wells since we started in 2008 and, with a dedicated group of supporters, continue to drill more wells. To find out more about our events go to: https://www.wellsbringhope.org/news-events/calender-of-upcoming-events

We are also supporting UNICEF’s Tap Project which is being done by restaurants around the country, asking people to donate $1 or more for the tap water that they are served. You can find out what your community is doing and participate at their website. To find out what’s going on in Los Angeles, please click here. We encourage our readers to support the Larchmont Grill; their owner has donated a gift certificate valued at $150 for our raffle at the Sofitel.

Wells Bring Help Support Unicef’s Tap Project

by Pat Landowska

For the fifth year in a row, UNICEF is raising money for clean water for children around the world through the organization’s Tap Project during World Water Week, March 20-26, 2011. The award-winning program that started in 300 New York restaurants, has since expanded to become a nationwide movement. During World Water Week, restaurants across the U.S. will encourage their patrons to donate $1 or more for the tap water they usually enjoy for free, according to the campaign’s slogan “When You Take Water, Give Water.” Since its inception in 2007, the UNICEF Tap Project has raised almost $2.5 million in the U.S. and has helped to provide clean water for millions of children globally.

Sean Bates, the co-owner of Larchmont Grill, one of the restaurants participating in the project in Los Angeles, calls UNICEF’s initiative “the most phenomenal charitable idea ever.” This year, Larchmont Grill will be participating in the program for the third time.

“Kids around the world suffer without clean water. UNICEF makes it possible to change that. Every dollar donated goes directly to those in need, no money is wasted for administrative costs,” says Bates. He learned about the project from his Brazilian employee, who helped to raise company’s awareness about scarce water supplies in developing countries. Since then all employees have been educated on the topic. Last year, Larchmont Grill raised over $1,000 for UNICEF.

“This year will be even better because we’re using our social marketing tools to promote the project. We’re also raising money through our website. Patrons are very receptive and often donate more than one dollar they’re being asked for.”

For Magnolia Hollywood it will be the second fundraiser for the Tap Project. “Statistics are amazing. People have no idea what a dollar can do. One dollar can secure safe water for one child for forty days. It is a great way for people to make a real difference with a very little effort” says Laurie Mulstay, the co-owner of Magnolia.

According to UNICEF, in 2010 alone, nearly 1,000 restaurants participated in the national campaign, making it the largest volunteer mobilization effort for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. If UNICEF gives us a poster, something we could show to clients, it would be a whole different story,” says Allen, the manager of Chi Dynasty in Studio City. Otherwise, it is hard to explain to customers why we want to charge them for the tap water during this one week of the year. “It’s very easy,” replies Laurie Mulstay. “UNICEF provides us with donation cards to be attached to patrons’ checks, so they can decide whether and how much they would like to donate.”

As we at Wells Bring Hope know from experience, successful charitable actions always require some kind of effort and nothing ever gets done based on good intentions alone. In this case, however, UNICEF makes the whole process simple for the restaurants to register with the Tap Project at http://www.tapproject.org/restaurants/, and to get help and guidance from the organization. We were shocked to learn that there are only 9 restaurants participating in Los Angeles!

Our founder, Barbara Goldberg called UNICEF to verify that, and it’s true. Their volunteers are trying to get more to come on board. Let’s give them a hand and become the “unofficial” volunteers for UNICEF. (Note: you can become an “official” volunteer by calling them toll free at:877-776-5827.) How to convince the restaurants you frequent to join the TAP Project? Just send them to: www.tapproject.org

If the idea of providing children of the world with safe water is dear to your heart, we encourage you to book a table in one of the restaurants listed below during the World Water Week. Here is a list of the participating restaurants to date:

Magnolia Downtown 825 W. James M. Wood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90015 213.362.0880

Larchmont Grill American 5750 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90038 323.464.4277

Magnolia Hollywood 6266 1/2 W. Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90028 323.467.0660

Taste On Melrose 8454 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood, CA 90069 323.852.6888

Breadbar Third Street 8718 W. Third Street Los Angeles, CA 90048 310.205.0124

Panini Pizzeria 8849 W. Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90069 310.652.4726

Breadbar Century City 10250 Santa Monica Blvd. Century City, CA 90067 310.277.3770

Enzo & Angela 11701 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025 310.477.3880

Cafe Bolivar 1741 Ocean Park Boulevard Santa Monica, CA 90405 310.581.2344

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.

The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Financial Flows to the Water Sector In Sub-Saharan Africa

Here are highlights of a report published in late 2010 on the impact of the global financial crisis on financial flows to the water sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. The goal of the study was to analyze how the water sector is presently financed and then trace the impact of the crisis on these financing sources. The lead author was John Joyce of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). Jakob Granit (SIWI), Emmanuel Frot (Stockholm University), David Hall, Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) and David Haarmeyer (Independent Consultant) were co-authors.

The report concluded that the general low level of investment finance to the water sector will continue hamper growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, which includes the countries where we are drilling borehole wells, Niger and Mali, West Africa. The water sector in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) is characterized by low levels of investment, cost ineffective service delivery and weak governance. On the positive side, recent economic data indicate that the economic impact of the crisis appears to have been temporary on SSA economies, due to positive and high macro-growth forecasts and improved commodity revenues.

However the report stated that: “We do not know in real time how the financial crisis will impact on donor decisions. There may be a lagged impact where disbursements in the near future will turn out to be much less than commitments given before the crisis. This outcome could be even more likely to be negative should the crisis continue to linger or turn into a double-dip recession. Based on past crises, donor responses, and historical disbursements data and a number of strong caveats, we estimate a scenario where water aid in 2018 will be $103 million lower than without the crisis.