By Kathleen Treat, Chair of Strong Women, Strong World
My recent trip to Niger was unlike any other trip I have taken. I find myself explaining it by calling it “simple.” The needs are so basic and fundamental that they need little explanation. There is not a lot of context to grasp. It’s very clear.
I knew, intellectually, what it meant when dealing with the issue of women and water. I’ve been to communities where women have to walk long distances to fetch water for their family. It was one of many hardships that women bore as they tried to provide for their children.
But Niger was different. It was raw. It took that knowledge I had in my head and moved it to my gut. As I rode hour after hour through a barren landscape, the needs became simpler and more gut wrenching. Water is life. Water is everything. There are no other needs if there is no water. There are no other choices if there is no water.
We visited several pump sites in the communities. The joy around them was palpable. One woman told us that the stagnant water source the community had been using had tested positive for Cholera. The government had told them that they couldn’t use it. But it was the only water available, and so they used it. Without water, there are no options.
The most exciting thing for me on the trip is what we were calling “WASH +”. Women in these communities spent 6-8 hours hunting for water every day. When a pump came, that time was instantly freed up. For the first time, they had the opportunity to look at their other needs, to have some choices. In these communities, World Vision was introducing women’s savings groups (as the “plus”) to the WASH program. The women were able to come together and be trained in the first steps of, what is essentially, community banking. They would pool the small amount of money they had, make loans to each other, and share in the profits that they all made.
It was astounding to see the changes. They were able to grow better food for their families, send their children to school, and earn the respect of their husbands. They had hope for the first time, and they were embracing it.
It was very simple: provide clean water, provide instruction, and watch while their entrepreneurial spirits ignited.