College Students’ Join the “Brigade” for Clean Water

Connecting Themes and Recommendations for Action

              Lack of access to safe drinking water has been and continues to be a significant problem in developing countries. This complex issue is caused by several factors: lengthy distance to water sources, depletion of water sources due to agriculture and industrial use, natural hydrology due to geographical variation, drought caused by climate change, and water contamination due to lack of sanitation and hygiene infrastructure. In fact, according to the UN, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services and evenmore striking, 340,000 children under five die every year due to preventable contamination-caused diarrheal diseases. Water is central to sustainable development and crucial for human survival. Unfortunately, water is also asocial justice and human rights issue. As the planet’s population continues to increase, there is increasing need to balance the use of water for industrial and commercial use, while maintaining enough for the individual’s basic hygienic needs. As global citizens, it is our duty to find some way that we can help those in need.

              Although this problem is larger than ourselves, there are small goals we can accomplish in order to work our way towards finding long-term solutions. These goals include: raising funds and awareness of water insecurity, recognizing human actions and climate change as contributors to the problem, and addressing lack of education on the subject. In order to accomplish these goals, active global water brigade chapters should be established at every college and university. Global Water Brigades is thelargest student-led movement for global health and holistic development; the program aims to bring college students together to help nations develop improved water and sanitation infrastructure. These student groups achieve this through fundraising, conducting research on the community in need, and ultimately serving on a week-long water brigade in that community. By making this a universal initiative, it reminds people that this is not simply a problem for those who live in water scarce communities, but it is a problem for everyone. We are all stakeholders as inhabitants of the same planet. Therefore,we must take initiative by using the resources at our disposal in order togenerate change.

            Raising money and visiting the nationin need are some hands-on solutions to this complex problem. What makes Global Water Brigade (GWB) different from other “missions” or other philanthropic projects is that volunteers work personally with local engineers, technicians,and community members to establish a solution that works for them. GWB makes ittheir mission to have extensive understanding of the community’s environment,economy, social structure, and political climate; therefore, striving toovercome the “white savior complex” that is often associated with projects such as this.

              Projects conducted by volunteers typically involve testing water, digging trenches, laying and connecting standpipes, and providing education to improve family and community health. Following these construction projects, volunteers further their initiative by conducting education workshops for primary school children. These workshops are facilitated by partnerships with the community’s Basic Sanitation Committee, featuring topics such as hygiene practices, safe water storage, water conservation, and watershed protection. In addition, GWB also includes extra days in the community to help with the evaluation and follow-up assessments of the previously completed water systems.This opportunity produces measurable indicators that allow GWB to know if their projects and “brigades” were effective.

              Although GWB has a multifaceted model tobringing safe water to communities and spreading awareness amongst collegestudents, there are a few barriers that could potentially stand in the way ofhaving success with this initiative. One barrier is the limited outreach of the GWB program; by limiting brigades to Ghana and Honduras, other countries are not benefiting from their projects and partnership. This is most likely due to therelatively-steady and safe social and political climate that enables the student brigade groups to enter the two countries and help out. An example of this stable social climate is the extensive communication between the GWB and Ghana and Honduras. For instance, volunteer safety is ensured by established relationships with local police and military in these countries, providing constant monitoring of volunteer activities. While this is beneficial to volunteers, this is distracting the police from other issues that may be going on in the community or daily tasks they need to tend to in order to ensure the safety of the country’s own citizens. These partnerships and arrangements do take a long time to achieve, and they limit GWB’s ability to help other countries with similar needs to Ghana and Honduras. Perhaps it would be better to give indirectly, soto forgo extra time spent on planning for the volunteers’ safety and other related arrangements; donating to another non-profit or organization may prove to be more efficient. However, these are common reservations to have when aninitiative involves entering another culture to help with any kind of project.

            An additional barrier is money. The GWB’s Volunteer DonationFund is their method of collecting money to fund the water brigades. Volunteers must reach a certain fundraising goal using the GWB’s Holistic Model. However,once this is reached, all other parts of the trip are at no expense to the student volunteer. While fundraising takes time and can be difficult, it demonstrates initiative and drive within the volunteer; something that is required for an extensive project such as water brigade. Despite these obstacles, I admire the mission of GWB and how it directly targets college students as their facilitators of positive change. Because of this, it is an overall beneficial initiative to have on college campuses across the globe.

            In order to expand beyond the current initiatives of the GWB, I have thought of an additional program that wouldserve to spread awareness, fundraise, and unite people around the issue ofwater scarcity. As a part of the water brigade projects on campuses, the group would plan and facilitate a walk to raise money and awareness for the long and difficult trek that women make every day just to obtain water for their families. The walk would be a similar model to the well-known, “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” fundraiser which brings awareness to stopping rape, sexual assault,and gender violence. Similar to how males wear women’s heels for the mile-longwalk, the “Women’s Walk for Water” will emulate the conditions women in water scarce communities face every day. The “Women’s Walk for Water will be a 6Kwalk on an off-road path, while carrying a 40 lbs. load. Although this may sound like a strenuous endeavor, these are similar conditions to which women experience when fetching water every day, without the added risks of being abducted, injured, or lost along the way.

                 WorldVision confirms that women indeed walk an average of 3.7 miles per day (equalto a 6K) to reach a water source- one that is often contaminated with life-threatening diseases. In addition, the water they carry weighs an average of 44 lbs. These conditions will provide a glimpse into the physical, mental, and emotional burdens women face every day. The“Women’s Walk for Water” event will also accept donations for participation that will go towards GWB’s mission to bring safe drinking water systems to nations in need. Students who are involved in their campus’s GWB chapter will reachout to fellow students and post on social media about the walk in order to spread awareness of water scarcity’s impact on women. This will also serve as a means to gain participants for the walk. Ultimately, this will prompt students to become active in the school’s chapter of GWB. The increasing number of walk participants, money raised, chapter members, and social media followers willserve as indicators of success. Since those in more “developed” countries areoften fortunate to have access to clean water, it is critical that awareness and actionbe brought to college campuses around the world!

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