Empowering African Communities Through Water and Workshops

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 780 million people around the world do not have improved water sources (water sources that are protected from outside contamination). The UN reported in 2019 that about half of those people live on the continent of Africa. The figure is even worse in sub-Saharan Africa, where only 24% of the population has an easily accessible source of safe drinking water.

In addition, the CDC estimates that about 2.5 billion people — more than 35% of the global population — lack access to sanitary toilet facilities. The widest majority live in sub-Saharan Africa. In that region, less than one-third of the people have modern bathrooms or sanitary latrines, further contaminating the water supply with human waste.

Needless to say, the scarcity of clean water and proper sanitation in Africa drastically increases the risk of contracting infectious diseases. Many poor families drink water that is permeated with bacteria, parasites, chemical runoff, industrial waste and fecal matter. Even if their villages have a local well, the boreholes are often too shallow and improperly cased, allowing life-threatening pollutants to enter the water supply.

Cross Catholic Outreach is working with African dioceses to help at-risk communities in countries such as Ghana, Kenya and Malawi overcome water scarcity and improve their public health. The first stage in this process involves providing dry villages with safe, clean wells and sanitary latrines. The second stage, however, is just as important — facilitating educational workshops that teach villagers to maintain their new wells, improve their hygienic practices, and even increase their household incomes.

Why Should Training Accompany Water Relief Missions?

Knowledge is power. While installing clean wells in needy communities is certainly a step in the right direction, those communities need know-how in order to keep those wells functional and contaminant-free for years to come. Too many villages have received new water systems only to see those systems fall into disrepair. Boreholes require periodic maintenance; therefore, the people must be equipped to maintain them.

Hygiene is another factor that makes education imperative. If a community receives a well but persists in unsanitary practices, such as open defecation, the water supply can easily become contaminated and cease to provide the relief it once promised. Workshops can provide basic knowledge regarding sanitation and hygiene, equipping villagers with simple tools that make an invaluable difference.

In Africa, the water relief projects we support are typically accompanied by water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) training sessions, as well as other innovative workshops. These educational sessions help strengthen communities with the knowledge they need to protect their health and maximize the benefits of their new water systems.

Cross Catholic Outreach International Projects Manager Rebecca Riccitello (left) and hydrologist Betty Kagwima (right) lead a WASH training session in Tanzania. These sessions are often very engaging and garner enthusiastic audience participation.

What Is WASH?

WASH is an acronym first coined by the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (formerly called the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council), an organization hosted by the UN. It has since been universally adopted by major public health and poverty reduction institutions, including the World Health Organization, the CDC and the World Bank Group.

WASH helps us summarize the global need for water, sanitation and hygiene education while addressing the public health issues created by their scarcity. When planning for a water relief project, our ministry partners work to facilitate two-day WASH training sessions for each benefiting community.

These sessions address a wide variety of relevant topics, including the dangers of drinking unclean water, the necessary components of a safe well, best practices for preventing well contamination and the necessity of proper sanitation. They also teach hygienic practices such as hand-washing, collecting water in clean containers and cooking on sanitary surfaces. This education goes a long way to dispel misconceptions, promote health and restore dignity in vulnerable communities.

The WASH training sessions funded by Cross Catholic Outreach often have spiritual significance as well. Many of our ministry partners work with local parishes to host the training sessions and, when present, priests start and end meetings with prayer. In this way, villagers draw near to the local church and build relationships with their Catholic neighbors. This helps them view the church as a source of empowerment, encouragement and healing. God works through his servants to communicate mercy and love to those in deepest need.

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The Importance of Water Point Committees

Local parishes also assist by appointing upstanding, responsible community members to the village Water Point Committee. In addition to receiving WASH training, committee members undergo more extensive education regarding well maintenance and basic repairs. They learn the components of the well from top to bottom, equipping them to preserve the longevity of their new water sources.

Additionally, Water Point Committees play an important role in reinforcing WASH concepts throughout the community. These local leaders are typically well respected by their neighbors and capable of communicating necessary adjustments regarding sanitation and hygiene. They often oversee the construction of sanitary latrines and disseminate pertinent health information. They are also responsible for collecting a small annual water fee from capable households. This fund pays for any necessary well maintenance.

Sanitation entrepreneurs learn to make sanitary platforms for latrines.

A Closer Look at the Diocese of Karonga, Malawi

In certain dioceses, training and equipping goes even further, sometimes providing agricultural education to help families expand their crop diversity, increase their production and enhance their nutrition. The Diocese of Karonga in Malawi has developed a particularly innovative program that uses WASH to support local mechanics, train sanitation entrepreneurs and empower families through borehole banking.

Supporting Local Mechanics

In addition to training Water Point Committees on basic borehole maintenance, the Diocese of Karonga provides more thorough training for local mechanics. Equipped with a high-level understanding of the well and all its parts, these mechanics become known as “area pump menders.” Rather than contacting government agencies to perform more extensive repairs, villages can support their local economy by hiring their own neighbors. Such repairs are often completed more quickly and at a much cheaper price.

Training Sanitation Entrepreneurs

The Diocese of Karonga also trains enterprising individuals to start sanitation businesses. These entrepreneurs learn about the various types of sanitary latrines. They can identify the depths and materials that are best suited for the landscape and the number of people in each household. Families hire these local entrepreneurs for either a reasonable fee or in exchange for goods, such as chickens, maize, beans or groundnuts. This program is specifically geared toward empowering women, and the diocese makes a special effort to ensure that many of its sanitation entrepreneurs and water point committee members are female.

Empowering Families Through Borehole Banking

In a process called borehole banking, the Water Point Committee collects a modest water fee — normally the equivalent of 67 cents per month — from each household in the community. A portion of these proceeds is then distributed to responsible community members in the form of small, low-interest loans. These loans help families start small businesses, such as buying and selling goods, to diversify their income. Any interest collected is used as capital to grow the borehole maintenance fund.

Related: Quenching Thirst in the Diocese of Karonga, Malawi

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How You Can Transform Communities Through Clean Water and Training

Providing water and sanitation relief along with hygiene education and relevant training can help usher communities along the road to self-sufficiency. As you can see, this powerful combination of material aid and education offer much more than a handout. Rather, it is the hand up that many struggling villages have been praying for.

When you donate to Cross Catholic Outreach in support of our water and sanitation projects in Africa, you are addressing various critical issues at once. You are installing clean wells to fight the African water crisis and quench the thirst of suffering families. You are building sanitary latrines that restore health and dignity to entire communities. You are also equipping villagers with the knowledge they need to protect their households and build a brighter future for their families.

1 Samuel 2:8 says, “He raises up the poor from the dust.” By reaching out with God’s love, you too can help vulnerable villages rise above their circumstances. Visit any of the links below to learn more about our water relief efforts in Africa. Your generous giving will refresh weary communities and lead them into a new era of abundant life.

Proceeds from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2022, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.