Let’s try something. Walk to the nearest faucet and pour yourself a glass of water. Pretty easy, right? In Bangladesh, for young girls, this short walk ends up becoming a four-mile hike only to wait in line and receive a couple buckets of dirt-ridden water for the whole day.
The global water crisis affects millions of people, mostly in developing countries. Almost 2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to clean water or even a simple toilet. Additionally, 100 million children, mainly girls, are not able to receive an education because they are carrying water. This perpetuates a cycle of illiteracy and poverty.
Thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, local organizations such as Water 1st received the funding to implement sustainable solutions to this water crisis. I first got involved with Water 1st as a participant in the Teens Take Action program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center. Teens Take Action is an annual yearlong program that provides youth the opportunity to tackle action projects about a local or global issue based on their choosing.
As a participant, I was able to learn many leadership and organization skills that allowed me to grow into a global change agent. Along with the skills I learned, the most valuable connection I made at the Teens Take Action program was with Water 1st. Water 1st is a local Seattle-based non-profit organization that aims to help poor people in developing countries gain access to water, as well as implement water hygiene and sanitation education projects in Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, and Honduras. To date, Water 1st has supported and implemented the construction of over 1,100 water systems reaching almost 120,000 people, many of them in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world. Almost 90% of slum residents lack access to safe water and 85% lack access to hygienic toilets. In the squatter settlements, the residents have to buy unsafe water from illegal connections or receive water from contaminated rivers.
After being involved with Water 1st, I was able to travel to Bangladesh this past November to see the projects that have been implemented, firsthand, as well as communicate with locals about their experience. DSK, Water 1st’s local partner organization, assisted me on my trip.
My first stop was in a local slum in Mirpur. Water 1st and DSK were able to support and establish a clean water system and toilets in this slum last year. The people in this community who continue to lead the efforts in sanitation education are a group of women. They meet weekly to discuss how the water system is working and create presentations to advocate for clean hygiene. It is truly inspiring how these women have learned the skills of project management and organization to reach their goals. Instead of spending hours carrying water, Water 1st gave them the opportunity to be leaders in their community.
In another slum in Mirpur, DSK and Water 1st organized cultural and education programs by involving the local students and allowing them to learn about water hygiene. The educational programs consist of after school sessions in which the students learn about clean water hygiene then, take the information and advocate to the rest of the community. This creates a cycle of information sharing and leads to disease prevention.
The cultural programs include performances such as singing, dancing, and skits, which allow students to participate in a fun and meaningful form of learning. This method allows students to engage and truly retain the information regarding the process of efficient hand washing and toilet use.
Since we have easy access to clean water here in the US, most people are not aware about this global crisis. I’m hoping to use my position to bridge the gap between America and developing countries like Bangladesh in efforts to mobilize other youth to get involved and take action. I am currently working with one of Water 1st’s partner organizations, Cascade Water Alliance on a program called Aqua Pals. Aqua Pals is a learning experience that connects schools in Washington State to schools in developing countries like Bangladesh in hopes of giving students the opportunity to learn about the world water crisis and create an ongoing dialog.
I intend to go back to Bangladesh with Water 1st again this winter and see what other amazing work has been done since last time. I urge you to learn more and take action on the global water crisis, and you can start by simply checking out this website: https://water1st.org/
I hope to see you on my next trip to Bangladesh!