Fostering clean water around the globe requires a long-term commitment

Fostering clean water around the globe requires a long-term commitment
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Digging a well is actually pretty easy in the scheme of things. What’s difficult is changing the mindset of the people to use it and maintain it. If organizations just dig a well and leave, their efforts and that of their supporters will have been short-lived. The people are abandoned and left with more false promises of help from outsiders with good intentions and no follow through. Those using these new water sources, like wells, water purification systems, and filters need to understand the importance of clean water and its ties to their health. The project’s success is dependent on the daily behaviors of the people. 

About 50 percent of wells will break in some way within the first five years. If these mindsets aren’t embedded in the communities, no one in that community will take the initiative to fix a well when it stops working. People will return to their old familiar methods of collecting unclean water and nothing will change. When communities embrace clean water and commit to having it, they’re empowered to become innovators. They learn to work together to problem solve and the entire community stands behind their leadership’s efforts to maintain access. They establish committees and assign accountability.

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I’m fortunate to live in a country that has a trained and educated society regarding water. We grow up understanding the importance of clean water, we’re taught to wash our hands as children, and we have easy access. But, it’s not just the proximity of water. It’s a lifestyle and culture that simply doesn’t exist in developing parts of the world.

 

When we link it back to their general health and well-being, they will commit to it once we’ve left. That’s true change. Anything less is harmful and falls short of our call to truly serve.

The next question in this process is how do we help to change generations of social behavior, poor sanitation habits, and mistrust to encourage new practices around water?

The answer lies in relationships.

I’ve seen communities that were once gifted a well by a different organization or group of people who wanted to help. But the group left once the project was complete. To the local people, this was just a parade of passing noise. It takes time before people are willing to have meaningful conversations and an exchange of ideas.

To me, investing in the long term, cultivating inter-community relationships, and paving the way for truly sustainable change is all rooted in our values. That means that it takes more time and a larger financial investment if we want to see beliefs and attitudes shift. In my experience, it takes around 18-24 months in a community before people establish a level of rapport that would allow newcomers to speak into their lives. We have to break down the walls of mistrust.

U.S. funders, public and private, want to see that organizations like Food for the Hungry are building local capacity, going deeper to build relationships of trust, and creating a lasting impact that will forever change the lives of those who are living in poverty. I’m proud to say we heartily agree.

Gary Edmonds is president and CEO of Food for the Hungry, a relief and development organization of Christian motivation that works in Asia, Africa and Latin America.