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Statement from Lifewater on Global Handwashing Day 2015

“What does she do with the safe water now that it is nearby her home,” I mutter to an interpreter. It’s a warm day in rural Uganda. I’m sweating and doing my best to take notes. In the midst of lush green fields and thatch-roofed huts, we sit on Dorcas’ (her Christian name) stool and talk a bit. Dorcas is featured in the above photo.

I start with generalities: what is your name, how many children do you have, how do you earn a living, are there other family members living with you on the compound, how long have you lived in this village?

After some rapport is established, and I make a few self-deprecating jokes, the conversation moves toward her families water use. In this village, Dorcas and her neighbors once traveled 3 km each way to fetch water from an open pit that was shared with animals.

Now, the water source is close to her home. In fact, I can see it just beyond a few of her neighbor’s fields. Delighted to have safe and clean water closer to her home she goes on to tell me about all of the time that she saves not having to fetch water (about six hours a day), let alone the lifting of her physical burden of carrying that water weight over such a significant distance.

And then I ask the question that I live to hear the answer to: how do you use the water?
You see, for us, water projects aren’t really construction activities. They are an opportunity to walk alongside rural families as they discover that their daily practices are making them sick. In fact, data shows us that handwashing at critical times is almost 50% more effective at reducing water-related diseases than the provision of safe water.

Dorcas tells me that she uses the time to take care of her newborn baby; bathing the baby every other day. I asked her how often she did this previously. “Never” she responds, “I didn’t have time and didn’t realize how important it was.”

This year, as we pause to acknowledge the importance of handwashing and hygiene activities, let us remember that the people we serve are actually the best solutions to the problems they face. When trained and properly equipped, they can build and use basic handwashing stations. They can construct their own pit latrines to properly handle their human waste. And when they do these things on their own, they build much more than a water project – they build a healthy future for their child.

How can our world’s rural poor families wash their hands without a bathroom?

Click here to see a ‘tippy-tap’ that can be constructed from readily available local materials.

Justin Narducci, MBA (Thunderbird School of International Management) is the President/CEO of Lifewater International, a Christian water development organization that is passionate about vulnerable children and families using water well.

Lifewater International is a non-profit Christian water development organization dedicated to effectively serving vulnerable children and families by partnering with underserved communities to overcome water poverty. With experience in more than 40 countries since 1977, Lifewater serves people of all faiths, focusing on contextually appropriate water sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) development. For more information, contact Christine Zurbach (czurbach@lifewater.org) or visit www.lifewater.org. Lifewater International is based in San Luis Obispo, CA.