Tag Archives: clean water

A Tale of Two Cities — Clean Water and Sanitation

Last month I started a journey, in monthly installments, to two fictional cities—Assetsville and Needsville—both cities representative of poor communities in Africa. While the issues in these cities are identical, the responses to these issues could not be more different—both in philosophy and methodology.

Clean water and sanitation are luxuries. The statistics are devastating: One billion of our planet’s citizens lack access to clean water. Unsafe water and poor sanitation cause 80% of all diseases and kill more than two million people annually, 90% of whom are children under the age of five.

When these realities became publicized in Needsville, the response from the international community was swift and profound. Wells were drilled. Rainwater was collected and purified. Water filtration plants were installed. The challenge was big and the response was inspiring.

Sadly, the outcomes fell far short of the aspirations. Shockingly, 80% of the new wells fell into disrepair. The entire region became a “wasteland for broken water and sanitation infrastructure.” The working wells became overworked, plagued by shortages and unmotivated staff. Long lines developed at these wells as the meek recipients waited anxiously to fill up their jugs with the “free” water. Even some church well projects, while well-meaning, were not sustained. The wells were drilled for the residents of Needsville by missions trippers, not by or with them.

In sharp contrast, the streets of Assetsville are now flowing with clean water. Local ingenuity, entrepreneurial grit and sustainable models abound. A local church recently built a water purification center with the help of a Christian ministry and is now providing affordable clean water to their community. The water business employs a handful of church members and creates a revenue stream for the church to pay its underpaid pastoral staff. Refreshing: The local church is providing affordable pure water and sharing about the Living Water.

microfinance program in Assetsville built a purification system in its branch office. Dozens of clients subsequently took out loans to purchase the clean water in bulk. These water vendors load up their bicycles with jugs of water and sell it in some of the most-underserved communities in the city. Through this model, they collectively sell over 300,000 gallons annually and experience the dignity of work. Innovative: Water solutions—microfinance-style.

Down the road, a pioneering new business is a booming success, bringing dignity to sanitation, through its high-quality, public, pay-per-use toilet and shower facility. Counterintuitive: “The poor” paying for the privilege of using clean bathroom facilities.

Even the children are involved in the movement. They pump clean water into their schools while they play on merry-go-rounds. The excess water is sold to the community and advertising space on the water tanks is sold to ensure the pumps are maintained. Clever: Sustainable clean water fueled by the play of children.

All throughout Assetsville, fresh ideas and entrepreneurial tenacity are charting a new course—a course fueled by smart solutions, and framed by healthy partnerships between the residents of Assetsville and those who are descending on the city to provide help. Next month’s installment: Education.


There’s an App for That

It’s no longer good enough to kill two birds with one stone. We now require each stone to kill six birds. Case and point: While I’m not cool enough to own an iPhone, I have friends who are, and I am continually amazed at its diverse functionality. Mobile communication technology is an absolute marvel in itself, but it’s no longer enough for our phones to make and receive calls from anywhere in the world. Now we require them to provide email, directions, games, web browsing, news, stock trading, and blogging. Daily, the list expands. Are you pregnant and need to track your contractions? Now you can with the Birth Buddy app on your iPhone. You name it – “there’s an app for that.” Microfinance isn’t just about making loans anymore. Traditional microfinance in and of itself is transformative, but the opportunities for innovation on the microfinance framework are boundless.

Clean water is a serious issue around the world; globally, one in six people lack access. HOPE’s program in the Philippines pioneered an innovative, employment-based strategy to address this serious issue. In partnership with PepsiCo, they built a top-notch water purification system right in the branch office. Twenty of their clients took out loans to purchase the water in bulk. These water vendors then load up their bicycles with jugs of water and sell the water in some of the most-underserved communities in the city. Through this model, they collectively sell over 300,000 gallons of clean water annually. Sure, it’s wonderful that our clients in the Philippines can access financial services, but what about the dirty water they drink every day? Microfinance has an app for that.

In the Dominican Republic, many of our clients are able to run a business, but they sadly have family members who are suffering with or have died from AIDS or other sexually-transmitted diseases. When I visited a community bank in the Dominican Republic last year, the loan officer conducted a comprehensive, biblically-based STD training during one of the group’s bi-weekly loan repayment meetings using educational materials developed by a healthcare organization. It’s great our clients there have a safe place to save their money, but how do they educate their children about sexual health? Yep, there’s an app for that.

Recognizing that their clients completely lacked access to Bibles and Christian literature, HOPE Ukraine developed an innovative solution to address this disparity. They have thousands of clients throughout Ukraine and when they started distributing Bibles, the Jesus Film and Christian literature at client meetings, immediately they had created a viable distribution channel for these much-needed resources. Having access to capital is important, but what directs our clients’ financial decision-making and priorities? Do they have access to God’s word? You guessed it. There’s an app for that.