A Story About More than Water

On World Water Day (March 22), an opportunity to look at how a solid education, stable income and good health all flow from access to clean water — and yet millions still go without.

Real change has come to Pamdu, a close-knit community in southern Ghana.

This story begins with Suleiman Ibrahaim, a young man who is no longer missing classes at school. What accounts for his improved attendance rate? It’s not a new school. It’s not better teachers. It’s actually something as simple as water.

The digging of a new mechanized borehole now provides drinkable water to the 4,500 residents of Pamdu and its neighboring community of Paninamisa. It may not be immediately obvious how clean water results in less absenteeism at school, but if you look closer it makes perfect sense. Residents like Suleiman used to walk for hours every day on dangerous roads to collect drinkable water, cutting into time better spent learning in the classroom. Before the borehole, the alternative was drinking from stagnant water, the source for many contagious diseases. Just ask 56-year old Opanin Ayisi, who has noticed a lot less people being treated for waterborne diseases since the digging of the borehole. Now, Suleiman and other students like him can spend more time in school, getting educated and increasing their odds not just of surviving, but thriving.

The world’s water crisis simply cannot be overlooked. And the facts speak for themselves:

  • 85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet
  • 748 million people do not have access to clean drinking water
  • Almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation
  • 6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases

And while these issues are bad enough alone, a lack of clean water results in so many residual issues. Take for example Halisahar Jetia High School for Girls in West Bengal, India. This is the place where United Way of Kolkata and partners are creating sanitary facilities in schools for girls. The unfortunate reality is that too many girls in places like West Bengal are missing school (and eventually dropping out) because they lack access to hygienic facilities. Their alternative is going out into the fields, in a district where trafficking in girls is rampant. That means we’re not just talking about something that’s inconvenient or embarrassing. We’re talking about the basic safety of young women who deserve better.

Today, 288 students in the Halisahar Jetia High School for Girls have access to a completely refurbished and clean sanitary facility with tiled flooring and walls, proper PVC doors, and piped water connections (another vital safety issue, since this district also has high levels of arsenic in the ground water). This success was just the first step of Security, Privacy, Dignity, an initiative led by United Way of Kolkata. They are now working with local communities to bring the same much-needed changes to other schools.

It’s stories like these that form the foundation for United Way’s entire approach to lasting community change. We work with partners to tackle the source, not just the symptoms, of community challenges. And rather than focusing on one issue, we’ve adopted a holistic approach to strengthening communities. We understand these are complex challenges that require tailored, multi-faceted solutions.

But we can’t do the work alone. Each and every one of you can play a role in your own community helping your United Way to solve its biggest challenges. What role will you play?

Get involved through volunteering, or give here.

~ Jesse Marcus, United Way Worldwide storyteller

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