Kevin Lee: Fresh and Flowing
Water is a life source. When clean and safe water is available, life grows and teems with endless possibilities. But when water is murky, not good for human consumption, life is derailed, development is delayed, and the future is bleak and cloudy at best.
While stationed in Palawan in 2004, former Peace Corps member Kevin Lee witnessed how unsafe water and the lack of proper sanitation facilities can hamper the growth and productivity of any community. A mechanical engineer by profession, Lee’s instinct was to find a way to address this problem. With a colleague, Gemma Bulos, he founded A Single Drop of Safe Water (ASDSW), aimed at addressing the issues that hinder poor communities from accessing clean water and sanitation.
Lee quickly understood that the barrier to clean water accessibility was not necessarily funding but the inability of the community and local government to “own the issue.” Technical solutions were available, but with no one to care for upkeep and maintenance, equipment and systems tend to break down. By working to shift orientations and priorities, he helped create demand for quality Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) systems.
According to the Ashoka brief, “ASDSW’s model creates a leadership team of community members as well as a committed government task force. Together they plan, design, and implement their own water and sanitation systems. In doing so, this approach helps dislodge bottlenecks in government funding allocations for improved water and sanitation systems while establishing an accountability and management structure to ensure the systems continue.”
Lee remarks: “Initially it was difficult for communities and government to justify this much investment (time and money) for these types of projects. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) are seen as infrastructure projects, with high failure rates. We were investing in both the software and hardware. As we have evolved the program, we looked at the messaging as it is our job to make sure the message is right and that we understand our stakeholders’ motivations. Our messaging looked at not only health impacts but also economic impact. We also looked at the root causes of failure and related it to the process. From initial reluctance at the start, we now are able to start programs with enthusiasm from our partners. This comes from the way our staff and management are able to empathize with partners and how they also realize that we are actually creating changemakers who are making the real difference.”
One such community that had a change of heart is the municipality of Upi in Maguindanao. After undergoing the month-long training seminar with ASDSW, the participants recognized their responsibility to the community. As students of the program, they learned how to dream, how to relate the collective vision of the group to the individual’s vision, and how all these were interconnected. From another point of view, water service providers were glad to note that the barangay embraced the concept of equity, which gave them a sense of ownership for the project, from the laying down of pipes to maintaining the safe water system.
“Bottom line is that WaSH is not about pumps, pipes, filters, and toilets,” Lee reiterates. “It’s about people prioritizing it, investing in it, taking responsibility for it and regulating it. If we do this properly we will be able to solve one of the root causes of poverty allowing our more vulnerable populations to be healthier and invest in their children’s future.”
ASDSW has successfully implemented WaSH in communities around the Philippines, like Benguet, Camarines Sur, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Palawan, and Panay. To keep this fresh perspective flowing, expansion plans have been set for more conflict areas in Mindanao and calamity-stricken municipalities in the country.
For more about ASDSW and WaSH, visit http://www.singledrop.org/
Makeup and hair by Jayfren “JJ” Gallego of Creations by Lourd Ramos Salon
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