Historically, philanthropic models benefiting Africa served as enablers to the continent's cycle of poverty by creating a reliance on handouts rather than empowering individuals for success with dignity. Traditionally, money was raised and disbursed to organizations on the ground and local individuals in need. Although this has changed the lives of many, it has resulted in communities that have become increasingly reliant on donations and support from outside sources. That model is not sustainable, nor is it encouraging individuals to break the cycle of poverty and take their success into their own hands.
Years ago, my daughter and I were supporting a charity that raised money to sponsor young women living in remote villages to attend a parochial secondary school. It was not until 2017, while my daughter was on a volunteer trip in South Africa, that we had the opportunity to visit the young women we had been supporting all these years.
Since my daughter was already on the continent, I flew to Cape Town, South Africa, to meet her and we then traveled together to the Dodoma region of Tanzania, where the girls we had been supporting were. Due to the absence of daily flights during that period, we had to embark on two separate flights, spanning two days, before finally reaching our destination. In Dodoma we then traveled nearly 31⁄2 hours to visit the home village of one of the girls we were sponsoring. Upon entering her village, we saw women trekking for miles to water sources that were far and often contaminated and men who seemed to have lost all hope, praying for rain so they could farm and feed their families. It was clear that the community was not living in healthy or sustainable conditions, nor could they see an end in sight. All they wanted - like you or I - was to provide for their families. I quickly learned that it all starts with water. That moment inspired me to find a solution - one that would make water more accessible for them, that would help them break out of their cycle of poverty and that would help the village be on the road toward economic independence.
These remote villages were trying to sustain an agricultural system in a climate facing extreme droughts with no reliable water supply. To help these communities, we realized the first step was to provide them with a clean and reliable source of water. We created our empowerment-based model. Unlike traditional philanthropic models that foster reliance on charity from abroad, our approach helps African communities break out of their cycles of poverty and helps current generations build the foundation for the future. We empower locals to ensure the long-term impact of the work and the recipients' ability to maintain their own communities.
Our first step is to provide fresh water to communities, which we do through our partnership with Innovation: Africa. By drilling into the aquifer, it eliminates the need for filtration, and the solar technology installed and remotely monitored in real time allows this water system to be independent and sustainable. A few months later, we evaluate the community's motivation for using innovative agriculture, including the implementation of drip irrigation systems for farming and agricultural training through our partnership with CultivAid and Hebrew University. The training and technology are offered to the communities and provided as an extension service of the Agricultural Innovation and Technology Centers (AITeC), a certifiable agriculture program and curriculum developed by CultivAid together with the network of Don Bosco Technical Institutes of Africa. This ensures that the community's agricultural knowledge is solid and self-sustainable and results in their produce being exponentially more nutritious and more bountiful than before, leading to economic prosperity and promoting human dignity.
Partnering with the communities ensures not only the successful installation of freshwater infrastructure but also a long-term positive effect on everyday life, and it gives them dignity and removes the feeling that they have to rely on others. Giving them this infrastructure means they can build an economic development plan for their communities, and we have seen the impact it has made. It starts with a feeling of accomplishment and taking care of their family. Each person plays a role in the community's success, thereby enabling them to break out of their cycle of poverty. Access to fresh water is their first step toward economic independence.
Over the last five years, we have seen the positive impact of this model. We are currently working with 14 communities in Tanzania and Kenya and have affected the lives of 50,000 Africans. We have trained more than 1,500 farmers through our AITeC courses. On Sept. 1, we opened the first AITeC site in Embu, Kenya, to help train and equip local farmers to produce healthier and more bountiful crops. It is a multifunctional farm that serves as a dynamic training center and innovative research hub, designed to train and equip local farmers with hands-on skills.
Nermine Khouzam Rubin is the founder and CEO of Water 4 Mercy. Visit: water4mercy.org