Featured Organizations, Rights

The Role of Water in the Struggle for Rights

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While A Spring of Hope’s mission is to bring water to impoverished rural South African schools in order to provide sustainable economic development to all in the community, our work has a significant and unique impact for girls and women.

One very critical area that is affected by lack of water is school attendance. Girls’ absentee rates are significantly higher than boys due to their role as water collectors. They often have to trudge several kilometers with jerry cans to unreliable government pumps or unsafe, polluted sources in order to acquire water for cooking and washing, losing days of school and work. If the water is of questionable quality and makes them ill, more work or school time is lost, with medical costs adding economic burdens they can ill-afford.

Photo Credit: A Spring of Hope

Photo Credit: A Spring of Hope

According to the UN Women Commission, women and girls represent 75 percent of household water collectors. In some countries, the proportion is as high as 90 percent.

A fresh, clean water source at schools can be used for food preparation, sanitation and growing prolific gardens that provide healthy and nutritious meals for the students. Additionally, the burden of collecting water is lessened and girls are more likely to maintain their studies.

Another area which A Spring of Hope is striving to improve, which also adversely affects girls, is sanitation. In South Africa, 913 schools have no sanitation facilities and 11,450 are still using pit latrine toilets (www.equaleducation.org.za). While poor sanitation and pit latrines spread disease and are unhealthy for all, menstruation offers additional challenges to girls.

Globally, about one in ten female students do not attend school during menstruation or drop out because they do not have access to sanitation facilities they feel are private, clean, and safe.

In addition, inadequate sanitation facilities pose a safety risk for women and girls, who often suffer harassment or sexual assault when toilets have no locks or doors.

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Photo Credit: A Spring of Hope

A Spring of Hope is attempting to provide solutions for these sanitation issues by providing waterless toilets to our partner schools. Waterless toilets are a revolutionary waste containment system which is environmentally friendly, requires no water, and helps eradicate the spread of disease.

Universal access to water and sanitation is imperative to achieving gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment. It is also about the increased access to rights–the right to own property, own land, education, and free choices. A Spring of Hope is contributing to this ongoing struggle for rights by helping schools become self-sufficient, strong community centers. It’s not “aid” or giving material goods away, it is partnerships that are behind rights-based development.

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In the summer 2005, mother and daughter Joanne and Brittany visited the Limpopo province of South Africa. Chance circumstances landed them at Beretta Primary School in Acornhoek, an impoverished town located in a former “Bantustan,” or apartheid-era “homeland.” Beretta had over 1,200 students and no running water, a reality most schools in rural South Africa must face. The lack of nearby running water made life at Beretta extremely difficult. School gardens, which provided for many students their only source of fresh fruits and vegetables, grew exclusively during the rainy seasons. Volunteer mothers walked several miles to retrieve buckets of water from a government pump to prepare lunch for the children. Without operating flush toilets, students were forced to use unsanitary pits and were not able to wash their hands to keep from spreading illnesses. Beretta, however, was not unusual. Sanitation, hygiene, and water access are some of the biggest obstacles for rural schools not only in South Africa, but across the entire continent. Brittany and Joanne teamed up to fundraise for a borehole (deep water well) at Beretta Primary. In 2006, a well was completed the help of South African friends Brendon and Sheri Schmikl. Water at Beretta Primary significantly improved student health and nutrition through a thriving garden. In 2007, a documentary was produced on A Spring of Hope and the changes at Beretta Primary since the addition of the well. The documentary was updated in 2010 and serves to educate people on the topic of the world water crisis and A Spring of Hope’s work. Beretta continues to serve as the primary model of success for A Spring of Hope, which was later founded in 2007 and has grown into a professional NGO with an ambitious and unique mission to combine clean water access with economic and social development programs. Beretta Primary has capitalized on their water investment by expanding their tremendous garden and by selling their surplus fruits and vegetables to the community. The school won a 10,000 ZAR ($1,000 USD) prize for their garden in 2010 and continues to exhibit incredible entrepreneurship and drive to improve the quality of life and education of its students. Today, ASOH has 27 partner schools in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa. ASOH has become a team of highly motivated young activists, engineers, and thinkers.