Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Voss Foundation: Women Helping Women

The celebration in Swari.
The Voss Foundation: Women Helping Women
by Lesley Hauge

It’s early morning and before the dust has risen the women and young girls of Kanikombole in the Dogon region of Mali carry bright buckets to a well and the water that gushes into their buckets gleams in the sunlight. The buckets filled means the day can start. Water is health. Water is hope. And above all, water is women’s work.

While women in richer countries are spared the heavy lifting of water buckets, it is worth reminding ourselves—if we need to—as to who does the washing, the cooking and bathes the kids at bedtime in the majority of households across the world—it’s work still done by women, even in these liberated times. And house-husbands haven’t yet reached most remote rural villages in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is why Women Helping Women, a relatively new campaign to build water systems and provide such communities with access to clean water is resonating with so many women across the world. Women and young girls in Africa spend up to eight hours a day fetching and carrying water, time that could be spent attending school or running a small business. Time! More of it! Less drudge! There’s no woman who can’t relate to that and there is almost no aspect of life in these parched, drought-prone areas that is not hugely improved by easier access to clean water.
Women at a well.
Schoolchildren have to fetch water at the beginning of the school day -- having already walked several kilometers to school.
Impure water at the bottom of potentially dangerous holes is often the only water source in remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa.
Run by the Voss Foundation, which was founded in 2008 as an independent 501(c)(3) by the directors of Voss bottled water from Norway, the campaign is one of several Voss Foundation water projects and its crucial focus on the lives of women and adolescent girls means that it has been an immediate success. It began in Oslo in November 2009, when the Voss Foundation invited Norwegian women to donate money towards building a comprehensive water system in Swari, a village of some 1500 people in the Samburu region of Kenya.

With support from such luminaries as a former Norwegian prime minister, United Nations Special Envoy, former Director General of the World Health Organization, as well as European celebrities and royalty, the project was oversubscribed by donors from all over the world. Some of the photographs accompanying this article document a group of funders who took the trip of a lifetime to Swari to celebrate the opening of the system which runs on solar power and includes reservoir tanks and spigots in various parts of the village – total cost? $47,134. A second project in Ndonyo Nasipa, northern Kenya, has already commenced.
Dinner -- some of the Norwegian funders on their trip to Swari in Northern Kenya.
The Norwegian funding group gather at a reservoir tank.
Gratitude works both ways.
The Voss Foundation Women Helping Women campaign has recently been launched in the US with the exact same focus on women and young girls and via the website www.thevossfoundation.org donors can follow projects that are documented by vivid photographs of village life and the primacy of water to that life, as well as track their money through transparent accounting posted on the site along with straightforward descriptions of how the wells are built and maintained in a locally sustainable manner. A trip is planned for early 2011 so the American donors can visit their project as well. It’s inspiring and vital and, above all else, joyful—testimony to what women can do when they go out and grab life no matter where they live.

The first Voss Foundation Women Helping Women US benefit luncheon honoring Congolese model (and model philanthropist) Noella Coursaris Musunka will be held on November 3rd at a private club in Midtown Manhattan and tickets are available here. 100% of the price of ticket sales will be donated directly to the water projects.
Fetching water in the village of Kanikombole, Mali.
Photographs by Stuart Franklin and Rachel K. B. Troye

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