As I sit here at my kitchen table on Sunday night, it’s hard to believe just a few days ago we were tromping around the dusty roads of Rwanda, visiting water points, latrines, schools and clinics to see first-hand the marvelous work Water For People is helping with in that country.
Last Friday morning, June 21, Jon and I were joined by our friends Gina Wammock and Eric Rothstein for a visit to the national museum commemorating the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. It was an eloquent and deeply disturbing tribute to those horrific events, and helped frame the rest of our visit. The progress Rwanda has made in the twenty years since the country was torn apart by unimaginable violence, neglected by the world, is nothing short of remarkable. Peace and reconciliation, coupled with rapid economic development amidst a strict anti-corruption campaign, have lifted millions out of poverty and have made Rwanda an African success story.
A few years ago, CH2M HILL CEO Lee McIntire and his wife Susan hosted a dinner at their home in honor of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whom they had met at the World Economic Forum in Davos. I was lucky enough to attend and was struck by the President’s quiet strength and passion. In answer to a compliment from one of the businessmen in attendance about the skyscrapers going up in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, President Kagame said, “yes, but until the poorest of our people has access to electricity, clean water, and other basics of life, we will not be successful.” That approach is a perfect fit for his government’s partnership with Water For People, which we were able to see in action during our visit.
Water For People—Rwanda Country Manager Perpetue Kamuyumbu and her talented staff briefed us on the program, then took us through some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, the famous “thousand hills” of Rwanda’s countryside, to visit the communities where they work. As followers of Water For People know, the organization does not do direct implementation, but empowers local communities, civil society, governments and entrepreneurs to join together in developing solutions that reach Everyone (every house, every school and every clinic) Forever (meaning self-sufficiency and no need for outside assistance in the future). Learn more about the unique Everyone Forever approach, a new global paradigm that is transforming the water and sanitation sector, in this brief video and elsewhere on Water For People’s website.
On our visit, we saw beautiful stone water tanks and water points which ended the grueling trek for water up steep mountain paths every day. We saw school eco-san latrines which help students stay healthy and provide dignity, especially for girls, along with providing income for the schools from selling compost and crops. We saw rain water harvesting systems that augment water supplies in newly settled areas and at health clinics and schools. We visited with community leaders, government officials, partner organizations and local water and sanitation entrepreneurs, building thriving businesses around ending water and sanitation poverty.
Everywhere we went, we were impressed by a contagious spirit of optimism. One of the highlights of the trip was meeting Mayor Justus Kangwagye, leader of the Rulindo District (photo below). Water For People fans may be familiar with the Rulindo Challenge, which aims to help that district reach full water coverage by the end of 2014. Mayor Justus very eloquently described the challenges and successes of his government’s partnership with Water For People. “The foundation for sustainability,” he said, “is that the people have ceased to be ‘recipients’ of aid. They are partners, and their sense of ownership is amazing.” The Mayor has big plans for his district, just like mayors the world over. “Transformation,” he says, “comes from a mindset.”