Posted by: mattnespoli | August 29, 2011

Happy Birthday!!!

By Matt Nespoli, Water for Waslala Founder and President

This week, Water for Waslala turns 7! It’s hard to believe that nine years have passed since my first trip to Waslala, the place where I celebrated my own 20th birthday. I’m so proud of what Water for Waslala has accomplished over the last seven years, but am also humbled by the amount of work left to be done before our mission is complete.

Despite the relatively few posts on our blog over the last few months, much has been happening that I’d like to begin to share in this post, and expand on in future ones:

Annual Board of Directors Planning Meeting: Back in April, our Board of Directors met for our annual strategic planning weekend. We spent seven hours of our Saturday discussing every facet of our operations, from our current fundraising approach to the ways in which we measure the effectiveness and sustainability of our water systems.

The Board of Directors enjoying a home-cooked dinner during the Annual WfW Planning Weekend (not pictured: Jordan Ermilio)

One interesting discussion centered on the pace of our efforts in Waslala. As the chart below shows, if we continue at our “business as usual” pace of raising $65K and building three water systems per year, it will take us another 81 years and $5.5 million to complete our mission. This is simply unacceptable: we have to scale our work so that we can complete our mission of providing all 50,000 Waslalans with clean water within the next 10-20 years.

To do so, we discussed ways to 1) Raise more money each year, and 2) Reduce the time and cost needed to provide clean water per beneficiary. Some ideas included: hiring a part-time development director to broaden our donor network, distributing household filters in some neighborhoods (more on this below), and building multiple water systems at the same time using innovative construction management methods.

13th water system complete: WfW has much to celebrate with the completion of our 13th water system this past month, in the village of El Guabo Jicaral. Iain Hunt, our Waslalan project manager, replaced concrete with ferrocement and stone for our storage tank and spring intake, saving us $10,000 in construction costs. Also, El Guabo is the first community to create formal statutes governing water system maintenance protocols, water tariff fees, and tariff collection and enforcement processes. This should help improve maintenance fund collection, which has proven difficult in our past systems, and therefore ensure that the community will have the money needed to complete future system repairs. See Iain’s blog posts (complete with photos of construction) here.

Members of El Guabo digging the trench for their water system in March of 2011.

New WfW advisory committees being formed: We’ve decided to form an additional advisory group of water sector experts from top universities and NGOs. This group will help us improve our work on the ground and overcome some of our major challenges (such as collecting adequate monthly tariffs from beneficiaries). We’re also forming a separate advisory committee of leaders to help us grow our network in the US and raise more cash. We’ve got a spreadsheet full of great candidates and we’re running down the list as we speak!

One of the pilot participants with the receptacle for the ceramic filter that will be deployed in 66 households. Biosand filters will be deployed in 19 additional households.

Household filters pilot project:

Following up on the annual planning meeting discussion, we’re beginning a pilot project to distribute filters to households who don’t have access to a water system. We’ve selected a group of 85 Waslalans to receive either a ceramic Potters for Peace or biosand Hydraid filter. Each recipient will be trained on how to use the filter, then will use it to treat water at home from their usual sources (most likely contaminated streams nearby). Our goal for this pilot is to test the user-friendliness and filtration effectiveness of the filters, and gauge Waslalans’ willingness to pay for them.

Our hope is that one or both of these technologies will be effective at removing contaminants and well-liked by the pilot participants. Since both technologies are cheaper and faster to implement than gravity-fed water systems, they could be an effective, scalable solution for Waslalans living in more remote parts of the region.

First results of our water system impact evaluation process are in!: Two years ago, we set up a new process for measuring key health, education and economic performance indicators for our beneficiaries before and after receiving a water system. We’ve now completed our first impact evaluation, for the community of El Varillal. We found some very encouraging results, as well as some areas for improvement in the ways we ask certain questions or measure certain factors, such as health. We’ll be completing a similar evaluation for El Guabo in January, and will be rolling out a new and improved process for our next set of projects in 2012.

———

Thanks for supporting us over these last seven years, and we look forward to your continued support over the years to come as well! Remember that at the end of the day, we’re accomplishing something really powerful together – we’re empowering thousands of people to create a new life for themselves, one filled with access to the clean water they deserve.

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