INSPIRED IMPACT™ is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to social entrepreneurs and leaders of mission-driven organizations who are making an impact in their communities, industries, and around the world.
Heidi Rickels is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Freshwater Project International headquartered in Malawi, Africa. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and learn more at freshwaterintl.org.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
Freshwater Project International supports community-led water, sanitation and hygiene projects in Malawi, Africa.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
While access to safe, affordable drinking water is nearly universal in industrialized countries, many Malawians still rely on shallow, hand-dug wells or surface water bodies that are contaminated with bacteria, parasites or toxic chemicals. Like much of sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi has failed to make progress in water and sanitation due to several compounding issues: a rapidly growing population, weak economic performance, insufficient or poorly aimed government action, inadequate resources contributed by the international community, and low levels of education and technical capacity among rural populations. Water and sanitation issues affect not only health but also poverty, education, and gender issues among others.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Our approach is unique in that we focus on one country and partner with communities to create projects that have a high level of impact and sustainability. In Malawi, we’ve impacted almost 500,000 people with our services. The JOY of FRESHWATER means that people in Malawi can enjoy good health, attend school, provide for their families and improve their life quality.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
It’s the people of Malawi who inspire us to make an impact! Clean water is such a vital resource for everyone and safe sanitation is critical to health and development. When we see our Malawian friends drinking, cooking and bathing with dirty, diseased water, we are moved to action. We can’t NOT be inspired to action when we have experienced the JOY of clean water in the faces of people who have lived without it for their whole lives.
WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Health centers are a lifeline for rural Malawians. When a health center lacks access to clean water, it is nearly impossible for medical professionals to provide hygienic, safe care to their patients. Of primary concern are health services available to expectant mothers. When expectant mothers arrive at health centers prior to delivery, they frequently have to wait outside, without convenient access to clean water. If medical staff do not have immediate access to clean water, much time is wasted, and services are often delayed. Our BIG DREAM is to provide upgraded water systems to 21 health centers in the district of Zomba in Malawi. With proper maintenance of the optimized water systems, access to clean water at the health facilities will be sustained for many decades to come. The long-term impact on the health of new mothers, infants, children and other patients from the catchment area will be greatly improved as will disease and infection rates related to contaminated water.
WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
We need financial resources. It costs about $12,500 to upgrade an entire water system at a health facility in Malawi.
WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
Our biggest challenge is conveying to people how their support can make such a tremendous impact in the lives and health of people in Malawi. Our team on the ground can provide photos, videos and reports, but it is often difficult to really convey the JOY in a mothers eyes when she can trust that a health facility can safely deliver her baby with clean water onsite. Or the relief in the eyes of a patient being treated for an open wound who knows that his chances of infection are lessened. Or the pride in the face of a doctor, who can now wash his hands thoroughly in clean water and provide safe care to his patients.
WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
Whatever makes your heart beat faster, do that! When others won’t take on a difficult cause that moves you, then you MUST. You MUST take action, learn from others who have traveled on this same journey. The ripple effects will be monumental!
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
We need more individuals on #teamfreshwater to support our efforts through awareness building and financial donations towards our efforts. Please visit us to learn more and donate at freshwaterintl.org.
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