August 2012

My House, My Life

What images come to mind when you hear “the projects”? The projects are often portrayed as undesirable habitation: graffition the walls, transients in the streets and overall filth. Government funded housing projects generallystart out looking good. However, over the course of time, the condition of common areas, such as exterior, stairwells and entryways, begin to decline. Thus perpetuating a defeatist attitude in maintaining the cleanliness of new housing and pride of ownership.

This week, I drove past a public housing complex in Brazil. Introduced in 2009, Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life) is Brazil’s version of “the projects”. Homes within this particular Minha Casa Minha Vida project were surprisingly well kept. I questioned whether this was, indeed, a government housing program. What was different? Instead of having a big apartment complex where
people shared the responsibility of common areas, they had built a series of little houses with small yards. Each family was accountable for their own space and, therefore, took pride in their own property.

Innovation in addressing poverty has evolved into teaching and enabling people to meet their own needs. In situations where people are given responsibility and authority, there is opportunity to become accountable and proud. -Melissa Leonard


WaterCan is a Canadian charity dedicated to fighting global poverty by helping the world’s poorest gain access to clean
water, basic sanitation and hygiene education. Presently, there are over 780 million people with no easy access to clean water. WaterCan aims to change that.

I recently had the opportunity to interview George Yap, the executive director of WaterCan.

George: The goal of WaterCan, by providing families with improved access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation, is
to create an enabling space for people to become more productive. For example, our activities help to free up time and energy for girls to attend school; and women and men to earn an income.

Jeremy: Your goal certainly fits with what we are trying to do at Work For All. What can we do to help?

George: With more resources, we can do more and accomplish things faster. This past year, we raised just over two million dollars in Canada. If we were able to double this amount to four million, we would be able to extend water and sanitation coverage at a much quicker rate and be in a position to move into adjacent districts sooner.

Jeremy: Since WaterCan has been around for 25 years, what is the problem – why is it taking so long for you to supply toilets and clean water?

George: The biggest challenge in our line of work is not the actual engineering and building of water and sanitation facilities, but rather, in making sure we properly engage local community members. Building and leaving behind physical assets, like a well with a hand-pump, is ineffective unless we first gain the genuine support and involvement of the community we are helping. If you don’t, you can be sure that those assets will become inoperative and abandoned soon after we leave. In addition, we strongly believe local governments need to play their roles in ensuring communities’ water systems and toilets continue to be effective for the long term. Sometimes we spend as many as six months mobilizing and engaging community before we even put the first shovel into the ground.

Jeremy: There are a lot of charities doing work in Africa, many with a larger footprint than WaterCan. Do you find yourself being inefficient or bumping into other organizations trying to solve the same problems?

George: We are pleased to interact and share best practices with other organizations working in the water and sanitation field. The need for water and sanitation in regions like Sub- Saharan Africa is huge. In Ethiopia, which has the second largest population in Africa, most people still rely on unsafe sources of drinking water, especially in rural areas. Even if you combined the resources and efforts of all the organizations presently working there, you still would not be able to fully meet the need. This is why we focus most of our efforts in rural areas of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

Jeremy: Thank you George.       – Jeremy Leonard