Making Clean Water A Reality: FACE Africa's Saran Kaba Jones Talks Africa's Water Crisis & Empowering Women With GlobalGrind
April 8, 2014 By Christina Coleman - Global Grind
In 2009, after setting out to sponsor education in her native Liberia, Saran Kaba Jones noticed a major impediment to quality education for children and women wasn’t access, but health. Children weren’t getting the nutrition they needed to attend school, and they were falling ill because of contaminated water sources. It was, for Jones, a major “ah-ha!” moment in providing the women and children of Liberia a fighting chance.
Jones knew the only way to combat problems involving the education and health of children in Africa was to make the basic necessity of clean water available. Switching gears organically, Jones created FACE Africa to combat Liberia’s growing water crisis and create clean water projects in the country. As the Founder and Executive Director of FACE Africa, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, it is Jones’ goal to help fund and support sustainable clean water, sanitation and hygiene projects in Liberia.
To date, the organization has raised over $250,000 for new wells and clean water projects that have benefited over 10,000 residents in Liberia. And on March 22, 2014, UN World Water Day, FACE Africa hosted its 5th Annual WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Gala in New York City, raising another $150,000 for the organization.
GlobalGrind sat down with the Goodwill Ambassador for the county of River Cess, Liberia and the 2013 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader to discuss just how little it takes to provide clean water for thousands, how the crisis is affecting the entire world, and how water and women empowerment go hand in hand.
GlobalGrind: What was the compelling factor that made you say “OK, this is something I want to dedicate my life to?”
Saran Kaba Jones: I was born in Liberia and when I was 8-years-old, the Civil War forced my family to flee and two years after that, my father was appointed an ambassador to Egypt. So we spent some time moving around until I settled here in the U.S. in 1999 for college. In 2008, I went back home. That kind of spurred the beginning for FACE Africa. But before I started going back, I would give back in my own small way by helping to sponsor the education of the young. My interest at the time was education, but one of the things I started to see was that the major impediments in education was the lack of clean water.
Kids were getting sick and not showing up to school for long periods of time because they were drinking contaminated water and even so, with relations to women empowerment, one of the biggest impediments to women’s growth and development is the lack of clean water. They’re the ones responsible for the long distance when they have to go and fetch water. The basic necessity of clean water had to be met before any other areas of development can be tackled. That’s what focused me to study water, rather than education or raising an economic power in any of those areas for development.
GG: It’s interesting that you made that connection from women’s empowerment to water. In African societies, African women are responsible for the water, but in what other ways are women connected to water and in turn, how does that connect to their empowerment?
Jones: In most African societies, women are responsible for keeping the home running, so they’re the ones farming, the ones going to markets. So when you tackle the issue, they spend around 60 percent of their day collecting water and that translates into millions and millions of collective work hours everyday. So when you decrease the amount of time that women have to spend walking to collect water, they have more time to focus on generating activities like farming, going to the market and being able to bring home an income that they can provide for their families. Not only now do they not have to deal with the burden of collecting water, which has a lot of health implications because these women are carrying over 40lbs of water on their heads and on their backs and sometimes walking up to five miles every day carrying these heavy loads of water, you’re making sure that they are healthier and safer. Sometimes too, when these girls are walking these long distances by themselves to catch water, they’re at risk of rape. So I think it’s a very holistic agenda when it comes to providing safe drinking water and the impact that it has on women and girls.
GG: A clean drop of water can have a ripple effect.
Jones: Right. It’s the things we talk about as well and it’s a true catalyst for change and it doesn’t just solve the issue of health, but it’s a holistic sort of development issue.
GG: We were looking at some of the specifics about how many children die a year from water-related illnesses. What are some of the issues that Africans are facing since they don’t have clean water?
Jones: The water crisis is not just a African issue. I would say the majority of the country suffers greatly. Out of the 700 million people globally who are facing this water issue, 350 are in Africa and the world bank states that water related illness kill more African children at age 5 than HIV, AIDS and malaria combined. You have diarrhea, which would be the number one type killer. Cholera, dysentery, and typhoid, those are the four main water diseases that affect people, mainly children. When it comes to kids, 2.1 million people die as a result of a water-related illness. That’s the entire population of Mexico or Utah. Can you imagine a whole state that dies every year? Globally, 3.4 million people die a year, with 2.1 million being kids.
With children, sometimes you can treat illnesses like diarrhea, but even if children don’t die from water-related illnesses, the fact that they spend much of their time growing up for years to be sick, they need clean water to function, to go to school early, so they can live up to their potential. This issue of clean water is fundamental to the quality of life for children and adults alike. Adding to economic benefit and reducing poverty construction for all.
GG: Does ‘FACE’ stand for anything?
Jones: That’s actually a really great question. It means Fund A Child Education and just going back to what I mentioned earlier, that I launched this initially to provide the scholarships and educational options to kids back home, but the realities were way different than I imagined. There are other issues in Liberia. I saw that the water issue was way important because it was preventing kids from being healthy and not getting an education. So it didn’t make sense to focus on that when kids are getting sick and dying from drinking contaminated water. I just felt like it was more of a basic right than education was.
GG: How are the funds distributed and how do they help?
Jones: One of the issues we have in Liberia and all across Africa is the issue of broken wells that were built by NGO’s and there weren’t enough systems in place to maintain the wells, so they just stand idle. So one of the main things we do is get new wells and rehabilitate these broken wells. To fix a broken well, it takes about $2,500 dollars. To build an entirely new system, it would cost about $5,000.
When you think about it, it comes to $20 a person. So for a $20 donation, you can give an individual clean water for their lifetime if they’re well taken care of and properly maintained.
For more information on FACE Africa and how you can be a part of Jones’ movement, visit the website at www.faceafrica.org.
PHOTO SOURCE: Saran Karan Jones