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Giving…with Strings Attached.

That’s controversial!  Shouldn’t a gift be given without strings attached; isn’t that the very nature of a “gift”?

When you just give things to people or communities in developing areas…. you might actually find it restricts their development. However, when they have to earn….. do something in return for a “gift”, it most often motivates people to “develop” and become sustainable.

The knowledge and tools for collecting “SAFE DRINKING WATER”  from Rain, is the gift Bank-On-Rain gives to communities in developing countries.


The most important thing we have learned from our recent trip to Africa is that the health and sanitation benefits of a clean drinking water source are quickly compromised if the populace does not first completely subscribe to C.L.T.S. This is what the Safer Future Youth Development Project team call “Community Led Total Sanitation”, and consists of sanitation education and ensuring that 100% of the households construct (and use) latrines with covers, in the entire village.


If a village does not reach the ODF (Open Defecation Free) standard, hand washing training and clean water at the schools will be defeated by spread of fecal-borne illness.

The strings attached are “SAFE SANITATION FIRST”.

We visited villages where the CLTS program had been implemented with 100% compliance (below) and the difference from other villages was very obvious (no flies or odor, village was clean of trash – a sign of pride of villagers for their homes/village and they were pleased to show off the latrines (above) they had built themselves from local materials).

“SAFE SANITATION FIRST”, and only AFTER a village has met all the criteria of Safer Future (or similar local organization) will Bank-On-Rain provide a safe, clean water source; these are the strings we attach to our  “GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE & TOOLS FOR CLEAN WATER”.

The process of getting to the point of “SAFE SANITATION” for a village is long and very time consuming (often a year or more) with multiple follow up visits (often several visits a month) with an on the ground team, in this case the very dedicated guys from SF.

I learned firsthand that this is why so many ‘charity water projects’, fail in Africa and elsewhere. It’s so much easier for a Non Profit to arrive (no prior planning) and dig a well (either by hand or mechanized drilling equipment), take happy pictures, and leave. No strings attached, no addressing the sanitation aspects, or follow up maintenance to insure sustainability.

Changing an entire village to embrace “SAFE SANITATION FIRST” is in fact a “social engineering” initiative, and requires committed leadership within the village community as well as the non profit. This is where Safer Future starts; by finding the influencers (and not necessarily the chief who is the appointed leader), but those who “light up” with a spark of obvious interest during the first village meetings


It appears you can recognize the “natural leader” pretty easily by that certain “fire” of interest in their eyes …… this first person in essence chooses him or herself to be the “natural leader” by being the first to show interest, and then being the first to actually construct a single household latrine. This process sets an example for the rest of the village by influencing and motivating others to do the same.

Safer Future enlists these “natural leaders” or influencers within villages to help train their neighbors, and takes them through a phased program, which can include Rainwater Harvesting as the gift or reward!

The initial education is critical in having the connection between sanitation practices (open defecation) leading to disease, and “safe sanitation” preserving a clean source of water. Remember many villages in remote areas still connect disease with bad magic!  It is nurturing the key influencers, which ends in the ultimate success, up to a year later, when an entire village has installed latrines and has earned the gift of  “CLEAN WATER SOURCE”.


If something is earned, or even a reward for a goal accomplished, there is far greater chance that it will be appreciated; both enjoyed and maintained. Bank-On-Rain does not leave planning ahead, or ongoing maintenance to chance, and has built in to every gift of water a follow up plan to insure its sustainability.

Because of the importance of the water system being part of the “Total Sanitation” mindset, Bank-On-Rain will approach projects working in partnership with Safer Future  or similar on the ground local organizations.


Education about collecting and storing rain (Rain Harvesting) can be crucial in areas like Sierra Leone, with average annual rainfall of more than 3 meters (more than double of what we have in rainy Seattle). Rainwater harvesting is a natural in Sierra Leone, but unfortunately many people have been indoctrinated by Government & NGOs that wells are a safer source of water. Bank-On-Rain educates the school or village that RAIN is a GIFT.


At The Barina Agricultural School the Principal was convinced that the water collected from the school roof (above) would be discolored and have metallic taste from the obvious rust on the roof. Even after we explained to him that the high volume of water washing over the roof prevents any significant contamination of rust particles from the roof; still the Principal was not convinced. We had to connect the dots…….so we set up one of the 950-liter recycled ‘fish totes’ we had sent ahead under the downspout, and it filled with rainwater during an overnight thunderstorm.  Clear, clean water. The principal was convinced. We wrote more about this in a previous post “ Water, Water Everywhere & Not a Drop to Drink”

To summarize, I can’t say it enough times; the importance of frequent follow-ups with the villagers to see the progress of everyone in the village embracing the individual house latrines.  When it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind and the project comes to a halt. The Safer Future representatives follow up with the village communities by making several monthly visits. This is social engineering; yes it is a change of behavior, and it can take a year or even more.

Bank-On-Rain has a hands-on understanding of the importance of addressing the sanitation issues before we install a Rain Harvesting System.  We understand that this is not a fast solution, often taking many months to a couple of years for a village to meet the safe sanitation standards.

We will be looking for similar alliances to the one we have with Safer Future to lead the way before we install more water systems in remote areas where sanitation practices would pollute and delete our efforts.

I can conclude after my personal experience in Africa that many water projects fail on account of being just a “GIFT OF WATER” with absolutely no strings attached….. the string of “SAFE SANITATION FIRST”.

The second point of failure is lack of education and follow up once the water system has been installed. But I’ll address that at length another time.

I am interested to hear about and from “water-related non-profits” who focus on “SAFE DRINKING WATER” in Africa and elsewhere, and understand the importance of “SAFE SANITATION FIRST”

Mike Williamson, Founder & Director Bank-On-Rain. THINK RAIN!

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Published February 28, 2012 on Posterous

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