Sulaiman was barely six years old, but he couldn’t sleep late. Up at 6am, he had to go on the daily 10km trek to fetch water for his family. Living in Nyabisindu in the Southern Province of Rwan in Rwanda, he knew that if he didn’t join his mother and sisters to fetch water, the family wouldn’t have enough for daily use, particularly for drinking.
Stumbling out of bed, he grabbed a large pot stored in the corner of his small house, placed it on his head and set off with the womenfolk. It could take about four hours for the round trip to the muddy river to fetch the water and by the time he returned, Sulaiman would be tired.
Some days, the trip took longer – if there were a lot of people queuing up. The water was muddy and had to be filtered using a clean cloth before it is fit for drinking. While children his age in many other parts of the world would be at school, Sulaiman couldn’t even think of going to class because that would mean having less or almost no water.
The situation wasn’t very different in Woliso in Ethiopia. Mohammad, who lives with his family in a village there, had to take a 6km walk every day to fetch water. By the time the 16-year-old arrived home he was too tired to go to school. Contrast this with the life of Aman Ghose, a former student of Dubai International Academy (DIA), who is currently studying and interning in the US. As a schoolboy he could fill his glass with fresh drinking water whenever he wanted before heading off to his classes.
It was four years ago, when he was in Grade 9, that Aman’s school organised a trip to Ethiopia and there he saw up close the trials and tribulations the children went through to get drinking water for their families.
“I was shocked when I came to know there were children like Mohammad and Sulaiman who had to spend several hours walking in the sun just to get one bucket of water and couldn’t go to school,’’ recalls Aman, now 19.
Thousands of children need help
So moved was the young Aman by the boys’ stories that he researched the water crisis and discovered that hundreds of thousands of children in developing countries in Africa were unable to attend school simply because their families did not have easy access to clean drinking water.
“I’m sure it must have been extremely difficult living like that, day after day,” he says.
At the same time Aman’s then fellow pupil, Edward Pollock, was considering starting a campaign for water conservation after researching the world’s water crisis for a school project. “Living in Dubai, where you often see or hear about water being wasted, I became very interested and contacted WaterAid, a charity in the UK, and began exploring the issues people were faced with.’’
Shocked at the pictures he came across during his research, Edward, who’s now 17, felt compelled to help. “I spoke to the school and decided to organise a World Water Day. I spent three months planning and learning about the cause and organised the school’s first World Water Day where I made a presentation. I also organised a fund raiser.’’
Among other things, it included a cake sale and Edward managed to raise close to Dh5,000.
“It was an amazing achievement because I found that around Dh2,000 would help pay for a public water point in an urban slum in a developing country that could provide water for up to 1,000 families.”
A meeting of young minds
Enthused by the response to his fundraiser, Edward participated in a school exhibition later that year – 2009 – where he discussed concerns and highlighted the practices of WaterAid. He also presented a video “about how, in some countries, doctors treat patients even though they don’t have enough water available to wash their hands! People were really shaken up by it.”
Aman, who is studying water management while also interning at Village Health Works, an organisation helping provide health resources, was at the event and introduced himself to Edward. A few brainstorming sessions later, the pair launched The Aqua Initiative.
A student-run charity organisation, its aim is to create awareness and take action to tackle the water crisis that’s becoming increasingly serious all over the world. “We are working towards achieving the goal of raising awareness among the people of Dubai and also to try and raise funds to help as many people as possible,’’ says Edward.
The following year, the boys began planning the first World Water Day Carnival in their school – to spread awareness about the importance of conserving water as well as to raise funds to help people suffering from lack of access to clean water.
They reached out to several companies across Dubai to support their initiative. With a Dh15,000 sponsorship from Aqualyng, a specialist in energy-efficient desalination plants, and Oasis, a water bottling company, Aman and Edward were thrilled that their initiative could now reach out to more people who were struggling for water across the globe.
Along with other fund raisers The Aqua Initiative raised over Dh20,000 for the cause that year, which was used to fund the digging of wells in villages in Ethiopia, India and Bangladesh.
Last year, the carnival at their school helped raise Dh30,000, part of which was used to clean and restore a huge community well that was contaminated and on the verge of collapsing in Nyabisindu, in Rwanda. Thanks to this, children including Sulaiman don’t have to trudge kilometres to fetch water and can now find time to attend school.
The funds also helped build a sanitation block for 1,650 students in India, set up 16 water pumps in villages on the Indo-Bangladesh border and 31 hand-dug wells in villages in Bangladesh. The funds were also used to train 40 community members in Ethiopia to maintain their water supplies.
In March this year DIA held a water carnival on World Water day that raised Dh40,420 through various fundraisers, a major part of which was used to give the parched people of Sudan’s most impoverished villages access to clean drinking water.
“Thanks to our initiative, children like Sulaiman need not have to miss school,’’ says Edward. “They now have access to clean water.”
Simple technology can save lives
Held under the aegis of the school’s Water For Life Club, which in turn is a subsidiary of The Aqua Initiative, the World Water Day carnival is a concerted attempt to spread awareness of water conservation. It also urges the privileged students within the campus to focus their thoughts and efforts on making life a little more bearable for their less privileged counterparts in under-developed countries like Sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Bangladesh and India, among others.
The event was also an occasion to highlight several green products including the LifeStraw produced by Vestergaard Frandsen, a Europe-based international company specialising in complex emergency response and disease control products. Its portable water filter in the form of a straw helps prevent diarrhoeal diseases, and has proved to be especially beneficial in countries in Africa, where severe drought and water scarcity, not to mention poor sanitation, is rampant.
Also on show was the LifeSaver Water bottle – the world’s first portable nano filtration technology, which provides a source of simple, safe drinking water everywhere, which The Aqua Initiative makes accessible to vulnerable people in poor countries.
“This year’s Water Day events garnered a whopping Dh40,420. All this money will go towards building water pumps and wells for needy people around the world. We will also be using part of the funds to source LifeStraws which will be distributed to thousands of people around the world,” says Edward, who is continuing his studies in Scotland.
“This year, we are also looking for a well project in Ethiopia, and have also donated 500 LifeStraws through Save the Children in Sudan from the funds that we have raised. This will provide fresh drinking water for over 1,000 people. These products are in the process of distribution right now.’’
The Aqua Initiative is also working with charities worldwide to help raise fund for the most deserving water projects, he adds.
“The best thing about the intiatives is that they are positively affecting deserving people across the world. Thanks to The Aqua Initiative, thousands of children like Sulaiman can actually attend school.
“I shall be taking The Aqua Initiative to the UK, and registering it as an official charity. We will be donating everything we have to projects around the world, and then starting fresh and growing connections and expanding old ones.
“The long-term plan is to make The Aqua Initiative the most successful and largest water charity in Scotland and Dubai and saving as many lives as possible. Water is a very precious resource. Remember – next time you leave the tap on while brushing your teeth, as much as three gallons of water is being wasted.’’