Meet Freshwater International & Learn About Their Mission in Malawi

Freshwater Project International was born out of friendship, with the aspiration to bring clean, potable water to every person in Malawi. This organization focuses on improving the health of Malawians by bringing fresh water to their communities while emphasizing the positive impact that good sanitation and hygiene have on standards of living. Read our Q&A with one of the co-founders of Freshwater Project International to learn more about the inspiration behind the organization, and how they’re working toward achieving their mission!

Founders of Freshwater Project International
Co-founders Heidi Rickels far left, Charles Banda middle, and Amy Hart right.

What inspired the mission of Freshwater Project International?

It started with friendship. I met an amazing Malawian man named Charles Banda who had started a grassroots organization providing clean water to communities in Malawi. We became friends and he taught me all about the global water crisis, how almost a billion people do not have access to clean water to drink, and almost half of the world lacks access to safe sanitation. This contributes to the spread of water-borne and water-related diseases such as cholera. I was so inspired by his passion, and he introduced me to a filmmaker named Amy Hart, and together we founded Freshwater Project International to support his clean water efforts in Malawi.

What led you to get involved?

Through my friendship with Charles Banda, I realized that with all international development projects, you have to start with a local, and community-led approach which engages in the holistic empowerment of people. Most communities, schools, and health centers where we work identify WATER as their number one priority!

The community must demonstrate its commitment to any water or sanitation project by a willingness to supply locally available materials and the provision of unskilled labor required for the project. The contribution from the community will typically include things like manufacturing clay bricks, supplying sand and concrete aggregate, digging any pits required for latrines and other manual tasks. This involvement serves to empower the community and enhance a sense of community ownership of the project.

All projects include a designated Water Point Committee made up of community members comprised of at least 60% women. The Water Point Committee is empowered to take charge of the construction, oversight, and maintenance of the well/pit latrines – including the collection of donations to buy new parts when necessary. The communities take ownership of the facility from project inception to a ceremonial “handover” of the facilities to the community. Once the community has proven their dedication to the project through participation in the Water Point Committee; supplying all the local materials such as gravel, sand, and brick; and supplying labor (from the entire community, not just the committee); the well or sanitation facility “becomes theirs.” When a well finally delivers water for the first time to a community there is a great chorus of cheers and whistles as everyone celebrates this new resource for the community.

A young girl drinking from a tap of a well
Freshwater Project International aims to bring clean water to communities in Malawi.

What’s the scope of Freshwater’s impact? How many communities, families, children, schools, etc. benefit?

It’s difficult to fully measure the full scope of our impact! Since 2012, Freshwater Project International has implemented water and sanitation projects in 23 schools, 12 villages, and 7 health centers. Often, a school or village water point may serve as the main water source for a large number of adjacent villages. Health centers are often accessed by an entire catchment area of surrounding communities for medical care. It would be safe to say that since 2012, FPI has served more than 500,000 people with clean water, safe sanitation, and hygiene information. That impact causes a ripple throughout the communities in many areas of the local society, health, education, agriculture, and economics.

What are your main goals for 2019?

For 2019, we are focused on finishing water and sanitation projects at ten rural schools. We still need to raise about $6,000 per school to do this. We often partner with a local school in the US, as well as families and individual donors who want to support our efforts by “adopting” all or part of a school. As donated funds become available to us, we are able to complete these projects providing clean water, safe sanitation, hygiene training, and a supply of water purifying packets for students to use at home. We are also working on rehabilitating water systems at several health centers in Malawi. All of this in addition to drilling individual borehole wells in villages. Right now, we are preparing for drilling at 5 villages, just in the month of May, and hope to accomplish even more village water work over the summer and into the fall during the dry season.

GoAbroad Foundation logo on a corkboard
Freshwater Project International and the GoAbroad Foundation partner with local schools in the U.S. to raise funds for projects.

Tell us more about Mselera Primary School, the beneficiary of the first GoAbroad Foundation supported well project.

Mselera Primary School lacks a clean water source. The school has an enrollment of 850 students and only 13 teachers. Students walk a long distance to access safe drinking water at a nearby community borehole and must wait in long queues for their turn to access water. This takes precious time away from class and impacts their education. The condition of sanitary facilities at the school is poor and unsatisfactory; there are no handwashing stations, and because of the lack of adequate sanitary facilities, many students are still using the restroom in the bush. This further contributes to the spread of water-related diseases. Because of the school’s high enrollment, the need for clean water and sanitary facilities cannot be overemphasized.

Freshwater Project International plans to drill a fresh water borehole at the school and provide two blocks of latrines (with locking doors) and two blocks of urinals. One of the girls’ latrines will have a menstrual hygiene management station. All of the sanitation facilities will have hand washing stations adjacent, and more hand washing stations will be located close to the classrooms. Students will also receive hygiene and handwashing training and menstrual hygiene management training (for girls). Additionally, students receive a supply of Procter & Gamble Purifier of Water packets for students to use to purify water in their homes.

Explain the benefits of your clean water and sanitation program.

When a community has access to clean water, it can literally transform itself. Health improves, lives are saved, and communities have hope to develop their quality of life and local economies. When people have access to fresh, clean water, their health improves and their chance of contracting debilitating water-related illnesses lessens. Improved sanitation and handwashing facilities further lessen the chance of diseases being spread. Women and girls, who are traditionally tasked with fetching water for their families, no longer have to walk long distances fetching heavy buckets of unclean water. This allows more time for school and other income-generating activities. Water is now available and can be used for watering kitchen gardens and crops, and economic development can occur.

Children sitting with notepads and pens at school
Easier access to clean water will mean these kids can focus more on school!

Freshwater Project International is one of the GoAbroad Foundation’s newest partners. This year, we’re matching funds raised through the Sturgis Elementary Schools’ H2O Fundraising Campaign, but Freshwater still has a long way to go in their mission to bring clean water to every person in Malawi.

Learn More About Freshwater OR Make a Donation to Their Water Projects