By Gustavo Aybar, communications field liaison coordinator
What I remember most about visiting my home country of the Dominican Republic as a child centers around lack of access to clean, fresh, hot water. Life in the DR was very different and less comfortable than life in the United States. For example, I discovered there was considerable money, time and energy involved in having water readily available. I still remember the day as a 10-year-old I saw my “crush” walking toward me, lugging a full gallon of water in each hand, having recently visited the watering hole for her family.
As World Water Day approaches on March 22 and people everywhere ponder the issue of clean water, I wanted to share how one woman I met in India, Asma, and her family combat the problem of access to potable water. Asma, her husband, Jaleel, and their son and daughter welcomed my coworkers and me into their home in Hyderabad, which they rent from a friend. The home also functions as the facility for the small mineral water plant the family started just a few years ago.
The U.N.’s World Water Day organization said 2.1 billion people around the world lack access to safely managed drinking water services. In addition, an estimated 1.8 million people get their drinking water from an unimproved source, with no protection against contamination from human waste, the U.N. said.
Contaminated and polluted water is a huge problem in India. Sewage, garbage and other waste discharged into lakes and rivers are contributors. Unsafe practices by factories also poison the water with chemicals and toxins.
These realities make Asma’s role a vital one. The water business allows her to do fulfilling work that provides an important service to the community.
It also gives her the flexibility to work from home while earning additional income for her family.
Asma’s days start at 5:30 a.m. as she prepares breakfast for the children and gets them ready to begin school at 7:30. She opens the business at 8, and then at 11 her focus returns to the family. She completes household chores and prepares a meal for her children as they arrive home after school. The business then reopens from 5 to 9 p.m.
In addition to these responsibilities, she invests time participating in Unbound. Her daughter, Asfia, now 17, has been sponsored since she was 10. Inclusion in the sponsorship program requires active participation in mothers groups on the part of a parent or guardian. The groups provide opportunities to build leadership and other skills.
For many women in the groups, this looks different. Asma married at the age of 17, became pregnant a year later and achieved a 10th grade education. For her, participating in the mothers group meant graduating high school, taking a business course, developing the confidence to teach others and a commitment to pursue higher education. It also allowed her to practice financial literacy, along with having the option to borrow money for potential livelihood ventures.
Asma took two loans and has already repaid the first. With the initial loan, she purchased the water filtration system and sold water in 5-gallon containers. With positive results and the desire to expand, the second loan allowed for the purchase of a refrigeration system, allowing her to sell cold water.
When asked about her dreams for her children, Asma said, “I want my children to have a good education. He wants to become a pilot; she wants to become a teacher.”
Asma has plans for the future of her business as well. She told us about her hopes to produce “bagged water,” or small disposable pouches of water, to sell individually. She also told us how she aspired to one day become a wholesaler.
As we stepped outside the family’s home at the end of our visit, I noticed the wall where the company hours were posted. I thought about how it revealed Asma’s desire to improve the well-being of her family and community by providing life-giving water.
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