August 27, 2011 was a momentous day in Munama, one of seventeen quarters in Kalebuka, Katanga, Democratic Republic of Congo. One-hundred and four girls, five and six years old in age, and their families gathered excitedly for the opening of the Georges Malaika School for Girls.This was, after all, the first school to be built in Munama and only the sixth in Kalebuka, an area with an estimated 25,000 inhabitants. And unlike most schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this one will be free to all the students. Required textbooks, school supplies, shoes, uniforms and a midday meal will also be provided at no charge.
In addition to the commitment of the villagers in Kalebuka, there were two important groups behind this labor of love.
The Voss Foundation, a non-profit founded by the directors of VOSS water, is committed to raising awareness about the lack of access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa and improving that access for the communities in that region. In 2009, in recognition of the fact that women and girls are disproportionately affected by the water crisis, Voss Foundation issued a challenge to women in Europe and the U.S. to help women and girls in Africa through the Women Helping Women campaign.
The Georges Malaika Foundation, a 501(c)3 registered in both the United States and the Democratic Republic of Congo, was founded by DRC native Noella Coursaris. The international fashion model and philanthropist founded the organization, named for her father, in 2007 to empower African communities through the education of young girls by constructing sustainable and eco-friendly schools.
The partnership between Women Helping Women and the Georges Malaika Foundation was forged in the summer of 2010 as the first step in building the school.
The problem was, Africa holds only nine percent of the world’s freshwater resources, and those are unevenly distributed across the continent. The closest water source to Kalebuka was located hours away.
But before the walls of the school could rise up, a source of clean, fresh water was required. It was impossible to make the bricks without it. The school wouldn’t function without it. Voss Foundation’s Women Helping Women helped supply the funds necessary to build a well on the site.
In sub-Saharan Africa, it has always been the duty of women to organize the household’s water supply. That means that every day, women and girls can spend more than a quarter of their day walking to collect water, often from sources that are contaminated, often in the face of danger, and then walk back, balancing the heavy containers of water on their heads – which frequently produces neck and spine damage. But the need for water precludes everything—including education.
Building the well not only facilitated the production of the building materials for the school – it also freed the girls from the need to engage in this endless, physically harmful activity.
Once the well began operating, construction got underway. At the same time, all of Kalebuka benefitted from the well as it was now possible for everyone to have access to clean water. The health improvements alone were enormous. And as the primary caregivers in their families, women also reclaimed hours that once would have been spent caring for their children and husbands who might have been sickened by the old contaminated well water.
For the girls who now attend Georges Malaika School, the benefits are incalculable. They have embarked on a course of learning that will provide them with further opportunities for education and employment. They can learn ways to defend themselves in potentially dangerous situations where they could be vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and disease. The combination of the well and the school will help them grow into smart, successful, empowered women.
Yes, August 27, 2011 truly was a momentous day in Munama.
Voss Foundation’s second annual Women Helping Women New York luncheon will be held on Wednesday, November 2nd at 11:30 a.m. in midtown Manhattan. Emmy-winning TV journalist and executive editor of Africa.com, Jacqueline Adams, will be Master of Ceremonies and Saran Kaba Jones will be the 2011 Honoree. 100 percent of the ticket sales will be donated directly to the dedicated 2011 Women Helping Women water project until it is fully funded.