By: Cyndie Berg, Liz Flores-Marcus, Kaitlynn Lagman, Laura Mapp, & Molly Parus
Like so many other nonprofits this year, Splash pivoted our gala to a virtual event as a result of COVID-19. While we were thrilled to exceed our fundraising goal, we also learned some important lessons along the way. Whether you work for a nonprofit organization or support one through volunteering or donating, we hope you find this article helpful as you consider how best to gather virtually, fundraise and engage digitally, and capture the energy and generosity sparked by in-person fundraising galas.
When we made the decision to go digital, we immediately sought advice from those who had gone before us. We were fortunate to speak with Upaya Social Ventures’ wonderful fundraising team and learn about the structure of their virtual gala, as they were one of the first Seattle-based organizations to host one. We also connected with our Board members, donors, and other Seattle business leaders to diversify our perspective and ensure that our virtual gala ideas translated well for guests. These early conversations helped to guide our decision-making process and find harmony between our revenue goals and the overall guest experience.
For the virtual event to succeed, we knew we had to engage our closest supporters (including already confirmed Table Captains) and get their buy-in and support. We wanted to keep the gala spirit alive by creating “virtual tables” with Table Captains. Using Classy’s peer-to-peer fundraising platform, we were able to mimic the gala format to achieve our fundraising goals.
The virtual platform also provided some flexibility that an in-person live event would not afford. Instead of being limited to 15–20 Table Captains and asking them to fill a ten-person table, we were able to engage a larger group not limited to the Seattle metro. Supporting Table Captains leading up to and throughout the event, confirming pledged gifts, and securing donor matches were all critical to meeting our fundraising goal.
In a concentrated effort to make the program content more accessible to Splash’s global audience and to increase fundraising opportunities, we decided to host the virtual gala over a four-day period. We were fortunate to contract Kelly Lacy, photographer and videographer of MakeBeautiful, to help us edit and produce videos for the virtual gala. Collaborating with a videographer brought a level of professionalism to our content that we would have otherwise struggled to achieve.
Going virtual allowed us to embrace technology and invite a significant amount of our global staff to take part in the gala through pre-recorded videos. While the in-person gala usually allows for a few global staff to make the journey to Seattle, the virtual platform allowed us to increase involvement across all of our country programs. With this increased involvement came extra engagement with technology — late night and early morning Zoom calls — to align visions and record content. This increased our daily interactions with one another and resulted in some pretty fun and creative collaborative content.
COVID-19 has disrupted every industry, and event-centered businesses have been hit incredibly hard. While Splash benefitted from saving in event costs, the vendors who were counting on this revenue took a big hit. Splash’s primary value is people first, people second, and people third. In an effort to support and honor our community partners, we tried to work with vendors to minimize losses. For example, rather than trying to claim force majeure with our gala venue for a full refund, we instead asked them hold onto our deposit and worked with them to reschedule our event for May 2021.
Hindsight allows us to appreciate the success of the event, even amidst our ever-changing global environment. Thanks to our incredible donors, staff, and network of supporters, we exceeded our fundraising goal and continue to be proud of the content we produced. Post virtual gala, our team gathered to discuss lessons learned and what we might have done differently, knowing what we do now. Major takeaways to consider include:
4. Streaming platform: We chose Zoom to host both our live kick-off and closing ceremony as we thought the medium best replicated the intimacy of a live gala, and it was the platform with which we were most familiar. However, we question if a live streaming platform like Facebook Live would be a better option. Some of the intimacy might be lost in opening the event to the general public, but there would also be the opportunity to engage a larger audience.
We will likely integrate some elements from this learning experience to an in-person gala, perhaps streaming the event live and posting it on our website. While we look forward to gathering in a room with our closest friends at a future event, the global accessibility of a virtual gala is particularly compelling.
Have you also pivoted to a virtual event recently? Let us know how it went, and visit our virtual gala page to see Splash’s virtual event for yourself!
Written by Emily Davis
“I thought I was going to lose my life at any moment because it was really scary to start bleeding from down there. I thought I was going to die.” — Adolescent girl, participating in focus group discussion [i]
Women and girls all over the world, especially in low-resource countries, continue to face a broad set of challenges that negatively influence their health, empowerment, and well-being. One of these critical challenges is inadequate access to menstrual health management (MHM) solutions. We have seen, time and time again, that girls do not have consistent access to education around puberty, menstrual health (MH), and reproductive health. Therefore, too many girls experience their first menstrual period with feelings of fear, shame, and confusion. In addition, girls face a lack of access to safe, girl-friendly sanitation facilities, sanitary products, and pain management methods to manage their menstruation at school.
The global development community increasingly recognizes that WASH doesn’t just mean clean hands, clean water, and clean toilets — WASH interventions must also address menstrual health solutions. These solutions can be “hardware-based,” such as the provision of products, access to girl-friendly toilets, and the roll-out of menstrual waste disposal solutions, as well as “software-based,” in the form of menstrual health education, behavior and normative change to reduce stigma and normalize menstruation, and advocacy-based to increase funding for critically important menstrual health programs. Splash believes a blended approach is the most effective.
Menstrual Health at Splash
Splash’s early MH intervention focused on rehabilitating sanitation facilities at schools to make them more girl-friendly and providing MH education to both girls and boys to reduce the stigma around periods. Splash has also conducted separate trainings just for girls to provide more specific information on the practicalities of managing menstruation. These activities represent Splash’s first step in addressing MH for female students, but we are now thinking even bigger.
If you have ever had a conversation with a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl you can probably agree that they are autonomous, free-thinking individuals with preferences, opinions, and voices that want and need to be heard. Splash’s MH team is here to listen and to co-design a program that will mean something to them. What that program includes will be determined by formative research, which will inform an optimized program that changes the face of menstrual health programming and sets a new standard for excellence. The girls and young women we serve deserve it.
Menstrual Hygiene Day in Addis Ababa
While in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for Menstrual Hygiene Day this past spring, I got the chance to meet with many adolescent girls and witnessed first-hand their eagerness to address the inadequacy of menstrual health solutions at their school and in their community. During an event at a Splash intervention school, I saw them actively engage around this topic through songs, dance, and a lively drama that showcased their acting talents. The event was hosted at a primary school with approximately 2,500 students and was organized by the school’s Hygiene Club. On top of this, all of the content for the celebration was developed and led by the students.
The impressive drama depicted a contentious conversation between a mother and daughter at the start of her menses. The two main characters were at odds about the use of sanitary pads to manage their menstrual health. It was a conflict of traditional norms and showcased a young girl’s eagerness to embrace modern solutions so that she could achieve her full potential. The mother in the drama saw menstruation as a dirty and secret thing that needed to be hidden away. She saw it as a woman’s burden and did not agree with the expenditure of the household funds to purchase sanitary pads, when scraps of old cloth have served her menstruating needs for all her life. The young girl was able to educate her mother around the importance of pads, not just to her health, but to her education, empowerment, and life as a maturing woman.
This drama clearly demonstrated the needs and desires of this next generation of young women. In a rapidly modernizing world filled with new technologies and health solutions, it is important that these girls are not left behind and that we support them in gaining access to essential menstrual health solutions.
We here at Splash on the global menstrual health team have our work cut out for us. We are scaling up rapidly and have hired two menstrual health specialists in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Kolkata, India. We have initiated an ambitious formative research process and have engaged stakeholders near and far around our strategic MH thinking. We are committing more time, more energy, and more funds to make MH a priority. We believe that MH deserves an equal seat at the WASH table, and we plan to make that happen. After all, Splash’s vision is for all children to lead healthy lives, thrive in school, and reach their highest potential regardless of their sex. I invite you to join us on this journey together!
Emily Davis is Splash’s new Global Lead for Menstrual Health. She is a passionate menstrual health specialist with hands-on experience providing strategic direction, project management, and technical support to a multitude of projects spanning sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. Emily holds the belief that every girl has the right to be able to manage her menstrual health safely and with dignity so that she can go on to achieve her full potential. She received her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Global Health from the University of Washington and her Master’s degree in International Health with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Interventions from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
[i] Miiro G, Rutakumwa R, Nakiyingi-Miiro J, Nakuya K, Musoke S, Namakula J, et al. Menstrual health and school absenteeism among adolescent girls in Uganda (MENISCUS): a feasibility study. BMC Womens Health. 2018;18(1):4. pmid:29298699
As we commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8th, Splash is a firm believer that now, more than ever, we must push for progress on gender equity globally. While Splash focuses on water, sanitation, and hygiene for all children, we recognize that women and men, as well as boys and girls contribute to the success of our programs. We also recognize that we will never achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, without paying special attention to the needs of women and girls, and those in vulnerable situations.
As many of the countries where Splash works fall below the global average for economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment of women and girls, integrating a gendered response into all of our programming is critical.[i]
Most recently, as a part of Project WISE (WASH-in-Schools for Everyone) — a five-year effort to reach 100% WASH coverage of government schools in Addis Ababa and Kolkata — Splash hired a full-time Menstrual Health Specialist to oversee our menstrual health work globally. From 2019–2023, Project WISE will benefit more than one million children through improved water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure; behavior change programs for kids and adults; and strengthened menstrual health services for girls aged 10 and above.
In the three cities where we implement sanitation programs — Addis Ababa, Kolkata, and Kathmandu — gender segregated toilets are a crucial part of ensuring that females have a safe and private experience when using sanitation facilities.
In an effort towards gender parity, Splash spotlights female teachers as positive leaders in the school environment. We believe it is important to ensure that women are included as focal teachers leading our hygiene curriculum, as they train other adults and children at their school and serve as role models.
We also work to ensure gender equity in our hygiene club composition. Splash believes it is essential to eliminate the possibility of school staff selecting more males than females, or vice-versa, to be part of our hygiene club. It is important for both genders to be featured as leaders at school. It is also important for both boys and girls to be seen as interested and invested in hygiene topics.
To create a safe space for conversations about potentially sensitive topics, such as menstrual health, we know it is crucial to be aware of local cultural norms, while also advocating for both males and females to be educated on such topics. Efforts, such as making sure that there are proper waste bins for sanitary products, are ultimately important to the health of all.
Based on current trends, the overall global gender gap will take 200 years to close. At Splash, we agree that there is a strong call to #BalanceTheBetter for gender parity not only in the WASH sector, but in all sectors, globally. With the concerted efforts of multiple actors, we can close this gap together.
Over 90,000 of China’s Most Vulnerable Children Now Have Access to Clean Water
Splash, a Seattle-based, nonprofit organization providing water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions to children in urban Asia and Africa, today announced that 100 percent of orphanages in China have ultrafiltration systems to provide clean water — a huge milestone ten years in the making.
After a decade of hard work and close collaboration with the Chinese government and local non-government organizations (NGOs), over 190,000 vulnerable children, elderly adults, and staff at over 1,100 orphanages have consistent access to clean, safe water.
These orphanages span 32 provinces, across China’s 3.7 million square miles, from Shanghai to Xinjiang and Tibet to Inner Mongolia.
“Working in China ten years ago, the stark inequity in urban areas was shocking. Hotels and restaurants were serving filtered water to their customers, but across the street, children at poor schools and orphanages were drinking unclean water from the tap,” said Eric Stowe, Founder and Executive Director of Splash. “We believe that access to clean water is a basic human right and matter of social justice.”
Thanks to the commitment of the Chinese government, NGOs, corporate partners, generous donors, and the local Splash team, every orphanage in China now has clean water to drink, improving the overall quality of life for over 90,000 children.”
In China, orphanages and homes for the elderly are often co-located in the same facility. As a result, Splash is also serving clean water to over 58,000 elderly, as well as more than 41,000 staff.
Poor water quality and inadequate sanitation are leading causes of disease and malnutrition, especially for children. Where most water-focused organizations are focused on bringing clean water to rural areas, Splash is one of the leading organizations focused on urban settings. The United Nations predicts that by 2030, the global population will increase to 8.5 billion, and by 2050, 75 percent of the world’s population will be in urban cities, with growth centering in developing countries. This explosive change creates a dire need to improve critical water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services and infrastructure now.
“The need here is very real,” said George Russell, founder of Russell Investments. “I’ve invested in this organization for years. I am proud of their work, and more importantly, the results.”
Splash’s work to improve WASH services in major cities in Asia and Africa supports the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal Six (SDG 6) to ensure universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, for all by 2030. The work is targeted on kids and schools, as they are access points for influencing parents, families, and communities.
“Over the past several years, the Chinese government has prioritized improving the policies and practices around domestic adoption, foster care, and orphanage management,” said Hailan Qi, director of China at Splash. “The collaboration with local governments in each of the 32 provinces has been critical to our work to bring clean water to more than 1,100 orphanages around the country.”
Splash’s work in China does not stop with 100 percent coverage. This year, the organization is continuing sustainability planning to keep clean water flowing at all of the Chinese orphanages over the long-term. Outside of China, Splash has a goal to reach 100 percent of government school children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Kolkata, India with clean water, clean hands and clean toilets, benefitting one million children by 2022.
For Splash, this is just the beginning. They believe every child should have access to clean water, not just today, but every day.
Splash is a non-profit organization founded in 2007 focused on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) solutions for children in urban Asia and Africa. They work in some of the fastest growing cities in the world, where they focus on child-serving institutions including schools, orphanages, shelters, and hospitals to help kids lead healthier lives. To date, Splash has completed over 1,700 projects across eight countries in Asia and Africa (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Thailand), serving more than 400,000 children. Ultimately, Splash aims to use schools as an access point to reach families and communities, improving WASH services for the urban poor. To learn more about Splash, visit www.splash.org or follow them on Twitter at @splash_org or Facebook @splashglobal.
Contributed by Ayatam Simeneh, Partner Support Manager, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
In September, I travelled to Splash’s office in Kolkata, India to be part of the Program Quality Summit with Splash staff from the U.S., Nepal, India, and Ethiopia.
The purpose of the Summit was to connect colleagues from across the globe, align around the importance of data quality and standardized methods for collecting and using data to improve Splash’s programs, and to create program quality champions within each country office.
As part of the summit, we each had the opportunity to visit Splash schools across Kolkata to see what is different from and similar to our own programmatic contexts.
Working in Addis Ababa government schools, every day I encounter school children that fill my heart with hope. The same was true in humid, hot Kolkata, where temperatures reach 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit). Schools in Kolkata, like Addis, have many needs, including water.
Among the four schools I visited, Jagabandhu Primary School was conducting a soap drive event where every student in the school brought one bar of soap to supply the school for one year. One by one, hundreds of students placed their soap in a bucket, while the other students watched.
At Nehru Vidyatan Primary School, students ages five and six welcomed me and my colleagues, singing songs about hygiene, cheering us with enthusiasm, and giving us the best of what they had. Here, classrooms are small, and the neighborhoods are crowded and lack sufficient infrastructure, but, thanks to Splash, there are water and handwashing stations at these schools.
These kids are born to thrive and deserve everything that all kids need. Amidst this landscape, there is bright hope and it’s joyous to see that we “Splashers” are bringing clean water and smiles to these beautiful kids.
For over a decade, Splash has been incorporating innovative design into our drinking and handwashing stations. One of the main drivers for this work is the difference in price per tap. Yet the cost savings do not begin to touch upon the many other benefits of materials, like plastic, that we are thrilled about.
From prototyping and testing multiple versions of stations in the field (everything from brick and mortar, concrete and tile, glass stone, commercially available products, custom stainless-steel models, and our current fiberglass molds), to designing stations for institutions accommodating a wide range of children (from schools of 5,000, to feeding centers of 1,500, to pediatric hospitals of 100), we have rich experience with what works and what doesn’t.
Human-centered design is a critical component of our approach. In Nepal and India, our stations have been traditionally made using fiberglass, a type of plastic that is reinforced with glass fibers. In the US, fiberglass is commonly used for playground equipment, boats, roofing, and many others where products must be durable and lightweight.
As Splash looks to expand our sanitation projects in Ethiopia, we will take our best practices learned in Asia and manufacture and install fiberglass stations in Addis Ababa for the first time. Previously, we only installed concrete and tile stations in schools. We also will continue to innovate even further in the future.
Fiberglass and plastic stations are easier to install, easier to clean, easier to repair, and easier to move after installation than our existing tile and concrete stations in Ethiopia. The design process has also allowed us to make our stations more child friendly (both in terms of aesthetics and functionality).
Splash’s team in Addis Ababa have been hard at work, researching fiberglass manufacturers, gathering bids, re-negotiating prices, and as of August 2017, supervising initial station manufacturing. The new fiberglass stations for Ethiopia will be similar to the design we use for Nepal and India, with small improvements. The ability to serve more students per station is needed given the very large school sizes in Addis Ababa, with some schools having upwards of 2,000 students.
“Splash’s first fiberglass water stations were installed in Nepal and India. They were well received by the schools and appreciated by government officials.” — Sourav Chattopadhyay, Lead Technician, Splash India
Thanks to an exciting new partnership with the Autodesk Foundation, Splash will expand our impact and continue our long history of innovation in the design field. With Autodesk’s support, we hope to build our expertise to conduct more design improvements, which will further increase our supply-chain benefits and cost savings.
Most importantly, with the support of Autodesk, Splash can rev up our implementation in Addis Ababa, allowing us to reach our goal of providing every public school with clean water and clean hands, more efficiently, while not sacrificing on quality. We hope that this work will serve as a model for the greater WASH sector of what’s possible when you resolve to innovate and never settle.
The Autodesk Foundation
The Autodesk Foundation supports the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. We support impact-driven, design-focused organizations and the ecosystem that helps solutions reach scale. We provide funding, software, training, and related support, so organizations can have the greatest impact possible.
In 2007, Splash began our work in China to reach over 1,100 orphanages spread across a country that spans 3.7 million square miles. Ten years later, Splash is set to reach our goal of providing safe water to every single orphanage in China, benefiting over 120,000 children. As we approach this milestone, a new challenge has emerged — how to ensure the long-term service and maintenance of the water filtration systems across the vast distances that we operate, in the most cost-efficient way possible.
Splash uses commercial grade water filtration systems to ensure the highest quality standards for purification. The systems, while incredibly durable and cost-effective, do require annual servicing, and occasionally things go wrong. For example, at one site in 2016, the heat unexpectedly went off during the winter break, causing all the water pipes to freeze, which shut the water system down entirely. While some orphanages have staff comfortable handling minor to major problems, many sites are simply not equipped to do so.
For years, the Yunnan-based technical team provided routine maintenance and responded to service calls in person. With sites spanning from Shanghai to Xinjiang, our small technical team could travel up to 4,000 kilometers to service the water filtration systems. They faced additional hazards in our orphanage sites in Tibet, located 5,000 meters above sea level, where they needed supplemental oxygen masks to complete their work. As Splash looked to devise a long-term sustainability strategy, it was clear that we would have to think outside of the box and devise a more efficient solution.
We’ve witnessed how communication technology is radically changing the lives of the world’s poor, even in far-flung regions of China. WeChat, a mobile app and messaging platform that has taken China by storm (read more here) has over 846 million monthly active users, and has become a ubiquitous fixture of modern life in China, much like WhatsApp in India or Facebook Messenger in the United States. People and businesses use WeChat for mobile payments, social marketing, shopping, games, customer service, even charitable giving. Why couldn’t Splash use it to help ensure clean water for kids?
With the generous support of FIL Foundation and a tech-savvy WeChat developer, Eggplant Digital, Splash decided to take the leap and develop a mobile app. Our goal was to leverage our Salesforce data with a customized WeChat interface that would allow users to verify their account and filter system information, receive automated reminders of upcoming maintenance, and view instructional guides, while also requesting spare parts and expert support via the WeChat app. The customized WeChat app launched this month and has already generated rave reviews from orphanage staff.
“Very good! Before this we relied on the telephone and QQ messaging, now there is a new way for easier and faster communication between us.”- Mr. Guan Changyong, Director of Panjing City SWI of Liaoning Province
When the orphanage can’t solve a problem on their own, they have the option to submit a help request directly to our team. Help requests use WeChat’s capability to send pictures and video recordings to allow users to explain the issue they are facing. The feature enables Splash’s local team in China to follow up directly through WeChat messaging. Thanks to our state-of-the-art use of technology, Splash has a new tool to help ensure clean water for tens of thousands of kids across one of the world’s largest countries, without having to send our staff to every corner of the country.
As many tech firms know, the first version is never the last. We need innovative partners to help us continually improve our technology solutions. In the future, we hope to use WeChat for mobile fundraising campaigns in China and partner with Tencent, the parent company of WeChat, to leverage their powerful mobile platform and innovative charitable support. Splash is also looking for local partners in China to help us streamline the supply chain of spare parts that each of our partner sites depend on, for which we have created a local sustainability network.
If you are interested in supporting our work, you can donate here or connect with our local sustainability network, by contacting our Splash China team. Splash projects in China can also receive local donations through our joint project account with China Charity Federation, funding filter replacement parts. We received our first local donation from Watsons at the end of 2016 and are excited to grow our local funding partnerships to help sustain clean water for every orphan, abandoned or disadvantaged child. Please contact us if you are interested in donating through China Charity Federation to be eligible for a tax-deduction in China.
Splash aims to improve the health and development of children in dense, urban areas by ensuring they have clean water, clean hands and clean toilets. Founded in 2007, Splash has completed over 1,700 projects serving more than 400,000 kids in eight countries: China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. Over the next five years in Kolkata, India; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Kathmandu, Nepal; Splash aims to reach 100% of public schools with full WASH coverage to ensure that over one million children have clean water, clean hands and clean toilets by 2021.
Taking an investment approach to grant making, the FIL Foundation funds strong charities where a grant can add lasting, measurable value. The Foundation seeks to support strategic initiatives that enable charitable organizations to reach new levels of achievement. Grants are intended to strengthen charities and encourage the highest standards of management and long-term sustainability.
On October 12th, 2016, Splash received the following email from Dawit Alemishet, Splash Director of Ethiopia:
I would love to share the inspiration of my day while visiting our partner site, the Edget Besira Primary School. I just cannot sleep without telling you of this testimonial I received from the school’s principal.
The Edget Besira Primary School is located near the largest open market of Merkato in Teklhaymanot area. In this new academic year, more than 1,250 students have already enrolled in the school. Most of the school children are coming from the very poor families living in slum houses. One of the biggest challenges of the school was that most of the children are involved in the street vending labor to cover their lunch and other personal expenses. Therefore, they were missing the afternoon class often. When Splash intervened there was only nonfunctional taps, water reservoir, pipelines, and damaged water station, and out of service latrines.
Fortunately, with Splash’s intervention supported by the Lake Union Rotary Club of Seattle and the Rotary Club of Addis Ababa West, this terrible situation was changed. Both the primary and kindergarten campuses now have separate child-friendly water stations for drinking and hand washing purposes. We built two drinking stations with 24 taps, and 15 taps for two hand washing stations. In total, we put 5 water stations in the school that connected to the two water filtration systems. In addition, we provided two water tanks with the volume of 5,000 liters and rehabilitated existed water reservoir tanks and facilities. Of course, our hygiene team has given excellent trainings as well during the last year.”
Dawit went on to say the school staff had reported that, in one year since Splash’s intervention and assistance in accessing existing public financing:
“The parents are now asking for their children to stay in the school the whole day because their children are performing so well. I hope the health impact is there too. Though our contribution is like a small drop, our work is having an immediate impact. I am very happy to able to see and hear of this contribution with Splash. Thank you all for supporting this life changing project in Ethiopia with Splash!
I hope you enjoyed this report.
Splash whole-heartedly thanks Dawit and his team for their tireless work, Rotary International for funding this project, and all our donors who support Splash’s clean water projects around the globe.
By Kara Cherniga Uhl
Why does Splash focus on urban areas? When I joined the Splash team two years ago, this question was at the forefront of many external conversations. It’s been encouraging to hear these conversations gradually evolve. Earlier last month I attended World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, where I heard water experts from around the world ask the inverse of these questions: Why aren’t we talking more about urban needs and realities? What about cities? Although the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector has historically been focused on rural areas, a shift is taking place as more attention is paid to the growing needs of the urban poor.
This shift represents an important, though delayed, response. More than 54% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to rise to 70% by 2050. The majority of this urban growth will take place in developing countries — especially in Asia and Africa, where birthrates soar and families are moving in droves from the countryside to cities. The combined population of the world’s least developed countries will double by 2050. If we are not looking ahead at how to improve critical services and infrastructure in the world’s poorest and densest cities, we are missing the opportunity to reach the poorest where they are — and where they will be. Existing WASH infrastructure will deteriorate as it buckles under the weight of new users. The “last mile” (a popular term in global development), will take on a new face in the coming decades as we struggle to serve those who are moving closer and closer to urban epicenters.
That is why Splash fills a unique role: improving WASH services in major urban areas in Asia and Africa. Through our work in schools, hospitals, orphanages, and shelters, we focus specifically on kids — helping to protect those who are most vulnerable to water-borne disease. We simultaneously aim to influence the behaviors and shift the social norms of those surrounding these kids, working in close partnership with local governments as well as the staff at the institutions we serve.
Splash believes that the first step in solving a problem is quantifying it. So between October 2014 and February 2016, we partnered with local governments and independent surveyors and water quality labs to coordinate citywide surveys assessing WASH coverage at every government-funded school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Kolkata, India; and Kathmandu, Nepal. Never before had the status of urban school WASH coverage been so comprehensively examined. The availability and quality of WASH infrastructure was assessed and water quality samples were taken from nearly 3,000 schools serving more than 1,000,000 children — totaling 100% of public schools in each city. The data revealed the unequivocal need for increased WASH investments in urban schools. While these schools do indeed have access to water points, they largely lack safe and consistently available drinking water. The aggregate drinking tap-to-student ratios were more than double that of minimum global standards and the toilet-to-student ratios were even worse. Less than 7% of all schools surveyed had soap available for hand washing.
Solutions to these problems are available now and Splash believes that their impact can extend beyond the school walls. Water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure improvements must be coupled with initiatives that ensure the sustained maintenance and functionality of WASH hardware while changing behaviors for the long term. Kids and schools are access points for influencing parents, families, and communities and are thus important change agents in strengthening intergenerational values towards WASH.
It may not take long hours of travel to physically reach the kids living in these cities — but it will surely take long hours of problem solving, coordination and collaboration across sectors, and creative advocacy and blended financing to address the complexity of urban WASH challenges. Kids living in urban poverty may not be the hardest to reach geographically, but they will continue to be overlooked unless our sector turns its collective powers of attention and resources towards their realities. Our mandate to serve all humans with safe water and adequate and adequate sanitation and hygiene by 2030, as per the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, is clear. Splash has been working towards these goals for nine years. Our efforts to improve the lives of kids in urban institutions has never been more pressing. The question should no longer be why? — it should be how?
by Katelyn Galloway
Experts say the most productive people don’t look at their phones first thing in the morning. You shouldn’t do it, they say. But on July 27th, as I swiped open my email and wiped the sleep from my eyes, I was glad I did.
The first subject line in my inbox read: Cholera Outbreak in Lalitpur. My heart sank. People in Nepal have faced enough recently: catastrophic earthquakes, freezing winter temperatures, floods, political crises and gas and food shortages. And now this?
The email claimed 17 cases of cholera had been reported. As the Health & Hygiene Manager of Splash Nepal, I immediately forwarded the alert to my colleagues.
When I arrived at the Splash Nepal office later that morning, the rest of the team was already in emergency response mode. They, too, had ignored the experts and checked their emails that morning.
Splash contacted the Nepal Public Health Office, the District Education Office (DEO), and the other government and NGO allies we had joined forces with in the aftermath of the earthquake. Together, we identified the four zones of Lalitpur most affected by the initial outbreak.
As an initial step, the DEO commissioned the Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO) to survey the water quality of all Lalitpur schools. Thankfully, all schools with a Splash filtration system tested negative for coliform.
But the number of reported cholera cases in the area was rising, and our team worried about it spreading to the kids at our partner schools — the ones we promised to help protect from water-borne disease. The Splash team knew that students in Kathmandu needed more than our standard clean water intervention. They needed intensive hygiene education and long-term reinforcement from those they look up to: adults.
We had our objectives. Our immediate goals were: to ensure the water flowing from Splash’s filters remained free of microbial contamination; and to make parents and community members aware of cholera and teach them how to prevent it from spreading. Since adults serve as both role models and behavioral guides for children, we began including parents, teachers, school administrators, and community members in our hygiene education activities.
We started with the communities. Working with key players in local development and government, we identified women’s groups and communities that were in the cholera outbreak areas. Then the Splash Nepal team gave awareness presentations and lessons on how to ensure safe drinking water and keep up proper personal and environmental hygienic practices at home.
Next, we targeted the people responsible for ensuring children’s health throughout the course of the day: the school administrators. Whether we had worked with a school previously or not, we wanted to ensure that all school principals had the knowledge and resources to ensure their students had access to clean, safe drinking water. We invited principals from high-risk zones to several 2-hour training sessions on preventing cholera in schools and provided them steps for keeping kids safe at school. In collaboration with UNICEF, Splash distributed educational materials so that principals could share these health lessons with their school staff.
Splash Nepal also organized Hygiene Event Days at schools with a focus on cholera awareness and prevention and invited school parents and the local community members. As with Splash Nepal’s annual Hygiene Event Days, the purpose is to celebrate the school’s access to clean, safe drinking water, and to spread messages about the importance of proper hygiene. With support from the Rotary Club, we were able to obtain donations of soap and Piyush (chlorine drops) for home use to distribute to adult attendees.
All the while, Splash continued to ensure that kids at Kathmandu schools had the cleanest water possible. Our team visited every single one of our partner schools across the Kathmandu Valley to re-test the water quality and proactively sterilize each filtration system. On our visits, we reminded teachers and staff to resupply soap, encourage handwashing, and ensure clean water is available to all students all the time.
Strong collaboration with government and other NGOs is key to reaching the maximum number of people. So far, our Cholera Outbreak Response campaign has reached over 10,000 children and adults directly and thousands more indirectly through the distribution of information, soap, and chlorine packets.
Despite all this concerted effort, the outbreak isn’t over yet. Every day, Splash Nepal continues to support extra hygiene programs at schools across the Kathmandu Valley. And every morning, I wake up and check my email for updates.
by Megan Williams
Standing in front of a sea of 1,000 peers, one teen does what most high school students would not do for $1,000: show their school how to use a menstrual pad.
As an American woman, I tend to take the access to pads or tampons that I have to manage my period for granted. In many of the countries where Splash works, girls are not given this luxury, especially at school. For many girls, the first time she learns about menstruation might be the day it begins — which can be a terrifying moment if she has no prior warning or understanding of what’s happening. And once her menses begins, she may not have access to menstrual materials or a safe space to change her pad. In developing countries, school toilets often do not have locking doors, water for cleaning, or bins to dispose of used pads. Every single girl faces menstruation. At Splash, our goal is to make that experience a little more dignified, safe, and positive.
On May 28 2016, schools in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that partner with Splash will be holding their second annual Menstrual Hygiene Day celebration. In preparation, Splash staff has trained a group of 20 interested students to take part in a Hygiene Club. The Hygiene Club uses fun, interactive games and engaging materials to increase students’ knowledge and advocacy. One of the key hygiene topics is proper menstrual hygiene management. Splash trains teachers to work with both boys and girls to break down existing taboos and myths on menstruation. In doing so, we help to identify girls’ needs in each school.
On Menstrual Hygiene Day, Splash’s Hygiene Clubs are standing up (literally, in front of their peers) for menstruation. Together, boys and girls, teachers and students, will advocate for girls and the importance of not letting menstruation interfere with a girl’s ability to attend school, feel confident, and be safe. Our goal is to encourage schools to have toilets that are secure, private, and stocked with materials to help girls manage their periods.
When I watched kids perform this demonstration for the first time, I was in awe. How inspiring it was to witness kids stand up for each other in a way that was so natural and honest. There was nothing taboo about it.
Megan Williams is the Health & Hygiene Manager at Splash, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping urban poor kids grow up healthy by ensuring they have clean water, clean hands, and clean toilets at school and in their communities.
April 25, 2016 marks the 1-year anniversary of the 7.8 magnitude Nepal earthquake — the first in a series of tremors — that devastated the Kathmandu Valley.
The day after the first earthquake, Splash staff in Nepal began surveying the damage at their partner schools, realizing they were the first relief aid to arrive. “The schools were very amazed,” said Kriti Baidya, a Partner Support Coordinator at Splash Nepal. Not one of Splash’s hard-wired water filtration systems had been permanently damaged. “The Splash team was at the school giving a hygiene training to the children [when the second earthquake, a 6.7 magnitude tremor, struck on April 26, 2015]. We faced the earthquake in the school itself.” Kriti recalled. It was lucky that the first, and most powerful, earthquake had hit on a Saturday when schools were not in session.
Days after Disaster
In the days, weeks, and months following the initial earthquakes, many communities and suddenly homeless families relied on Splash’s existing high volume water filtration systems in public schools. “The Splash filter system is one of the things that helped people because right after the earthquake most people took shelter in the schools. They drank pure water from that filter system, which helped,” confided Madan Dhodari, another Partner Support Coordinator at Splash Nepal. Within two weeks of the first earthquake, the Splash Nepal team began holding public workshops on critical WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) behaviors, educating their fellow survivors on how to keep clean and stay healthy during those hard times.
“Whatever the situation was, we never gave up,” said Kriti.
As the Nepalese people banded together and other aid agencies joined the recovery efforts, communities began to rebuild. Families found new homes and, for some, life returned to normal — a new normal. For many, the fear of imminent disaster was crippling to their recovery. Light aftershocks and rumors of more earthquakes reverberated across Kathmandu Valley, sending the city into a sleepless worry and flooding the hospitals with cases of post-traumatic stress.
Eventually, classes resumed at schools, but were often held in TLCs (Temporary Learning Centers); structures made of bamboo that, according to some schoolteachers, leaked when it rained and emitted a fine powder when it was dry that made the kids feel sleepy and ill. “The TLC is not the solution,” Splash Nepal’s Health & Hygiene Officer, Sushma Kuikel, remarked. “They make a lot of problems for the students.”
Then, on September 23, 2015, the people of Nepal were hit by another devastating shock: border blockades between Nepal and India that stopped the import of necessary goods, like building materials, equipment, and fuel. Another new reality settled over Nepal.
“During the earthquake, there was bonding,” recalled Shruti Bista, another Partner Support Coordinator at Splash Nepal. “People were ready to help each other, but during the fuel crisis, it was a competition for where you could get fuel.”
“The whole year we faced problems after the earthquake,” Madan confirmed. “It may not be the result of the earthquake, but the whole year was not good for us.”
Business (Not) As Usual
“It has changed a lot,” Krity Bajracharya, Health & Hygiene Officer at Splash Nepal replied when asked how the year’s events have affected the implementation of Splash’s work. “In some of the schools, the water source has completely dried up, so it has been really difficult. And in other schools, due to the destruction of the buildings, we have had to move a lot of our drinking and handwashing stations.”
One positive change for Splash has been the enforcement of new and stricter safety standards for building construction and design. “Now because the earthquake, people are very cautious and following the building construction rules. Good things are happening now,” said Rojita Maharjan, Social Business Coordinator at Splash Nepal.
It’s true. Splash Nepal has dedicated much of this year’s resources to retrofitting the water storage tanks and plumbing at the 164 schools currently using Splash’s water filtration system to meet these improved safety standards. Meanwhile, Splash has adopted a reformed approached at the 47 new installations scheduled for 2016, enforcing stricter engineering standards for improved safety and disaster preparedness. “Now we are planning; keeping the earthquake in our minds,” said Sujan K.C., Operations Assistant at Splash Nepal.
When asked to reflect on the past year, Splash Nepal’s Hygiene Team became giddy as they recounted the endeavor of delivering portable water filters to 75 schools in the rural Southern Lalitpur region of Nepal — the area of Kathmandu Valley most affected by the earthquake. “It was completely different than what we had been doing with Splash, but it was the most satisfying work.” What made it satisfying? Sushma beamed: “The smiles of the students.”
“We need to work more on water sources,” Madan advised. In a city faced with unforeseen challenges, Splash is making steady progress toward achieving 100% coverage of full water, sanitation, and hygiene services at all 650 public schools in the Kathmandu Valley. While Splash adapts to the changed urban environment, schools seek to get students back into permanent buildings; a slow process hinged on government funding and expected to take two to three years.
“Splash Nepal is now more focused on the access to drinking water,” confirmed Rojita. “Quantity and quality are both challenges.” Despite water supply being an unexpected dilemma, the Splash Nepal team seems unfazed. Already, Splash has begun forging new partnerships with local experts to troubleshoot the issue of water supply and access. “Splash work is never for the short term,” Rojita explained. “We continuously work with the schools. They are a partner and a friend.” And Splash never leaves a friend high and dry.
Rubina Lama is playing at a temple near her school in Kathmandu when the ground begins to tremble. When the earthquake stops, she tries to stand up, but realizes she can’t move. The bricks are too heavy on top of her small, seven-year-old body. Rubina opens her eyes, but cannot see the sky.
Several days later, Kriti Biadya and Ritesh Adah are surveying the damage at Rubina’s school. Kriti and Ritesh are employees of Splash, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that cleans water for kids living in urban poverty. Splash’s water filtration systems are installed at over 170 schools throughout the Kathmandu Valley, and the team is out checking each school’s water system for damage.
Kriti and Ritesh find Rubina and her parents living in a classroom of the Shree Nandi School, the school in which Rubina once studied. Rubina, pulled from the rubble days ago, is in great pain. Both of her legs are broken and part of her pelvis is crushed. Her internal infections are becoming life threatening. She needs immediate care.
Kriti contacts her colleagues at Splash-Nepal, who respond at once. The Splash-Nepal team — accompanied by photographer, Gavin Gough — rush to move Rubina to Sushma Korala Memorial Hospital where orthopedic and pediatric surgeons from Mercy Malaysia agree to assist. Rubina is preppred for surgery. For the first time in nearly a week, there is hope.
The 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25th 2015 killed more than 9,000 people and injured over 23,000. News of the Nepal earthquake spread quickly around the world as foreigners scrambled to deliver aid. Within days, Nepal’s arterials clogged, their airways congested, and at times, even their borders closed. Disaster relief was slow at best.
Meanwhile, Splash was delivering clean water to more than 100,000 people per day throughout the Kathmandu Valley. Splash — although not in the disaster response business — has a business model in Nepal that enabled immediate response in a crisis.
Splash has been providing clean water for kids in Nepal since 2007, with the goal of providing sustainable WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) in all 650 public schools across Kathmandu by 2020. When the earthquake hit, Splash had 26 local staff implementing water projects across 171 schools, serving clean water to over 60% of the student population in Kathmandu.
Splash relies on local infrastructure, local intelligence, and local collaboration. Without having to import supplies or recruit workers from outside the country, Splash wasted no time. The day after the earthquake, Splash-Nepal employees were back at work, surveying the damage of their water filtration systems, running ad hoc seminars on sanitation and hygiene, supporting colleagues who had lost their homes, distributing clean water to the community, and finding help for children injured during the disaster.
Kriti, along with the rest of the Splash-Nepal team, was happy to discover that the majority of the water projects had survived the quake. Clean water was still reaching thousands of people in this dire time of need. However, much work still needed to be done. Roughly 42 water systems had incurred minor damage requiring one or two days of repair and plumbing work. Splash’s Headquarter staff (located in Seattle, Washington) stayed put while the team in Nepal went to work.
Six months later, Rubina is walking to her school to meet Gavin, the photographer who had accompanied her and the Splash-Nepal team to the hospital. At Rubina’s school, a new building now stands beside the old one. Classes are back in session, and clean water is flowing from Splash’s taps.
Rubina is wearing a festive pink dress. She greets Gavin in traditional Nepali fashion. They sit together amongst the school’s ruins and Rubina shows him the tiny scars on her legs. Then she asks him to watch her run. Gavin does, capturing her movement with his camera. Rubina is smiling as she dashes past the temple that nearly claimed her life.