In October I travelled to the Dominican Republic with Proctor & Gamble Children's Safe Drinking Water program and, oh yes Jason Priestley. (Yes! THAT Jason Priestley for you 90210 fans.) We saw first-hand how desperate the need for clean drinking water is there (and elsewhere in the world) and to learn what P&G CSDW is doing to help.
To help create more awareness about the program, P&G CSDW enlisted the help of Jason Priestley — father, actor, Canadian, and longstanding supporter of clean water issues - and he's been working with them since April 2014. Priestly hadn’t been to the field to see how the program worked in affected communities, and the new partnership in the D.R. between CSDW and BRA made it the perfect time for him to visit. So, yes, I did travel with Jason Priestley (and seven other people) to the Dominican Republic (to remote, rural villages) and we had a drink together (of clean water).
The world is not black and white when it comes to helping people. When an organization whose business it is to succeed in business becomes involved in environmental or humanitarian causes their motives are questioned, and in certain instances the questions are justified. A business that profits from killing whales, for instance, cannot convince me they don’t conceal a murky agenda if they become involved in an oceans welfare campaign. Can huge, multinational corporations do social good through community outreach initiatives?
These are the thoughts I had after volunteering (begging) to be the YMC media rep to accompany a group to the Dominican Republic for a clean water program with Proctor & Gamble. I went to observe and write about this initiative to deliver potable drinking water to communities in desperate need. But I went prepared to critique and watch closely, not write an advertorial; I wasn’t about to be wooed by a smooth-talking charlatan. To the huge benefit of the people who need safe drinking water — and for me — there weren’t any charlatans around, just genuinely concerned people, passionate about helping others.
I’ve travelled extensively all over the world, visiting remote and sometimes impoverished places to immerse myself in countries and their culture, but the disturbing gulf between the haves and have-nots in the Dominican Republic was eye-opening.
The batey community homes near the clinic.
Noelsa Evangelista Torres and her family in Don Juan, Dominican Republic.
The P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) program began ten years ago using water purification packets developed by P&G in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More children die from diseases caused by drinking dirty water than Malaria, HIV, and AIDS combined and nearly one billion people lack clean water worldwide. To date the CSDW Program has provided seven billion litres of clean, drinking water and saved an estimated 42,000 lives.
The leader of this program is Allison Tummon Kamphuis, who stepped in to lead the program in 2008 after her predecessor’s retirement. Tummon Kamphuis travels extensively to disaster-stricken and under-developed regions around the world, and she is passionate in her desire to see people everywhere have access to potable water. I had three days to talk with her and she’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. You know when someone vibrates with commitment and enthusiasm, yet still retains a realistic view of how the world works and how she needs to navigate it to bring about change? Tummon Kamphuis is exactly like that. Am I fangirling? Because people like her deserve it.
A quick aside about the water purification packets: In essence it’s a powder that mimics what our water treatment plants do, but on a smaller scale. One packet can clean 10 litres of water — which is what a family of 4-5 uses daily — and make it potable. The powder removes waterborne bacteria, waterborne viruses, and protozoa, eliminates disease-causing microorganisms, reduces diarrheal disease incidences, and removes dirt and other pollutants. Cool, right? Cool doesn’t begin to describe actually seeing this in action or sharing a drink of cleaned water with community members and the rest of our group. Read more about the packets directly on the P&G CSDW website.
Allison Tummon Kamphuis is a member of the Clinton Initiative and met Ulrick Gaillard, founder of the Batey Relief Alliance (BRA) — members of the Clinton Initiative — when they both attended the Global Health Topic dinner in 2013 at the annual meeting in New York. Gaillard approached the CSDW and proposed incorporating clean water into the batey community programs BRA already had in place. The partnership between the CSDW and BRA began in the summer of 2014; it benefits 31,000 people, and is an ideal partnership, according to Tummon Kamphuis, because the BRA already has existing programs along with the trust of the community.
The batey communities we visited are all part of the larger community of Don Juan and approximately 1½ hours from Santo Domingo. They are made up of people who were former sugar cane plantation workers; most of them are Haitians or Dominicans of Haitian descent. They were left without work or resources when the sugar plantations folded or left the Dominican Republic and are some of the most marginalized people in the D.R. Unemployment is rampant, health care is difficult to come by and expensive, and the rate of disease — such as HIV/AIDS — is higher in these communities than elsewhere in the Dominican Republic. As a way to help, the Batey Relief Alliance was founded in 1997 and the community clinic opened in 2005. The clinic currently serves 12,000 families per year.
Segunda Abad was proud to show off photos of her three children who've bucked the odds, graduated high school, and gone on to university.
We met three families who spoke to us of their experience using the clean water packets. The first family has been a part of the program since its introduction; we met Segunda Abad and her (adult) daughter, Odali Almarante at their home. Both women were keen to tell us about improvements they’ve noticed to their skin health as well as having fewer digestive issues and stomach pains. Abad has a spring on her land, which she shares with neighbours, and though the water looked clear when we visited, Almarante — who served as our guide around the property — told us that it is full of particles and pollutants following a rain. The BRA teaches community members how to use the packets and community members, like Almarante, pay it forward by becoming Community Health Promoters who help their neighbours learn how and why to use the packets.
I asked the families with children, “Do your children understand why you’re using the packets?” And they all do, as far as age allows. The moms — it was all moms and young women — who were demonstrating how the packets work and helping their neighbours learn how to make clean water, were just as invested in the why as the how.
To anyone who can’t look past a corporate giant being responsible for this campaign: Isn’t it time to leave thinking in absolutes to the adolescents? We’re adults who have the ability to discern a bigger picture. In this case the bigger picture is that there are people in the world — a few minutes outside that 5-star resort we’ve vacationed at — who cannot provide safe drinking water for their children. That means their children have less of a chance of being healthy, living to adulthood, finishing school, maybe continuing their education, and starting families, than our children do. The corporate giant has a valuable program in place and the clout to partner with governments, local humanitarian agencies, and other corporate giants to provide tangible help.
What can we do?
Don’t stop going to 5-Star resorts, but be aware of what’s outside the walls and inform yourself of small ways — small measures create big change — you can help before leaving on a trip.
Look for social good campaigns that can easily be incorporated into your daily life. Not everyone can write a big cheque, but everyone can make decisions that have a big impact. P&G CSDW partnered with Walmart Canada Clean Water for one year — April 2014 to March 2015 — and for every purchase of a P&G household needs product from Walmart, a donation of one day of clean water will me made. The added benefit of this partnership is the awareness it raises for this global crisis.
Canada is water-rich and most Canadians have access to safe drinking water. Remember that, and value the resource. The more we value it, the more aware future generations will be that it’s something to protect and something everyone should have access to.
Photo credit: JJ Thompson of Media Needs. (Except the top three photos, the one of Noelsa's family, and the photo of Segunda Abad inside her home; those are mine. I am with Noelsa and her sister Anna Maria along with fellow media reps Chiara Folini and Donna Donaldson. )