WASH Employment Empowers Communities

Bruce Pelz, a Co-Founder of the Maji Safi Movement and current Vice President and Secretary, shares his experience and insight from the Colorado Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Symposium. 

On March 4th and 5th, I had the opportunity to attend the Second Annual Colorado Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Symposium, put on by the Environmental Engineering Department at CU Boulder. 


It was a privilege to attend and feel the excitement from students, young professionals, and professionals who have been in the WASH sector for more than 20 years. From the debates, discussion rounds, lectures and networking, I was able to glean a clearer view of the history of the WASH sector and learn lessons Maji Safi can use for moving forward. A special thanks to Rita Klees and all of the students from Engineering for Developing Communities for putting on a great event with world-class panelists and participants. As a Boulder native and CU graduate, I have always felt blessed by how much attention is paid to water in Colorado.

On my way home from the Symposium, I was listening to NPR and heard the New York Columnist Chris Hedges talk about the uprisings that have transpired since the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi ignited himself in 2010 after being disrespected publicly by a government official. Hedges concluded that the cause of these uprisings was not race, religion or ethnicity, but rather that people no longer are able to achieve upward mobility in society. Along the same lines, the recent scenes in Kiev, Egypt and Syria illustrate the dangers that high global unemployment rates among recent college graduates pose globally. Could the lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation ignite similar reactions? I think so. After all, the human right to water and sanitation is a pre-requisite to all other human rights.

During the second debate of the WASH Symposium, titled Where Should Investments in the WASH Sector Go?, Mayling Simpson from Rotary International discussed the importance of employment and building the capacity of WASH professionals in the communities that are stuck in the global cycle of disease treatment.

The Maji Safi Movement fully agrees with this perspective. We believe that quality employment for rural African mothers is critical in the development of Africa; therefore, over 75% of Maji Safi’s full-time Community Health Workers (CHWs) are women, and 90% of the CHWs have children. Having quality employment, social security, and health insurance is important to the development of healthy families, and it gives our CHWs the security to continue to send their children to school. We believe that when our employees first change the hygienic behaviors of their families and the sanitary situation at their homes, they are better equipped to advocate for what preventing disease can do for planning and maintaining a stable family life.

Along with Mayling Simpson, hygiene education consultant Craig Hafner has been advocating for the importance of hygiene education in changing the WASH norms of a community.

Both professionals have been working in the sector for 20+ years as social behavioral scientists in a sector dominated by male engineers. They agree that listening to what the poor are saying and having them design incentives to bring universal access to clean water and waste management has to be at the center of development in both urban and rural areas.

Since Maji Safi first employed Community Health Workers in June of 2012, we have also recruited numerous volunteers who have made a diligent effort to learn how to prevent disease in their daily lives. The volunteer movement in Shirati combines the participants’ desire to learn how they can prevent disease with the possibility of transitioning into employment. Maji Safi is proud to have over 20 volunteers who have benefitted from our participatory curriculum and fun and memorable learning experiences. They passionately support our program in Shirati.

I believe incentives are central to all decisions in life as well as to favorable development in all sectors of society. Employing women is one of the most effective ways to improve households and their quality of life, because women are more likely to invest their income in the household than men are. Traumatic and devastating conflicts would not be as likely worldwide if women and the impoverished socioeconomic classes were empowered and employed to change their own living situations. That is exactly the mission Maji Safi Movement is accomplishing, and we hope to continue to support this movement and expand it within the global WASH sector.