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Turning air into drinking water: Africa's inspired inventors

Shortlisted contenders for the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa prize reveal their designs, from gloves that translate sign language into speech to smart lockers that dispense medicines

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Kate Hodal

Tue 1 Jan 2019 07.00 GMTLast modified on Thu 3 Jan 2019 11.29 GMT


Collince Oluoch; Roy Allela; Beth Koiji; Neo Hutiri; Paul Matovu  Shortlisted contenders, from left: Collince Oluoch; Roy Allela; Beth Koiji; Neo Hutiri; Paul Matovu. Photograph: Brett Eloff and James Oatway/Royal Academy of Engineering

The Royal Academy of Engineering Africa prize, now in its fifth year, has shortlisted 16 African inventors from six countries to receive funding, training and mentoring for projects intended to revolutionise sectors from agriculture and science to women’s health. The winner will be awarded £25,000 and the three runners up will receive £10,000 each.

From smart gloves that turn sign language into audio speech, to water harvesting systems that change air into drinking water, five inventors on course to transform the continent for the better spoke to the Guardian about their innovations.

Kenya: Sign-IO

Roy Allela’s six-year-old niece was born deaf. She found it difficult to communicate with her family, none of whom knew sign language. So Allela – a 25-year-old Kenyan technology evangelist who works for Intel and tutors data science at Oxford University – invented smart gloves that convert sign language movements into audio speech.


Roy Allela is developing a glove that translates sign language to speech via a bluetooth-enabled smartphone.

 Roy Allela has developed a glove that translates sign language to speech via a bluetooth-enabled smartphone. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

The gloves – named Sign-IO – have flex sensors stitched on to each finger. The sensors quantify the bend of the fingers and process the letter being signed. The gloves are paired via Bluetooth to a mobile phone application that Allela also developed, which then vocalises the letters.

“My niece wears the gloves, pairs them to her phone or mine, then starts signing and I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” says Allela. “Like all sign language users, she’s very good at lip reading, so she doesn’t need me to sign back.”

Allela piloted the gloves at a special needs school in rural Migori county, south-west Kenya, where feedback helped inform one of the most important aspects of the gloves: the speed at which the language is converted into audio.

“People speak at different speeds and it’s the same with people who sign: some are really fast, others are slow, so we integrated that into the mobile application so that it’s comfortable for anyone to use it.”

Users can also set the language, gender and pitch of the vocalisation through the app, with accuracy results averaging 93%, says Allela. Perhaps most importantly, the gloves can be packaged in any style the user wants, whether that’s a princess glove or a Spider-Man one, he says. “It fights the stigma associated with being deaf and having a speech impediment. If the gloves look cool, every kid will want to know why you have them on.”

The gloves recently won the hardware trailblazer award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and Allela is using the prize money to land more accurate vocal predictions.


The Sign-IO app, which vocalises letters signed by the person wearing the gloves.

 The Sign-IO app, which vocalises words signed by the person wearing the gloves. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

His goal is to place at least two pairs of gloves in every special needs school in Kenya, and believes they could be used to help the 34 million children worldwide who suffer disabling hearing loss.

“I was trying to envision how my niece’s life would be if she had the same opportunities as everyone else in education, employment, all aspects of life,” says Allela.

“The general public in Kenya doesn’t understand sign language so when she goes out, she always needs a translator. Picture over the long term that dependency, how much that plagues or impairs her progress in life … when it affects you personally, you see how hard people have it in life. That’s why I’ve really strived to develop this project to completion.”

South Africa: Pelebox smart lockers

When Neo Hutiri was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2014, the South African engineer was forced to spend three hours every two weeks waiting at his local clinic just to collect his medication. Queuing alongside patients requiring chronic therapy for health issues ranging from cancer to Aids, Hutiri wondered how he could apply technology to the problem and ease the burden for South Africa’s overrun public hospitals.


Neo Hutiri with his Pelebox smart locker

 Neo Hutiri with his Pelebox smart locker, which is designed to cut down the amount of time that patients have to wait for their medication. Photograph: James Oatway/Royal Academy of Engineering

“We have the biggest antiretroviral [ARV] therapy programme in the world: over 4.6m patients receive ARVs and with chronic therapy treatments like this you have to visit the facility every month to receive medication,” says Hutiri.

“It dawned on me that patients are spending a lot of time – 4.3m man hours in total every month – just waiting in queues. So my initial hypothesis was to take patients’ waiting time from three hours to under two minutes.”

Hutiri’s first move was to automate the filing system as much as possible by designing the Pelebox (pele for fast in Setswana), a smart locker that acts as a self-service kiosk. The locker is stocked by health workers, who scan a patient’s medication into a specialised cubicle. The number of the locker and a one-time pin are sent directly to the patient’s mobile phone, with the pin allowing the user to open the locker.

South Africa’s pharmaceutical council was intrigued by the Pelebox, but needed reassurance that the right medications would be delivered to the right patients, every single time. Hutiri piloted the project in Pretoria last year and was overjoyed at the results: 4,700 medications were delivered at a 100% success rate – and with an average collection time of under 36 seconds, says Hutiri.

The 30-year-old entrepreneur has now signed a contract with the department of health to roll the lockers out in eight of South Africa’s nine provinces, a feat he is hugely proud of.

“Eighty-three percent of the South African population relies on state-funded care – my parents are within that population and on long-term medication – but they get short-handed because there isn’t enough of an incentive for entrepreneurs in my sector to serve them as they tend to be low-income,” says Hutiri.

“I wanted to design something that you could place as easily in [the affluent area of] Sandton as in a township. I wanted the product to stand out because then the patients feel a high degree of pride, they think: ‘This product was designed for me’. When you treat people with respect, they pass that respect on to others.”

Uganda: The Vertical Farm

More than two-thirds of Uganda’s population engages in farming, but rapid population growth in the capital, Kampala, means that not everyone who would like to grow their own fruit and veg has the space or land to do so.


Paul Matovu with his Vertical Farm

 Paul Matovu with his Vertical Farm, designed to hold up to 200 plants. Photograph: James Oatway/Royal Academy of Engineering

This was the issue faced by Paul Matovu, who was born into a family of 20 children and raised for a short time by his grandparents in rural Uganda, where he learned all about growing crops. After returning to Kampala as a cash-strapped university student, he began looking for space-saving ways to grow his own food. His solution was the “farm in a box”, a sustainably sourced timber box measuring 90cm wide by 90cm high that can hold up to 200 plants.

The farms currently retail at 300,000 shillings (£64), a high price for the average Ugandan, says Matovu, but as the boxes produce food worth 1.29m shillings (£275) every year, costs can be quickly recouped. The farms also have a wormery in their middle to compost household waste, the castings of which can then be used to fertilise the crops, helping to keep inputs low but still organic, he says.

“Our goal is to roll out the farms to the wealthy, because they do not mind how expensive the boxes are, and to produce three to five farms per day,” says Matovu. “Then we can subsidise sales to the poor.”


The Vertical Farm Box

 The farm boxes have a wormery in their middle to compost household waste, which can then be used to fertilise the crops. Photograph: James Oatway/Royal Academy of Engineering

Kenya: Chanjo Plus

In 2015, Kenyan Collince Oluoch was working as a community health worker in Nairobi, knocking door-to-door to register children for a national immunisation drive. The work was tedious and difficult: every volunteer was required to register 200 children, but because some families were at work or out shopping or had simply moved away, the targets couldn’t always be met.


Collince Oluoch

 Collince Oluoch’s mobile platform helps improve the identification and registration of children targeted for life-saving vaccinations. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

Oluoch, 27, was faced with a choice: to invent names of children to meet the target (as many other health workers were doing), or to modify the existing pen-and-paper registration system into a digital database. He opted for the latter, and in 2016 built Chanjo Plus, an online vaccination platform that could be accessed by health clinics and hospitals across the country.

“The initial plan was to have an accountable platform to put the faces behind the numbers,” says Oluoch. “We have universal health coverage in Kenya and the aim is that by 2030 we will leave no one behind. But how do you leave no one behind if you don’t even know who everyone is?”

The database uses information compiled by community health workers to build a digital identity for each child, with details on which vaccinations were given and when and where they were given. These records can then be pulled up by any public health clinic anywhere, making it easy to identify which children are falling through the immunisation gaps and provide real-time data on vaccination drives.


Chanjo Plus

 Across sub-Saharan Africa, one in five children still don’t have access to life-saving vaccines. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

Chanjo Plus has so far enrolled 10,000 children at three clinics in Nairobi, and aims to scale up with the ministry of health to target the 1.5 million children born in Kenya every year, says Oluoch. He then hopes it can be a platform used across sub-Saharan Africa, where one in five children still don’t have access to life-saving vaccines.

“People are still dying because of measles, polio, diarrhoea, and pneumonia – diseases that can be prevented and should not be causing deaths now. Getting every child access to vaccines translates into healthy lives for families: it means poverty reduction and greater access to education.”

Kenya: Majik Water

When Beth Koigi moved into her university dormitory in eastern Kenya, she was horrified that the water coming out of the tap was filthy and laden with bacteria. Within months, she had built her first filter and was soon selling filters to others. When drought hit in 2016 and water restrictions saw Koigi’s water supply turned off entirely, she began thinking about water scarcity and its relation to climate change.


Beth Koigi

 Beth Koigi plans to use her Majik Water innovation to increase access to drinking water among low-income households. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

“Going for months without any tap water became a very bad situation,” she says. “Where I used to live, we didn’t get any tap water at all, so even doing simple things like going to the toilet – I would go to the mall instead. Having no water at all is worse than just having unpurified water, so I started thinking about a way to not have to rely on the council.”

While on a four-month programme at the Silicon Valley-based thinktank Singularity University, Koigi, 27, joined up with two other women – American environmental scientist Anastasia Kaschenko and British economist Clare Sewell – to create Majik Water, which captures water from the air and converts it into drinking water using solar technology.

The device – which won first prize this year at the EDF Africa awards – could provide a solution for the 1.8 billion people predicted to have a shortage of water by 2025, according to the UN, says Kaschenko.

“There’s an interesting relationship between climate change and the water in the atmosphere,” she says.

“There’s six times more water in the air than in all the rivers in the world. With every 1F increase in temperature, water begins to evaporate on the ground but increases by about 4% in the atmosphere, and that’s water that’s not being tapped.”


The Majik Water system

 The Majik Water system, which can generate up to 10 litres of filtered water a day. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

Majik Water – from the Swahili maji for water and “k” for kuna (harvest) – uses desiccants such as silica gels to draw water from the air. The gels are then heated up with solar power to release the water. The current system can generate up to 10 litres of filtered water per day, with the team looking to scale up to 100-litre systems at a cost of only £0.08 per 10 litres.

The solar panels used for the prototype are the most expensive input on the device, says Koigi, who is looking for ways to drive those costs down.

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APRIL 7, 2016



Meet the brave female chief who stopped 850 child marriages in Malawi

They call her the "Marriage Terminator."

In Southern Malawi, Chief Theresa Kachindaamoto is known as the "marriage terminator." In just three years, the chief to over 900,000 Malawian people has put an end to over 850 child marriages. 

She is protecting girls, empowering them and making her entire community healthier. 

Theresa never thought she would influence so many people. The youngest in a family of twelve, she was perfectly happy continuing her nearly thirty-year career as a secretary at a college in Zomba, Malawi. Thankfully for thousands of girls, she has chieftain blood. Meaning she was considered by the people living in her home district in Monkey Bay at the southern tip of Lake Malawi to be the next chief. To her shock, she was chosen to be the next district chief taking on the responsibility of guiding hundreds of thousands of people.

Malawi_map.pngImage: Wikicommons: Shaund

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries -- 50.7 percent of the country’s population lives under the poverty line according to UNDP. For Chief Katchindamoto she could have begun tackling a range of issues from challenges with food and hunger to sustainable agriculture. Instead, the first thing she did when she arrived back home was stop 12-year-old children being married off.

Child Marriage in Malawi


Child marriage is one of the biggest factors holding back girls around the world. When young girls are forced to marry before completing an education their own opportunities are limited. This limits the potential for the individual gir and hurts social and economic progress for their community and country.

According to a study by the United Nations in 2012 over 50 percent of girls in Malawi are married before the age of eighteen.

These are scary stats. Though not frightening enough to deter Chief Kachindamoto.  

When Chief Kachindamoto returned to Monkey Bay, she saw more than just young girls being married. She saw countless young, adolescent girls with babies of their own. 

malawi schoolchildrenImage: Flickr: Swathi Swidharan

Empowered through her education and potentially some extra genetic courage from chieftain ancestry, Theresa was not phased at the obstacle of tradition.

She began simply with a firm NO to child marriage.

Then she kept saying no. And in three years she refused to grant more than 850 child marriages.

The cheiftans efforts to create gender equality are going beyond marriage.

Sexual Initiation


Another practice Chief Kachindamoto is determined to abolish in her community, and hopefully the entire country, is called sexual initiation. And it sounds more like traumatic rape. Girls as young as 7-years-old are sent off to learn how to please their future husbands.

Ceremonies for “sexual initiation” can involve performing sexual dances or sex acts and can escalate to having sex with the teacher in order to complete initiation. In other cases, girls “learn” while away from their families and then parents hire a male community member to forcefully take their daughter's virginity to see what she has learned.

Needless to say, Chief Kachindamoto was horrified. She told Al Jazeera, “I said to the chiefs this must stop, or I will dismiss them.”


Chief Kachindamoto understood, “if [girls] are educated, they can be and have whatever they want.” She knows  the widespread benefits that come from empowering girls. She also understands the need to protect vulnerable girls from practices such as sexual initiation which can be incredibly psychologically damaging.

Community Health


In addition to protecting the girls in her community, she is also preventing the spread of HIV.

In Malawi, one in ten people is HIV positive. Girls subjected to atrocious sexual exploitation are put at risk for contracting HIV, a deadly virusthey will have to live with for life.

The Secret to Her Success


How has Chief Kachindamoto been so successful in ending these deep rooted traditions?



At first she met great opposition from parents who did not see the benefit of keeping girls in school when they could be married and then fed and cared for by someone else. What else would their daugthers achieve?

Theresa Kachindamoto was the perfect example to show community members the power of education for girls. But, her presence alone was not enough.

She held meetings with local community leaders, parents, families, and still faced challenges. So she changed the law. (Something Global Citizen is working to do in Tanzania right now).

It took bringing together 50 of Chief Kachindamoto’s sub-chiefs to sign an agreement to abolish child marriage in their villages. Collectively, they agreed to end existing unions of child marriage as well.  

When chiefs did not follow up on their promise (and thus the law), she responded by firing four chiefs.

So it was through changing and enforcing the law, along with community and social change efforts that Theresa went from a secure office job to Chief Kachindamoto: the woman who stopped 850 child marriage in three years and sent each of those children back to school.

She is truly an inspiration and role model in the fight to end child marriage. 

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Brand new opportunities for 2019 at Music Generation Waterford

Brand new opportunities for 2019 at Music Generation Waterford

Music Generation Waterford invites young musicians from throughout the county to start 2019 on a high note by applying for participation in one of its brand new ensembles.

The closing date for applications for the Music Generation Waterford Guitar Orchestra, Traditional Ensemble and Voice Effects Choir is Friday, 11 January 2019, while registration for the Ukulele Klub will close the following week, Friday 18 January, 2019. Read on for more information and for application details... 

Music Generation Waterford Guitar Orchestra
Applications are now open to aspiring young classical guitarists aged 11 to 14 years, who would like to join an exciting new ensemble led by experienced musician Jennifer Hartery.

Rehearsals and meet-ups: Wednesday evenings, Waterford City
Auditions will be held early January
Cost €75 (January – May)
Apply online 

Music Generation Waterford Traditional Ensemble
Dedicated young traditional musicians of a high playing standard age 18 years and under are invited to apply to join the Music Generation Waterford Traditional Ensemble. Led by Musical Director and Arranger Nóra Byrne Kavanagh, the ensemble will be a great opportunity for musicians to come together to develop their group playing skills.

Rehearsals and meet-ups: Thursday evening, 6.30pm – 8pm, Waterford City
Auditions will be held early January
Cost €75 (January – May)
Apply online

Voice Effects Choir
Music Generation Waterford is currently recruiting aspiring and dedicated young vocalists, aged 13 to 18 years for its Pop Vocal Choir, Voice Effects. This will be a wonderful opportunity for those ready to develop their vocal and musicianship skills to an industry standard to join Waterford’s newest contemporary singing ensemble, led by Musical Director, Fiona Flavin.

Auditions will be held early January
Cost €75 (January – May)
Apply online

Music Generation Waterford Uke Klub
Aspiring young musicians aged 8 to 12 years are invited to register for Music Generation Waterford’s new Ukulele Klub. Participants will meet weekly on Wednesday evenings in a fun environment, under the guidance of experienced professional musician, Jennifer Hartery.

Registration will be held early January
Cost €75 (January – May)
Apply online

Get in touch with Music Generation Waterford if you have any questions or need further information about any of these new ensemble opportunities: 

Twitter:      @MGWaterford
Phone:        +353 58 51405
Facebook:   MusicGenerationWaterford
Email:         musicgenerationwaterford[at]wwetb.ie

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5 things you can do to make the world a better place in 2019

19 December 2018 6:57PM UTC | By: ROBYN DETORO


Join the fight against extreme poverty


To say there’s a lot going on in the world right now might be an understatement. That’s why we’re vowing to be bigger, better and bolder in our fight to make the world a better place in 2019. But, creating big change requires a group effort and we’ll need you to get involved!

Here are 5 things you can do to make sure we start tipping the scales:

Find a cause.

Start the new year off on the right foot by supporting the cause (or causes!) you believe in. Not sure where to start? Here are a few of our favourite organisations that fight for causes we can get behind: The Nadia Initiative, Love Our Girls, New Faces New Voices, Restless Development, the African Women’s Development Fund, and Global Fund for Women.

Learn something new.

Educating yourself is one of the first steps you can take to make the world a better place. Set aside time in the new year to learn about the issues that get you fired up and seek out a better understanding of how your involvement can help push a movement forward.

Start conversations.

Put your newly acquired knowledge to the test by engaging in conversations about the issues at hand with everyone (think grandparents, best friends, classmates, workout buddies, etc.) you know. Speaking to others is one of the best ways to gain insight into how other people feel and can give you the power to understand what barriers lay in the way of solving the issue and where opportunities exist to leverage change. Plus, it’s a great way to spread information to people who may not otherwise have been reached!


Participation in change making is all about giving one thing: time. Here are a few ways you can get involved: sign a petition, volunteer, show up to the march, write a letter to the editor or follow your favourite organisations on social media.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Here’s the truth: fighting to make the world a better place isn’t always the most comfortable task. But if there was ever a time when the world needed its citizens to challenge themselves and fight for what’s right, it’s now. We have some big issues to tackle and your actions and voice are important to creating change and holding our leaders accountable. The good news is determining how far out of your comfort zone you go is up to you.

Fired up? Become a ONE Member to get in on our world-changing actions in 2019.

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This South African pilot started a camp to inspire young girls

6 December 2018 4:57PM UTC | By: SADOF ALEXANDER


Poverty is Sexist: Join the movement


The “Zulu Sierra – Papa Whiskey Whiskey” (ZS-PWW) may look like any other plane but this aircraft is special. It’s carrying bright young minds to an exceptional future. The plane is owned by Refilwe Ledwaba — the first black woman to fly for the South Africa Police Service and the first black woman to be a helicopter pilot in South Africa!

Refilwe grew up in Lenyenye, a small township in the Limpopo region of South Africa. Originally, she wanted to become a doctor, but everything changed on a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. That fateful flight had a female pilot who inspired her to take to the skies.

To achieve her goal, she wrote to over 200 South African companies asking them to help fund her education. The South Africa Police Service responded, offering to pay for her training and help her get a commercial pilot license.

Since then, she’s founded the Girls Fly Programme in Africa Foundation (GFPA) — a non-profit that has set-up a training programme and an annual flying camp for teenage girls —  giving a head start to the next generation of women aviation and space leaders in Africa. The camp (run with Women and Aviation) teaches girls from South Africa, Botswana and Cameroon all about aviation.

Camp attendees spend their days learning about computer coding, building robots and completing flight simulations. They also get an opportunity to take a flying lesson on board the ZS-PWW, where they learn the basics of flying.

The girls come from different backgrounds, from townships to private schools, but all achieve high scores in math and science at their schools. GFPA gives them the opportunity to meet professionals working in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and learn about the exciting and hugely varied career opportunities for them in these fields.

“I think STEM is very important because, on a personal note, it opened a lot of doors for me,” says Refilwe. “So if you’re not going to prepare women for those jobs in the future, then we’re lost.”

Refilwe made history in South Africa. Now, she’s paving the way for a new generation of girls to do the same.

Every girl deserves the opportunity to reach the skies. If you want to support girls worldwide, join the Poverty is Sexistmovement!

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How the Ebola outbreak spurred improved access to running water in Liberia

16 November 2018 1:35PM UTC | By: WOMEN'S ADVANCEMENT DEEPLY


Join the fight against extreme poverty


This story was originally reported by Kate Thomas for Women’s Advancement Deeply.

Until 2014, handwashing facilities were scarce across much of Liberia. The 14-year conflict that ended in 2003 wiped out the country’s water pipe infrastructure, even in the capital, Monrovia. Most of Liberia’s 4.7 million people were left without access to running water, and the taps in hospitals and health facilities ran dry.

According to a study conducted by the Liberian government and UNICEF in 2008, 8% of people had access to water pipes, but none of those were actually connected to the national water plant. Most people trekked to wells daily, washed in public bathhouses or turned to expensive imported bottled water for daily washing and consumption. Even the most high-end apartment buildings relied on rooftop water tanks, filled on a regular basis by water trucks with hoses.

WADwater2.jpgBut when the Ebola outbreak hit Liberia in 2014, Liberian health workers, community volunteers and international organisations, partnering with the Ministry of Health, campaigned to change things. Dispenser taps filled with water and chlorine began appearing all over – not just at Ebola treatment units, but outside stores, businesses and restaurants, too. After the outbreak ended in 2016, some remained in place, with soap on hand in place of chlorine.

At the same time, the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC) began restoring piped water to homes and businesses, pumping water across the 40-mile (65km) distance from its plant to central Monrovia. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently turned over three water plants to LWSC, creating access in the western town of Robertsport as well as the northern cities of Voinjama and Sanniquellie.

Resupplying the country with water has been a slow process, and one that is not yet complete. But for the first time in almost two decades, thousands of Liberians are gaining access to running water.

“It’s changed so much for me,” says Miatta Johnson, who runs a cookshop offering a daily menu of Liberian stews and soups from small premises in downtown Monrovia. “Ever since I opened the place, I had to buy water to cook with.”

Johnson says she frequently ran out of water, and there were times when she could not afford to buy sachets of water – regularly sold by street vendors – to “just waste on hands.” She says, “Since Ebola everybody’s been saying, ‘Wash your hands.’ But a lot of the big people didn’t understand that for the small people like me, washing hands could be expensive.”

In a country where finding water has been a daily challenge for a long time, many people were not in the habit of regularly washing their hands. It was not only a matter of behaviour change but also one of accessing a source of clean water. And for some health workers it meant a high-stakes choice between spending 30 minutes finding water or attending to a critically ill patient.

WADwater1.jpg“People said that washing hands was good practice, but I couldn’t make water appear like magic,” says Cecilia Tubman, a nurse who responded to the Ebola outbreak. “As a country, we never used to wash our hands. All day long we would touch things. Then we would go home and eat together. But the fingers move everywhere. People say that Ebola stripped our culture, but I think good hygiene practices have added more value to our culture.”

In the four years that have passed since the heat of the Ebola outbreak, Liberia’s National Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Commission has been more active than ever. On October 15 this year, International Handwashing Day, the commission released statistics noting that on a global level, handwashing is linked to a reduction in the risk of pneumonia of up to 50% and a 47% reduction in the risk of diarrhea – both common illnesses in Liberia.

“Good handwashing can prevent disease outbreaks, reduces absenteeism in schools and workplaces, as well as improve productivity and health outcomes,” the commission said in a statement.

Indeed, Johnson remembers the ways in which limited access to water affected not only her business but also her education. She dropped out of high school around the time that she first began menstruating, she said, simply because the school she attended did not have latrines or access to water. “It was so discouraging,” she says. “But it was better for us girls to stay home than go to school with shame face because of what the people might say about hygiene.”

She believes that as access to running water improves across Liberia, it will transform daily productivity and health – and encourage young girls to complete their education. “That will be good for them and good for the country,” she says.

Access to pipeborne water is not free, but customers like Johnson say it is worth the price of the bill, especially since the cost of buying water in sachets or bottles has escalated significantly in recent months. Johnson says she has actually made savings, and with them, she plans to expand her cookshop. First, though, she says, she will buy more soap.

ONE welcomes the contributions of guest bloggers but does not necessarily endorse the views, programs, or organisations highlighted.

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