Nothing divides the world’s people into two groups more simply or more cruelly than water.
One group has a seemingly endless supply of clean, safe water. For many of them, it’s absurdly ubiquitous. They take it for granted that when they turn on the faucet, or step into shower, or flush the toilet, or prepare to irrigate their crops, they’ll have the water they need. In the US, tap water costs about $0.004 a gallon.
The other group faces a seemingly endless fight to have access to water at all. They lack clean water and sanitation systems. To them, water is a source of constant stress and lost opportunity. Worldwide, women and children spend 125 million hours each day collecting water. And even when it can be found, water carries deadly diseases all too often. Every 90 seconds, a child dies from water-related diarrheic illnesses somewhere in the world.
Saran Kaba Jones has dedicated the last seven years of her life to bringing clean water and sanitation to her home country of Liberia.
When she was 8 years old, her family fled Liberia just before the long civil war broke out. Her father was a career diplomat, so she experienced a truly international upbringing and developed an interest in public service herself. She lived in Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Cyprus, and France, then moved to Boston to study in 1999. After graduating from Harvard and working at the Singapore Economic Development Board, she visited Liberia for the first time in nearly 20 years. She yearned to help her war-ravaged country somehow but wasn’t sure where to start. She went with the intention of starting some kind of small educational program. What she found there completely changed her perspective and the path of her life.
Liberia was a collapsed state, which had been utterly devastated by the 14-year civil war. Roads and infrastructure were destroyed. There was virtually no electricity, running water, sanitation, or healthcare. Factories, farms, buildings, schools, and telecommunications systems were in ruins. The country suffered 80% unemployment, with average wages of $1 per day. People were dying of cholera, typhoid, and other water-borne diseases. Many children were unable to attend school at all due to illness or the need to help their families find water and haul it home. Jones realized that the water crisis was so profound that it spilled over into nearly every area of the people’s lives. It became clear that, without access to clean water and sewer systems, all other initiatives would ultimately fail, no matter how vital or beneficial.
So, in 2009, Jones founded FACE Africa, a non-profit organization with the primary mission of providing safe water and sanitation to every single person in Liberia. Working with a network of corporations and foundations to raise funds and awareness, FACE Africa began building wells and installing hand pumps in rural towns. They educated the public on water safety and sanitation. They trained villagers and local staff to maintain the pumps, which can last 20 years with proper care. Each of these wells can provide over 200 people with clean drinking water. Water began to flow, bringing health and hope with it.
In seven years, FACE Africa has built 50 WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) systems throughout rural Liberia, serving more than 25,000 people. Not only has this saved lives, it has begun to provide more educational and economic opportunities in those areas. In many African societies, women and girls are given the burden of finding and hauling water. In some places, women spend 60% of their day collecting water. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 40 billion potential work hours per year are lost to water collection. Having ready access to safe water and latrines has helped get children back to school and allowed more women to work.
That’s a critical part of Saran Kaba Jones’s vision for Liberia and for other African countries that are struggling under the world water crisis. She not only wants to save lives, but to enrich them. As she says,
Clean water is not just a matter of life. It’s a matter of dignity, and it’s a human right.
Jones has worked tirelessly to help the people of Liberia by providing the gift of water and sanitation. She continues to lead FACE Africa and has expanded its mission to provide more economic opportunities to women. She and her organization have touched untold thousands of lives, in both practical and intangible ways. And it all started when a well-intentioned but naive young woman stepped off a plane, saw hopeless desolation, and turned her life upside down to meet the challenge. She could have stuck to her original plan and started a scholarship fund, which would have been a kind and decent thing to do. But when she saw the magnitude of the problem, she responded with ingenuity, fierce determination, and love in action.
The world needs more people like her. If you’re moved by the work she’s doing and want to help the people of Liberia, please donate to FACE Africa if you’re able.
Saran Kaba Jones is a mighty fine person.