Well Aware is a nonprofit that provides sustainable solutions to water scarcity and contamination in Africa, with headquarters here at Impact Hub Austin. We recently spoke with Kareece Sacco, Director of Operations, to discuss Well Aware’s mission, what the organization is up to this year, and how people can get involved.
For anyone who may be unfamiliar with Well Aware, how would you explain the concept behind what the organization does?
We don’t like to use the word ‘charity’. We’re a clean water nonprofit, and what we do is find sustainable solutions for the clean water crisis in East Africa. It’s all about our sustainability model. Unfortunately, a year after implementation, most clean water projects in East Africa—it’s actually 60 percent—aren’t working. So, we’re all about sustainability, and 100 percent of our projects that were ever implemented are still up and running, and getting clean water to the communities that they’re in.
Sixty percent seems like such a high percentage!
Yeah. It is. So, we have experts on our team—we have engineers and hydrogeologists that help plan and implement our projects. And then we also have staff on the ground in these countries. Our country lead is Mike Mutuku, and he’s always making sure [these communities] have what they need, making sure that everything is working okay. And then if there is an issue, we troubleshoot, either next time we’re in the country or else we work with contractors to fix the problem. We’re always involved. We don’t ever just put in a water system and then leave. The end goal is getting a community to be sustainable and to not need us anymore, but we’re there until they don’t need us.
How do you select which communities you partner with? Or do communities select you?
The communities reach out to us, and we have project request forms that we use. In Kenya, more adults have cell phones than working toilets—a lot of Kenyans and other East Africans have access to the internet—so that’s why a lot of our project requests come in online. And right now, we actually have more project requests in the queue than we’ve ever had.
What are some of the effects, both short-term and long-term, that you’ve seen in the communities that you work with?
When a community gets clean water, the disease rates drop almost overnight. So, we’re always doing impact measurement assessments. Before we work in a community, we have survey teams out there talking to community members about diseases and education rates. Then, after implementation, we do that again, six months out and a year out. And disease rates decrease by 64 percent. There’s an increase in education by 34 percent. And there’s an increase in education for girls, specifically, by 58 percent.
Wow! That’s so cool.
Yeah. Because it’s the girls and women, mainly, that are the ones walking to get water. So, when we put a water kiosk in the community, those little girls get to go to school. And we’ve also worked in some communities where children get kicked out for being dirty—so, more kids get to go to school, they’re healthier, and they’re not having to walk for water. Education is a huge part of it. And with women not walking, they can then get jobs and contribute to the economy, so there’s a boost at that level, as well.
It’s unbelievable, how having access to clean water can affect communities on so many levels.
It’s pretty amazing.
So, tell me a little bit about what’s going on with Well Aware at the moment.
We just wrapped up one of our ‘Rafiki’ trips. These are trips where people can come with us—board members, long-time donors, our Village members—anyone who wants to come can. We do a drill that they get to see, and then we also visit communities that we’ve worked in. This past summer, we drilled in a community in Meru, Kenya, at the International Peace Initiative [a Kenyan-run children's home and nonprofit that works to break the local cycle of poverty, violence, and disease, whom Well Aware often partners with].
We also just ended our Village Membership Drive. Our Village is our community of recurring monthly donors. This helps us forecast what projects we can do, and helps with budgeting. Our Village members get VIP treatment at our events and quarterly happy hours, and they get special updates on our projects. That’s our main base that we’re always trying to grow. So, we just ended that campaign, but people can join anytime, of course.
Coming up in October we have our Well Aware Golf Tournament. It’s a lot of fun, and all the funds go directly to our projects. In November, we’re doing two drills, and we’re in the process of implementing a rainwater catchment system. The project work doesn’t stop! Then, on December 1st, we have our big annual holiday party at the Central Library, and anyone can come to that.
How can people help support what Well Aware is doing?
Our biggest obstacle as an organization is funding. Which, I feel you’d hear that answer from any nonprofit. If you don’t have the funds, you can’t implement the projects. So, that’s really how people can help: by donating, sponsoring a project, or signing up for The Village. A one-time $10 donation helps! With our model, $10 can give one person clean water for 20 to 30 years. Every dollar counts.
We also have a volunteer form that people can fill out. Most volunteer opportunities are for our events, whether it’s running a check-in table or doing clean-up after an event. So yeah, all of our volunteer opportunities are for events around Austin.
And, last question: For someone who may be interested in sustainable water development, either as a career or volunteer-wise, what advice would you give that person?
Do your research. Know the area you’re going to work in. Ask lots of questions! And don’t expect to change the world overnight...it takes a lot of money, research, and planning to do this.
Justine Harrington is a freelance journalist, essayist, and copywriter for travel and lifestyle brands based in Austin. Her work has appeared in Fodor's, Backpacker, USA Today, the Austin-American Statesman, Austin Monthly, Austin Woman, Misadventures Magazine, and elsewhere.