Our blog is about travel and usually contains stories of our adventures, whether in the UK or abroad. This post, however, is not about us. It's about a different kind of travelling, with a different aim, to save lives.
Saturday marks World Water Day. That may not mean much to many of us. After all, we can simply turn on a tap and have a drink or reach for the shower dial when we want to get clean. Yet if we move away from our comfort zone, it's a completely different story. Millions of people die every year from unsafe water and sanitation. It is literally (and that is not a word I use lightly) a matter of life and death.
Back in 1998, Fiona Jeffery felt that it was time she used her position as an influencer in the travel and tourism world to give something back. She was then the director of World Travel Market, the leading travel industry exhibition, and was keen to find a cause which would, as she says, tick several boxes.
"I always had an environmental focus," she told me. " But I wanted to find something which was also global in reach and impacted children and families."
She soon discovered water - or the lack of it. Diseases connected to dirty water and poor sanitation, she found, were the biggest killers of children aged under five. In fact, they killed more children than HIV, malaria and measles combined. Not only that, but just £1 could deliver clean water to a child for 10 years.
|Fiona, her children and some of the beneficiaries of Just A Drop|
"I'm a business person, not a charity person," Fiona says, "although my mother and father were a doctor and nurse, so perhaps that shaped how I do things. I felt that businesses should be encouraged to do more than just business."
Corporate and social responsibility have become buzz words these days, but back then, they didn't really exist. Fiona was a very early adopter.
Her initial idea was to try to persuade the 50,000 people who came to World Travel Market to donate £1. She decided the money should go to the Red Cross who had been helpful and supportive in her quest to find the right cause to support. They had also offered to take her to Ethiopia to see how much help was needed.
Within a few years, however, the Charity Commission told her that she was making too much money and that her fledgling charity should be an independent organisation. Just a Drop was born, and has changed lives ever since.
"When I started, it was all about providing clean, safe water to communities," she says. "Then I learnt about how water impacts on everything else"
To put it simply, if it's not possible to get water easily or locally, then you have to travel to get it. Some of those walking for many, many hours, are young children, who are then at risk of abduction or rape. But if water is nearby and convenient, then you can create a virtuous circle: children can spend their time at school and be safe. Meanwhile parents can grow crops, excess food can be sold and families can move out of the poverty trap. What better place for a bore hole than a local school?
Over 768 million people in the world do not have access to clean, safe water, and around 2.5 billion don't have access to adequate sanitation. More people in the world own a mobile phone than have access to a toilet.
Fiona is trying to change this, although she says it has not been an easy journey.
"There have been many times when I've told myself that I'm an idiot," she adds, "but what keeps me going is that there are so many other who need the support and help."
It's ironic that Fiona, who never intended to run a charity (and continued her work with WTM until last year), has now been volunteering with Just a Drop for more than two decades. She is still involved and has also brought in her children, Cameron and Laura, who are now 20 and 16, to see what the charity does. They have both been to Zambia, and got involved with fund raising.
Just a Drop currently works in 31 countries, including Uganda, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania as well as parts of South America, including Ecuador and Bolivia. The charity intends to be transformational, not just saving lives, but improving people's dignity - providing them with a toilet for the first time, for example - and projects are monitored for a minimum of seven years. Local people are always kept involved. These are projects for the long-term - saving lives and changing the way people live.
This blog post is part of a campaign by international water aid charity, Just a Drop, to raise awareness of the vital work they carry out in developing countries around the world - providing clean, safe water to those who need it most. Please show your support and share this with your friends, and please donate too. In addition, H2WOW is sponsoring every share, like, ‘tweet’ and comment, so your social media involvement really is important (and appreciated).
Tomorrow's post on the importance of water and the work which Just A Drop does will be written by the lovely Lucy Campbell who is responsible for a wonderful blog, Family Affairs and Other Matters
Please visit to see what she has to say.
Labels: Africa, charity, Just a Drop, water