Written by Rakhee Morzaria, Social Media and Digital Communications Intern at the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, Toronto, Ontario.
Meet Sara Hsiao. Sara is our Program Coordinator for Conservation and Education at the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada. Rain, snow or shine, Sara can always be found within a ten meter radius of her green bike –both in colour and in mode of transportation—which she’s named Rose. She enjoys baking and is often on the lookout for foods and products that incorporate wholly sustainable practices to share with the JGI staff. Sara is also our designated artisan card-maker in residence, amazing us with her impressive artistic skills and growing stash of colored textured paper and colourful pens. Sara sat down to discuss the facet of JGI’s Community-Centred Conservation (CCC) programs that deals with water issues.
Can you start us off by describing what the concept of Community-Centred Conservation means?
Community-Centred Conservation is our approach or model to conservation and development that we use in all of our programs in Africa. It’s really about working with communities, stakeholders and partners to identify their needs so that we can come up with solutions together that are relevant and realistic in addressing them. It’s essentially taking a holistic approach to conserving biodiversity and protecting ecosystems, while also supporting human needs and improving standards of living. Finding that balance is key here, and we really want to focus on building capacities and empowering the local people so that any solutions we come up with together are viable and sustainable.
What specific aspect of your program deals with water issues?
So again, with it being a holistic approach that deals with very complex issues of human development and conservation, one of the components of our program has always been access to clean water and sanitation for improved health. In terms of the DRC, it’s really rich in resources and the water there is plentiful, but it’s not easily accessible to people. So the ways that people go about getting the water is not necessarily sustainable or done in the most effective way. In protecting springs, drilling boreholes, and putting in wells — and in the DRC you have to go pretty deep to access clean water– it’s providing that access to people so they can move away from unsustainable methods. It also lets them better manage the resource and save time so that they can find other ways to make money and conduct daily activities. JGI believes that access to clean and safe water is a basic human need that we need to address before we can tackle other issues.
How do activities focused on water tie into the health services work JGI does?
Closely linked to access to clean water, is the focus on sanitation and hygiene. One example of efforts to improve sanitation is the latrines that we build in schools and health clinics. They are especially important in schools because girls will stay at home for one week each month during their menstrual cycle because there isn’t the proper infrastructure for them at school; so this is also linked to access to education. Of course, in clinics they are integral for washing up and cleaning, and emphasizes the importance of disease prevention.
What has been your most inspiring memory working in Africa or on the Africa programs to date?
Well, there was one example of a really sustainable system I noticed after meeting and talking to a woman who was managing one of the water committees in Nyakasenene village, in western Uganda. The committee’s role is to ensure that the water source that has been established stays clean and is running properly. Boreholes often need repairs so collecting donations from the community is a huge part of management, and shows that the community is invested enough in the water source to contribute their own money to sustain it. This woman collected something like hundreds of thousands of Ugandan shillings to keep for upcoming repairs and one day she noticed the source wasn’t working properly. She went in search of someone to fix it and was referred to a local from the neighbouring village. The person she found had actually been trained through the JGI CCC program with tools on how to fix problems with water sources. So she hired him with the funds she had collected to fix their problem! It was so inspiring to see such a sustainable cycle develop on its own and used so effectively.