Thursday, March 21, 2013

World Water Day Congressional Advocacy Day

Post by Maame Yankah, Plan International Youth Representative

A day on 'The Hill', Maame (right)
with Lauren Yamagata, Plan WASH Program Associate
While Ghana has one of the strongest emerging economies in Africa, over a quarter of the population does not have access to clean safe drinking water. The problem is particularly dismal in most parts of Ghana where diarrhea causes 25 percent of all deaths of children below the age of five each year, according to UNICEF. The figures get even higher in the Northern parts where most of the population fetches water from the wells, rivers, streams, ponds and other natural water sources that often contain disease causing organisms.

When I was 15 years of age, I attended a public boarding high school in Ghana which was in a relatively developed area in Southern Ghana. There were days when the water flow was irregular which meant my housemates and I had to wake early to walk to the nearest water source to look for water before class. This could take thirty minutes to an hour depending on how close the water source was and how many people were already in line waiting to fetch water from this limited resource. My friends and I would carry buckets on our heads and jerry cans in our hands in order to avoid repeating the long journey it took to look for water and to minimize the time lost in going back and forth from the boarding house to the water source to fetch water. Often times we would go to the water pump at the school entrance when we heard there was water there. But, by the time we would get there, there would be long lines of people waiting to fetch water which meant it was likely we would get none to fetch. When it finally got to our turn, unfortunately the water source will be depleted and we would have to resort to other sources to find water. While this did not happen too often, it was very frustrating and infuriating when it did.

Apart from the time lost in fetching water, most of my friends and I became unproductive at school and would sleep in class due to fatigue. I remember one time when I felt like my head was about to fall off because of how heavy the bucket of water was. Carrying water on your head and on your shoulders has dire physical consequences which might not manifest themselves at that point in time but will affect the body in the future. The water was sometimes dirty so we did not drink it but rather we drank sachet water which is water in plastic bags. This could get very expensive especially when we had to buy more than ten packs for chores, consumption and for taking showers. While I had the privilege of fetching water and going to school, many people especially women and girls were deprived of an education, deprived of a normal productive life and deprived of a healthy body because of this inadequate access to water.

In my efforts as a “WASH ambassador”, I create awareness about this important issue and encourage citizens to support WASH – clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene – efforts mostly in developing countries. On the 20th of March, 2013 as part of the World Water Day Congressional Advocacy Day, I visited the offices of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to encourage them to rally their support for the Water for the World Act, which will be introduced in the near future. This act seeks to modify the 2005 Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act and improve the efficiency with which the U.S gives foreign aid for WASH without incurring additional costs.

As part of this process, I joined other WASH advocates to demonstrate the breadth of support for WASH issues and to create awareness and gather support for the act which is yet to be introduced. Our day began with advocacy training including a short address from former Senator Bennett from Utah. Along with three other team members; Lauren Yamagata, (Plan International WASH Program Associate) Ryan Quinn (Save the Children) and Angel Lopez (9th grade, HB Woodlawn High School and H2O for Life advocate), we attended three different meetings with congressional staff to make them aware of this act and to get them to promote it when they report back to their bosses. I shared my personal story of growing up without access to water with the staff and explained the importance of targeting the poorest of the poor who really need water.

It was very enlightening to see how “Hill Day” goes and how advocacy is done at the congressional level. This was my first time seeing how the process works, learning the dynamics of Congress, learning how lobbyists and advocates make their cases by either been seen in the Capitol building or having meetings with congressional staff who will in turn convey the message to members of Congress. I got to share my personal story with them which brought a face to the issues we were talking about. It was a great learning experience and very rewarding as I know once this bill is passed, millions of people will have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

My hope is that you will educate yourself on water issues, educate your community and support the WASH work done by Plan International USA.


  1. Great post! Thank you for participating in advocacy day and letting our lawmakers know that this is an important issue -- one that we can SOLVE.

  2. great post Maame.
    thank you for sharing the experience.
    From ANTONIO