It’s the simple things

For World Water Week 2017, our Enterprise Development Specialist Lindsey Gilbert-Crouch talks about three simple water-related things  – and how they’re making life better for young people and their communities in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

In our world dominated by high-tech solutions, it’s easy to forget that, for so many people, access to the simplest things can immediately make life 100% better.

Much of our work focuses on working with young people in urban slums. Over a quarter of the world’s urban population lives in slums –nearly one in seven people.

One result of living in an illegal settlement – you are likely to have to get by without things we take for granted to fulfil our basic needs – plumbing, decent roads, healthcare, and education.

On a recent trip to Freetown in Sierra Leone, I visited one of our slum projects and met some of the residents that we’re helping to help themselves. Here are some of the things we’re doing in partnership with the YMCA and the local community, to improve day to day life for slum residents:


One of my first stops was the community toilet and shower block. We funded this and members of the community built it.  The block is shared by over 1,000 people, and families take turns to clean it on a rota system.

The community chief unlocked the toilet door with a sense of pure pride – and the difference that this block makes to the lives of the people in this community is clear.

More than 700 million people in the world do not have access to a toilet  – over 100 million of them living in urban areas.

The implications for sanitation are huge, particularly in cities. And lack of access to a secure toilet also puts women and girls at greater risk of rape and sexual violence.

Providing communities with toilets is crucial to ensure health and security.

Access to Clean Water

The community water tank was the next stop on my tour. At home, I just turn on a tap when I want a glass of water or need to wash my hands. In slum communities, accessing clean water can be a major problem.

So the community water tank in this Freetown slum is vitally important. We helped install the tank in part with funds from YMCA Sierra Leone. The community have thoroughly learned and taken on general hygiene practices. The impact of this is visible across the slum – it’s extraordinarily clean given that there are no street cleaning or rubbish collection services.

Sierra Leone is still recovering from the devastating 2014 Ebola outbreak – you see its impact visible everywhere. The importance of clean water and hand washing in halting its spread has been highlighted many times.

But Ebola did not make it into this particular community –  more than likely because the residents had access to clean water, soap, and knowledge about hygiene.

Leaving home in the rain

Even though we’ve had a month’s rain in a single day in London this summer, it would never cross my mind is that the rain could physically stop me from leaving my house. But this is a fact of life in many illegal settlements in Sierra Leone.

The pathways flood during the long rainy season, meaning the only way to cross is via a flimsy plank of wood. So many people, particularly pregnant women, the elderly, and children become prisoners in their own home – or must risk their lives crossing dangerous paths.

YMCA worked in partnership with this community to install bridges across pathways which were previously flooded. These allow easy access around the settlement during even the rainiest of days in the rainy season!

So the next time you think about how you can help make the world a better place – forget the apps and ‘disruptive tech.’

Sometimes, all someone needs is clean water to wash their hands, a safe toilet, and a path outside their home.

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