A new charity has been founded to work with faith groups on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in the world’s poorest countries. “Faith in Water,” as it is christened, is said to be the first charity to focus specifically on working with faith-managed schools on WASH issues to improve children’s lives and create lasting community impact.
Based in Bristol, UK, the group works globally with all major faiths, says its promoters in a statement. They listed its key aims to include: helping faiths to focus on WASH in their schools and communities, and helping secular NGOs to build effective partnerships with faith groups.
Founder and director, Mary Bellekom, says: “Clean water and good sanitation are essential for health, education and livelihoods. Yet 750 million people – one in nine worldwide – don’t have clean drinking water and more than a third of people – around 2.5 billion – lack safe sanitation facilities.
“Diseases caused by dirty water and inadequate sanitation not only trap people in a cycle of illness, poverty and poor quality of life, they are the second biggest killer of children aged under five worldwide and are responsible for more child deaths than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
“Helping people access clean water and safe sanitation is one of the most important ways we can improve people’s lives – and working with faith groups is one of the most effective ways of reaching the world’s poorest people. Faith groups are involved in at least 50% of schools worldwide so they have a significant role to play in promoting WASH, not just for children but for their families too.”
According to her, Faith in Water grew out of the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) which has spent 20 years working with faith groups on environmental issues. It was founded after it became clear that there was both a gap and an opportunity when it came to working on WASH issues.
Ms Bellekom adds: “Around 84% of the world’s population say they belong to a faith, and water and cleanliness have spiritual significance in many of the world’s key religions. Yet faith groups are rarely seen as potential development partners, and faiths themselves do not always make the link between their spiritual teachings and practical action to improve WASH.
“At ARC we constantly heard from our faith partners, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, that water and sanitation were their biggest problems in their schools.
“We realised that no one was focusing on working with faith schools as a gateway into the wider community. Because of ARC’s 20-year experience of working with faith groups, we know the impact that they can have. That’s why Faith in Water was set up as an independent charity dedicated to working on WASH.”
Faith in Water is registered as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (No 1164290). One of its first projects is a 32-page publication sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on how faiths and secular groups can work better together.
Putting Clean Hands Together, as the publication is called, makes the case for why faith schools should give high priority to WASH issues, and why secular groups should partner with faith schools for increased impact. It also looks at the spiritual significance of water and cleanliness in five major faiths: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism, and gives examples of case studies. It can be downloaded from Faith in Water’s website: http://www.faithinwater.org/putting-clean-hands-together.html.