Solving water issues in Africa through education

According to the Water Project, 290 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are drinking contaminated water. That’s almost a third of the local population that doesn’t have access to safe, clean water and Laurra Olmsted wants to change all that.

Through her non-profit Uniwater Education, Laurra provides local universities the knowledge of water resource management through an innovative Master’s program in Hydrogeology.

Pitching her idea at the Social Innovation Challenge in October, she made it to the final round with her revolutionary project.

The seed for Laurra’s idea was planted during her Masters Program in Europe, where she was able to travel extensively and observe a myriad of different cultures.

Her global mindset led her to think about how she could help those less fortunate.

However, she never had the chance to explore her ideas.

After 20 years as a consultant, Laurra decided to change the path of her career and aim to forever revolutionize the way people live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”- Old Proverb

Founded in 2011, Uniwater Education is based on the philosophy of “teaching a man to fish”. By giving local universities the knowledge to help themselves, the results are sustainable and long-lasting. However, this requires people to change their basic assumption, the assumption that Africans need the direct aid of developed countries.

“I see these people as being very capable people.” says Laurra.” Africans are very capable of solving their own problems but they see themselves and we see themselves as backward, uneducated kind of people. But in fact, they’re not, they’re really not. Quite often, they’re not asking for a hand out, they’re asking for a hand up.”

Uniwater Education provides exactly that, the hand up that the country needs to help its own people. Uniwater Education is currently piloting a Master’s program in Hydrogeology with four local Universities in Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria.

The 12 month program focusses on managing local water resources and concludes with a three month practical project. The curriculum touches on hydrogeology, hydrology and water supply. The program will increase the number of water professionals in-country and will eventually spread to universities all across the country.

At full scale-up, Uniwater Education will establish up to five new Masters’ programs a year, building a community of sharing and learning between local universities. These local universities will transform the learning culture within Sub-Saharan African and lead the way to a future where everyone in the country has access to safe and clean water.

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