A Canada Gives donor story: Saving lives through clean water initiatives
This is the first in our new Donor Connect series, an initiative designed to share giving ideas and to highlight the great work of the many not-for-profits supported by Canada Gives donor clients. In this installment, we profile CAWST–a charity that provides clean water, sanitation and hygiene services to communities in the developing world–and the philanthropic work of the Boone family.
As a practicing civil engineer and a veteran of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, David Boone is fond of pointing out that he doesn’t remember the individual wells that he drilled or discovered throughout his distinguished career. But he does remember the great people he was privileged to work alongside. It was one of those connections that first introduced the Canada Gives donor client to the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST).
The Calgary-based charity provides professional services in water, sanitation and hygiene to communities in developing countries. The goal: helping to break the cycle of poverty and disease experienced by the nearly 1.8 billion people worldwide who lack access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. CAWST does it by providing access to affordable and sustainable clean water technology at the household level, while working with NGOs to educate local populations and providing them with the tools they need to address often formidable water and sanitation challenges.
In Boone’s case, it was a family friend and fellow engineer who first invited him to a CAWST breakfast seminar more than a decade ago. The energy community in Alberta is tight-knit and dedicated to making a difference by supporting a range of causes. Several key players—and many of his industry colleagues—were in the room. Boone soon learned why.
A lasting first impression
Boone was immediately moved by the many ways that CAWST’s simplified, low-tech approach—along with an emphasis on education to empower local populations—was having on the lives of individuals around the world, while helping to mitigate basic health and sanitation issues that create barriers to success in so many impoverished regions. He became an active supporter of the organization.
“CAWST is amazing,” Boone says. “The experience and enthusiasm of the staff, volunteers, and board and the way we leverage our knowledge and expertise to reach and help millions of people was really appealing to me.”
The organization has gained high-profile attention from the World Health Organization, which has used materials available on the CAWST website to educate on a wide range of subjects such as handwashing best practices. In Haiti, CAWST posters were used in the fight against cholera, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has engaged with the charity to help in its global efforts to improve the availability and quality of clean water and sanitation in parts of India and Africa.
Respect for local cultures
Boone describes CAWST as ‘The little engine that could,’ but adds that its success boils down to a focus on working with local people, via often very small local NGOs, and offering practical solutions that make sense in the context of their day-to-day lives.
“We’re not trying to drill a water well that cannot be locally operated and maintained, but instead we support local NGOs to work with a community and deliver knowledge that people can benefit from long term,” Boone explains. “We have some very strong governance practices to ensure we do good work that’s going to have a lasting impact, understanding the importance of being very sensitive to local cultures, practices, gender and religious situations.”
With the world’s largest open-source repository of information on clean water expertise and training, everyone from local officials to NGOs can readily access CAWST’s wealth of knowledge.
The joy of giving back
To Boone, making a difference in the lives of others is not only gratifying, it’s driven him to continue providing funding and lending his own expertise to CAWST. “It means the world to us,” he says of his family’s philanthropic work.
Boone says that anecdotes from the field are a reminder of the positive change that CAWST is creating around the world. Case in point: A CAWST workshop educated villagers in a remote region of Zambia on the use of bio-sand filters to purify their drinking water. A local woman’s takeaway from the session was as heart-wrenching as it was inspiring: She told organizers that on that day, she learned that her children didn’t have to die.
“Jane and I have been very fortunate,” Boone says. “Hence the decision to set up a family foundation because we’re blessed to have money that we know we’re not going to need—and there’s a lot of need out there.
“I loved every minute of working in the oil and gas industry and now CAWST gives us the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of real people who have real challenges where the right support can make such a huge impact.”
The Canada Gives Team
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