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Water First, Roles of women in water research in Africa!

Briefing with one of my young sisters after the Stockholm trip – 26 August 2023

My family is so supportive and always interested in my adventures, one of them is Kudzi, our Nutritionist, our scientist. Once I was back in Zimbabwe, I thought it was important for me to engage with her , share my experiences and handover a pink high heeled shoe.

I told Kudzi about how inspired I was to learn about the possibilities of research and how I could see the differences in American and African education system, at least in terms of what it aims to achieve. I could possibly be wrong but having listened to Professor Sherry during one of her wisdom statements, she had this to say I have a very busy job and, in my university, in my department, we train researchers to be the best and we give them the best education…”. This reminded me when I used to listen to Barack Obama speak about the American dream, Trump talking about America first and how big a country it is. I am sure that Sherry did not talk about her institution politically, but it is so American to do things “the big” way. Y the way , FYI, I am coming from a workshop where we were coached by Professors and deans ,coming from big American institutes, henceforth the direction I take is “big “ it will always be.

Kudzi’ s response really got me thinking, here is what she had to say :-

I work and teach chemistry and biology at a school where all the equipment and possibilities are there, the owner of the school is all about business and money. The students I teach are not interested in science, only a few, maybe 1 make it worthwhile for me. This is because we a have failed to identify talent and put it in the right place, we do not even understand the benefits of science. Suppose that its true that China invented the Covid 19 virus, this is the work of science, and you will notice that if indeed they did that, then afterwards they developed vaccines, America followed so did Russia. Here we were on the receiving end of vaccines and all PPE. I had a tour with my students at the University of Zimbabwe and my former lecturer asked from where we get litmus paper for our experiments , to which I replied – few buy from…. And he told me that it was really a waste if until now I cannot produce litmus paper. The problem we have in Zimbabwe is a complete lack of understanding of the benefits of science and research and I am happy that you came from a place where you realize how far we are from even documenting our own work. I like to give , and I can only give from what I have, and what I have scientific knowledge, I hope that one day I will be able to help those children that have interest in science and help put them at a young age in a science environment. Once I do that, I believe a lot of the challenges we have will be a talk of the past.

I thought to share this feedback which really got me thinking, in fact , when I look at the water and sanitation challenges we have, and the figures recorded globally on terms of the gap, I want to be tempted to believe that these figures may well be underreported, because the water and sanitation situation in Harare alone is a real timebomb and requires urgent action in research, science and development.

Water First - Introduction

When I applied to take part, just as the selectors, I was not so sure what to expect, yet once it was all said and done, it could have never been any other way. It felt like “de ja vu”, as if to say I had envisioned this or experienced this before. I learnt, I networked, I made friends, and I will forever be indebted to Coach, Elsevier and the professors who took us along.

The city of Stockholm is so beautiful, sophisticated, and expensive, but I have never felt at home in my short foreign visits. Perhaps it is because I was surrounded by other 11African women doing different challenges to solve one of the world’s most pressing issue – Water.

The professors from American institutes challenged me, as they aim in their places to give the “best education to the best people for the best impact”, such a vision and action I align with. Without education, more so for women, this world may not get the change it so requires and without women actively involved in Water issues, we may as well forget about access to water.

The challenge for me was on:-

- Leadership and decision making

- Sitting on the table and participating as women2.

- Knowing the rules and finding the right journal for our research.

- Knowing the importance of interconnectedness and trust.

- How weak ties can take us far.

- Having an intention and starting small




I realized that whilst we may have great aspirations, even in research and publications China and USA are leading, leaving Africa so behind. One of the reasons being that for certain international journals, reasonable amount of money must be paid which most developing nations are not able to pay. Having said this, I got thinking on how important it is for us as African Women, to initiate credible WASH journals, where our research work can be published, and innovations shared within the African Continent. Currently Elsevier is supporting us, perhaps a good start to start the negotiations and learnings on how we can have African WASH journal “for us”.

Planning – needless to mention, but I learnt how it is important to plan and an example can be a 5year plan articulating goals at personal and professional level. On another note, it is important that as women, we celebrate the work and successes of other women.

Negotiation – This was an interesting session where I learnt that most of the things, we aim at getting are negotiable as long we know our BATNA and ZOPA and can communicate effectively without putting emotions.

Publishing space – I learnt and paid attention on the importance of abstracts ( background, results and processes, significance) and knowing the audience. Also, critical to know before choosing a journal, why the written paper is suitable for a particular journal. The title, while it may be prescribed at the end, should be between 10-12 words and should focus on significance, minimize jargon and should be active.

Networking – I learnt how to pitch our story and use open ended questions, always having business cards and advocating for “ourselves”.

If I were to go back again

Next time I go to a workshop like this, I will be more prepared, share stories of impact, and propose a next feasible challenge to the group. Indeed, at the end of our workshop, it was agreed that its important to write a book together, however we did not assign each other a clear topic or how this will be done. I have a plan to enroll on a research master in the NL or Budapest , which I am likely to start in 2024, of which by 203 (please challenge me to it)

  • Research MSc in NL, IHE DELFT , 2024-2026

  • Formulate and run a small organization supporting youths and linking them with politicians and policy makers, 2025.

  • PHD 2027-2030


World Water Week, 20-24 August 2023

With the support of Coach and financing from Elsevier, I got away with a full conference ticket, one of its kind. The theme of the conference was “ seeds of change, innovative solutions for a water-wise world”.

We need to realize that a lot is happening already in the sector, the innovation talk has become big creating a debate on what it really means, as the challenges are becoming more complex, intertwined in climate, politics, poverty among others.

To be honest there were a lot of interesting sessions, interesting people, and how I wish I could have participated in everything. As human as I am, I was able to reconnect myself with IHE Delft, Swiss Development agency and the wavemakers among others.

WASH interests me a lot and discussions around Governance, Policy, partnerships, transboundary issues, grassroots /community were thought provoking. I did not take part much in intervention related topics, and as One speaker said, “we need to stop what we are doing , as it is not working, and try to find different ways”, I believe so much in that. I was the other day challenging the Dutch Water sector in one of the meetings, to say “ If we continue treating and handling communities the same way as before, we are losing our value and credibility, some of the data we collect is coming from people who have known how we work and often tell us what we want to hear.”. For me, it is time , indeed to plant seeds of change, but that alone is not enough, I think it is important to say when we are planting the seeds and grow them with confidence and so much noise that its impossible to ignore. We should not be afraid to ask questions, to challenge governments, to acknowledge our failures and to be more accountable.

As I was walking up and down the corridors, 1 in every 3 people I met was American, I am not sure the statistics and representation, but they were few Africans there and for those that I saw, a large proportion was Kenyan. I will think of how I can reach out to SIWI and propose for them to invite and support more Africans to take part in platforms like these, especially women ( 51% of participants were women by the way, Bravo).

Recommendations

  • Arranged zoom meetings, possibly with stories of interest or a theme proposed by the participants.

  • Engaging in the collaborative efforts for writing.

  • Starting to think of how we can have a journal for Africa independent one.

  • Exchange, exchange, exchange

Collections

I moved around, I spoke with strangers, I received some gifts, I will need to make a follow up in the coming days and weeks. One thing for sure is that there was a need to take note of some business cards, on why I had received it and some of the follow ups . I met people from World Bank, USAID, Swedish, Swiss and NL governments, Universities, NGOs and different WASH groups. *We were 11 selected from over 200 applications, such an honor!


May the winds of luck, the blessing that always follow me, the people I like, the passion I have help me to access similar and such platforms, so that I can use my voice to advocate, for the cause of those in need and with them , help them to formulate solutions that end one of the worlds most burdensome issues – Water , Sanitation and Hygiene.


Until next time – One love!


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