Community & Environment
is an international charity whose mission is to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities. We have supported the charity since its inception in 1981.
Since 1993, our generous customers have raised more than £1.5 million for the charity, which has helped 103,546 people gain access to safe water. Thank you!
In 2014, SESW staff raised £20,650 for WaterAid. This is enough to reach 1,930 people with safe, clean water.
Our school assembly presentation called 'Living without safe water' is based on the experiences of one of our staff visiting WaterAid projects in Bangladesh. To book this presentation email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about WaterAid go to www.wateraid.org.
"I returned from Bangladesh with a fresh resolve to tell anyone and everyone that the work WaterAid does changes lives dramatically. Even small changes can have massive effects, and I am incredibly proud of Sutton and East Surrey Water's long term partnership with WaterAid.
From mountain hikes to barbecues, from lotteries to fantasy leagues, every pound we raise for WaterAid changes people's lives"
In 2010, Jeremy joined a group from the water industry to visit WaterAid projects in Bangladesh
You can help too
You can donate to WaterAid online. A donation of just £2 a month for a year could provide a rainwater collection system to people in need around the world.
Andrea's supporters trip to Uganda 2014
Our colleague, Andrea Willmott, is heading off to Uganda on Saturday 15 November 2014 with WaterAid to mark this year’s World Toilet Day on 19 November.
Andrea, who works as a specialist in our debt recovery department, has been chosen to represent the company on the week-long trip along with fundraisers from 13 other water companies. She was chosen because of the great work she has already done for WaterAid and for her strong people and communication skills. She will meet with communities to find out what life is like without safe water and toilets and visit WaterAid projects in both urban slums and rural villages to see how the money raised by Sutton and East Surrey Water's customers and employees is transforming lives through improved water, sanitation and hygiene projects.
Andrea said: “I feel honoured to be a part of this trip. Clean water and toilets are things we take for granted in the UK, but for some people they’re a luxury. Just imagine if we couldn’t turn on the tap, go to the loo, have a shower, wash our children. People in these countries have no choice but to use whatever water they can find. That very water could make them seriously ill, or even kill them!
“WaterAid’s projects bring so much more than just safe water and toilets. Access to basic facilities improves health, enables children to stay in education and frees-up time for people to start earning a living - this trip is a chance for me to see all of this for myself. I hope to use my experiences to inspire even more people to get involved once I get back.”
Sponsor Andrea here and follow her on this life-changing trip by reading her daily blog below:
Only one more day to go and I’m feeling excited and nervous in equal measure!! Almost all packed and I can’t wait to meet up with the whole group tomorrow morning at the airport. Having heard so much about Jeremy Heath’s visit to Bangladesh and the effect it had on him, I feel sure next week is going be an emotional experience.
Today we visited a place called Bobol and met 26 year old Robin, the eldest of 10 children, and her parents and grandmother.
As soon as we approached the community you could see the difference that WaterAid’s work has made already. More crops were growing on the land and we could see a much larger variety of farm animals.
Robin’s family used to get their water from wetlands, about a 20 minute walk from their home. She explained that they all used to get really sick, mainly with diarrhoea, and some of the community even died after drinking the water. She went onto explain that eventually the family started to get their water from a source that was better than the wetlands, but not completely disease free. Although this was a slight improvement, it took two hours to walk to this source and she had to make the gruelling journey three or four times a day!
In March 2012 WaterAid installed a water pump for their community. It now only takes Robin 20 minutes to get safe and clean water for her and her family, which has made such a difference. Now that she’s not collecting water all day she has time to tend to the crops on the family’s five acre farm, where they mainly grow ground nuts, millet and cassava. Robin's younger siblings tend to the livestock: pigs, goats, chickens, and a cow which provides them with milk. She then takes the produce from the farm to market once a week to be sold. Robin also has three children, the eldest of which has just started at boarding school where she hopes he will get a good education. All this has been possible because she's not spending all day collecting water!
It's just amazing what these people can do once they've got access to clean and safe water. They’re now completely self-sufficient, more enthusiastic and can start to pay for things like school so that their children can get a better education.
Amuria Health Centre
On Wednesday we visited the Amuria Health Centre, a first for a WaterAid supporter’s trip. The Centre was shocking to say the least, and many tears were shed amongst the group. The Centre serves a district of 55,000 people and only has one doctor, 46 beds, no kitchen, no incinerator and no laundry facilities. They have a pit where placentas are left to rot; patients sleep on the floor; full and unusable latrines, and a bonfire to dispose of any sharps or medical waste. The Centre really is in desperate need of help.
World Toilet Day celebrations
Across the road from the Health Centre is Amuria Primary School where the World Toilet Day celebrations took place. The school has a total of 850 pupils split into seven classes depending on age. They are not equally split and range from 50 to 160 pupils each, with only one teacher per class. The class we visited had a total of 128 children. They had no text books or writing equipment, but they were really pleased to see us and loved practising their English skills!
A child leaving an unhygienic hanging latrine in Karail slum, Dhaka, Bangladesh
photo: WaterAid/Abir Abdullah
Every year, WaterAid organises an overseas trip to one of its projects so its supporters can learn about their work through personal experience. The aim being, they return to the UK with greater knowledge, renewed motivation, and become even more effective fundraisers and advocates.
In November 2010, WaterAid organised a visit to Bangladesh. The company were delighted to sponsor Jeremy Heath, a water supply engineer and long-term WaterAid fundraiser, on this life-changing trip.
Jeremy saw first hand what difference the money raised by our customers and staff is making to water supply and sanitation projects in Bangladesh.
While there, he wrote a daily blog. He left the UK on Saturday 27 November, and you can read his story on this page.
Jeremy's pre-trip thoughts: The Red Taps
A week to go and I have to admit to being in a state of nervous anticipation. I’ve travelled abroad quite a bit and been to Asia on a number of occasions, but this time it certainly feels different.
It’s probably a mix of the unknown; we will be travelling into areas not normally covered by any tourist or traveller’s route, as well as the desire to do justice to the aims of this trip. The last thing I want is to be either too overwhelmed, or too ill to properly take it all in. So, I’ve spent the weekend reviewing my packing list and trying to ensure that I haven’t missed anything.
As I mentioned on my twitter account, the more I read up on Bangladesh, the more concerning it seems to get. Following its foundation in the 1970’s Bangladesh made great efforts to provide clean water and sanitation for its people. Over 8 million tube wells were sunk to provide clean water. However, it has now been found that up to a fifth of the wells are contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic, which is present in the soil.
There is a programme of testing the wells for high levels of arsenic, and contaminated wells have their taps painted red. But the water flowing from these taps, although it cannot be drunk, is still cold and clear and looks completely healthy. Since arsenic is a cumulative poison the locals may not have noticed any ill effects yet, but they will still have to stop drinking from the well and start using the local ponds or rivers – just as their parents used to do. At one time about 97% of the population had access to clean water, now less than 75% of the population have that luxury.
I know that at work we go to amazing lengths to ensure that the water we supply is clean and wholesome. I cannot imagine what it would be like to walk to a pond to collect my water, when just on my doorstep is an unusable red tap supplying clean water that I cannot drink. One aspect of the Bangladeshi people that has come out again and again in my readings is their resilience. I am beginning to understand why these people have such a need of this quality.
Day 1: Sunday 28 November - Arrive in Dhaka
We arrived this morning, extremely exhausted from two long flights and ready to drop. We had a couple of hours before we were due at WaterAid Bangladesh (WAB) but rather than sleep I went for a short walk around the area.
At about 2pm, we braved the traffic and set out for WAB. The drivers of Dhaka are amazing, able to squeeze through the narrowest of gaps. I have to admit the journey was't helped by the numerous bike-rickshaws that erupted into our path.
The staff at WAB made us very welcome and explained their aims and achievements using a couple of the most professional presentations I have ever seen. They all appear to be both highly trained and highly motivated. I'm actually looking forward to tomorrow when they take us out into some of the Dhaka slums to look at communities where Wateraid hasn't been able to help yet. After that we have a long drive down to Kulna, where we will start to look at rural communities.
Day 2: Monday 29 November - "Everybody helps"
This morning I sat on the raised bamboo floor of a little tin shack. My host, an elderly grandmother had just explained that her son, with his wife and seven month old baby slept in the little 6 x 6ft room. "But where do you sleep," I asked. "I sleep under the floor on the ground, except in the rainy season," she replied.
I was visiting Sona Mia'r Tak slum. WaterAid do not yet provide any facilities at the slum, so we were able to experience at first hand what it's like for those living in these conditions. The slum has about 2,400 people living in it, mainly in simple tin roofed shacks with plastic sheeting and bamboo walls. They were raised off the ground to prevent flooding in the monsoon. To earn the 15 GBP per month that the family lived on, her son worked with a cycle rickshaw, whilst she would go out and break bricks.
They took it in turns to show me their calloused palms and fingers, as a young girl named "Beauty" admitted that it was hard work. Almost all of the occupants of the slum were climate change refugees. As their villages became slowly inundated with more and more frequent floods, they packed up and came to Dhaka in the hope of eventually earning enough money to rent a small house.
It is a little known fact that Bangladesh is ground zero as far as climate change is concerned. Certainly other countries will be affected first, but Bangladesh with it's densely populated low lying lands will be devastated by any change in sea level. It has been estimated that a 1m rise in sea level will displace 20 million people, who will move tino the cities and vastly increase the size of the slums like the one that we visited today. But with terrible irony, the excess of water that caused the family to leave, is in stark contrast with life in the slum. From 5am the women will queue for hours to use the slums limited water supplies, for which they pay an exorbitant rent.
I told the small group that I had heard that the Bangladeshi's are a resilient people. "Yes", nodded the aged grandmother, "but everybody helps". Maybe that sentence describes accurately what we are all doing when we raise money for WaterAid. We want to ensure that for families like this, everybody helps.
Day 3: Tuesday 30 November - What a difference a day makes
Today we walked into another slum. Actually we spent an hour walking through the streets of Kulna first. Anyone who wishes to feel like a celebrity need only visit this part of South West Bangladesh. As we walked, we were surrounded by a constant crowd of fascinated friendly locals.
Entering the slum, the difference between yesterday's experience and today's could not have been more marked. We were greeted by a colourful crowd of smiling residents, who invited us to sit cross legged on a sea of cloths as they explained in detail their various roles in the community.
The Aziz Bosti slum contains about 770 people living in 175 houses. They work predominantly as rickshaw pullers and day labourers. However, unlike yesterday's community, the Aziz Bosti slum has had the benefit of receiving support. WaterAid, in partnership with NABOLOK, a local organisation, have been working in the area since 2005. But the changes here have not been made by outside agencies coming in and imposing their ideas. The change that has taken place has all been led and managed by the local community. The outside agencies are simply providing support and technical expertise to the 15 strong committee drawn from the slum dwellers.
We listened in astonishment as they described how at the start of the project, they had had carried out a complete 'door to door' survey of the slum to identify the facilities and problems that existed. Each member of the community was classified into one of three groups, based on their ability to be able to pay for water. In front of our eyes, detailed hand-drawn plans were rolled out, showing the location of each property and the current and planned water and sewerage facilities. They appointed a procurement group to engage and manage a contractor to build the facilities, and a finance group to set up a bank account and collect the daily payment from the residents.
Once the project was completed, they continued to meet on a monthly basis to review progress against measurable objectives and plan their future investment. For many of us sitting in that group we heard a microcosm of our own companies, with a similar professionalism and attention to detail.
What difference has this made? As we sat and chatted with the residents seated outside their homes, one word kept coming up again and again - "Koshi", which is Bengali for happy. I asked one resident whether she and her neighbours enjoyed living here now that everything had changed. - "Koshi," she said ... everyone here is koshi!
Yesterday we saw a community brought together by shared hardship, today we saw a community brought together by a shared achievement, and all of us who saw it, felt our spirits lift. We all felt truly 'koshi'.
Day 4: Wednesday 1 December - "What should we do"?
Building a dam, one bucket of earth at a time, is a slow and tiring business. The final community that we visited today were constructing the dam to protect their last water supply from salt water contamination..
During cyclone Aila - a natural disaster that struck Bangladesh in 2009 - the large majority of open water supplies near the ocean were flooded with salt water and became undrinkable. The communites inland from the ocean are trying to ensure that they have access to clean water and hygiene in the face of an increasingly uncertain future.
The first village we visited today had put into practice a hygiene plan and had partially funded a new tube well. We asked if they were concerned about climate change and the effects it would have on their village. "Of course," they replied, "but it is our hope that the developed countries, who have done so much to cause the problem, will help us."
The second village we visited had a similar problem. As low caste Hindu's, their 3km journey to the nearest well was both difficult and dangerous. Once there they would be forced to wait whilst everyone else collected water first.
The rainwater harvesting system installed with the assistance of one of WaterAid's partners helped, but only provided three month's water supply. There appeared to be no solution to providing them with the water that they crave. At the end of the interview we asked if they had any questions for us. "What should we do?" They asked, and I muttered unconvincingly about maximising their storage and being as efficient as possible.
But their question kept me thinking. As we arrived at the last village, we were almost relieved to find a job there which we could help with. As we worked in the hot sun, I kept thinking about what we can do to help these people.
At times I know that our fund raising actions can seem small and pathetic, but being here you realise the difference that even small actions can acheive. How do we change the World; one person at a time. How do we raise money for WaterAid; one fiver at a time. How do we build a dam; one bucket at a time.
Day 5: Thursday 2 December - Actions speak louder.
I awoke this morning at about 7am and started pottering about, collecting my things together for an 8am departure. As I packed my rucksack I listened to my iPod. The first random track to come on was an instrumental track by a Canadian artist named Bruce Cockburn, and the title of the track was 'Actions speak louder'. After everything that we'd seen in Bangladesh so far, the title seemed particular apt. How could we turn everything we had talked about into actions that support WaterAid and their work.
As we travelled back to Dhaka, we had another stop at a village that was suffering the effects of climate change. Sitting cross -legged at the entrance to a tin shack, talking with the villagers, it became clear that here was another community in severe trouble.
Over the years they had seen the yields from their paddy fields slowly decrease due to salt water intrusion, to the point where they were forced to flood the paddy fields and farm prawns instead. The prawns they catch end up being exported all over the world, but for the tenant farmers, the profits are minimal and our hosts were descending deeper and deeper into debt. Their only uncontaminated water source was an hour and a half away and was a simple pond, which meant that many people in the village were sick.
They described the effect of cyclone Aila. The storm had smashed down the houses, flooded the fields and the terrified villagers gathered together on the nearby raised main road. But as devastating as the cyclone was, it was the effect of climate change that they feared most.
As we went to leave, they looked at us in desperation. 'Now that you have seen this, will you be able to help us?" We stood, looking back at them, struggling for words.
'When the cyclone came, what did you do,' I asked. 'We cried out for help', came the reply. We told them, in the same way this morning we had heard their cry for help, and that we would tell their message to everyone who listens. But there is no easy solution. In the long term, the fate of these farmers lies in the international response to the climate crisis It is also clear, in the short term, the lives of these people can be significantly improved by access to clean water and proper hygiene. Something that WaterAid campaign for. The only real question is whether we are willing to raise the funds so that WaterAid can carry out this work. Will our actions speak louder...
It was with a mix of emotions that we walked into the final slum that we would visit today. The usual nervous anticipation of what we would find. Sadness, that this was to be the last opportunity to spend time with the amazingly resilient people who had invited us into their homes. Expectation, because this community had received aid from WaterAid's partner DSK, and we had previously seen the remarkable results that this had produced.
We were not disappointed. As we sat in the home of one of the residents, she noticed that we looked a bit uncomfortable in the heat. Proudly, she reached over to the wall and switched on the overhead fan, followed by the single light bulb. This was something we hadn't seen before in any of our visits to slums. How was it this community, in their rambling shambolic slum, had managed to persuade the electricity companies to give them a legal connection? As we talked with her it became clear that it was all a matter of trust.
When DSK first approached the community to offer assistance, they were very suspicious. WaterAid and it's partners require that residents pay a proportion of the cost of the work, typically 10%. From previous experience, the residents had learned not to trust anyone who offered them something at a bargain price. Too many times they had been let down and the small amount of money they managed to save would just disappear into someone else's pocket.
So, at first they completely rejected DSK's persistent offers of assistance. However, one resident decided it might be worth finding out. Over a period of time she saved up the 600 Taka (£6) required, and then, to her surprise and relief, DSK came to her house and constructed a proper latrine, the first in the slum. Everyone came to see it, and the community began to trust DSK. Then, with the whole community working together, they raised enough money for a number of community latrines be constructed throughout the slum. The health and hygiene of the community started to improve.
But although the sanitation was improving, there were still deep concerns about the water situation. The community had no tube wells and instead relied on a number of illegal connections to the municipal water suppler, for which they had to pay 200 Taka per month.
The illegal supplies could be disconnected at any time, so the residents approached the Water Company and asked for the supplies to be made legal. But the Company refused to enter into an arrangement with the slum dwellers, whom they considered a credit risk. In order to broker an agreement, DSK offered to act as guarantor for the slum dwellers and provided security of 5,000 Taka. The Water Company then agreed to make the supplies legal.
The slum began to enjoy a security they had never known before. As time went by, they proved to be such good payers that the security was reduced from 5,000 to 1,000 Taka and eventually the ownership of the supply was handed over to the residents. They proudly showed us the very first water bill that they received. Buoyed by their success, they then approached the electricity companies with a similar deal, and received permanent legal connections as a result. Now that the residents felt more secure, a small shop was set up in the heart of the slum selling essentials to the community.
As we walked out of the maze of tiny passages, surrounded by a sea of smiling faces, everyone reached out to shake our hands. This community was revitalized by something as simple as trust. They chose to trust WaterAid's partner DSK, and as a result they too became a community in whom other people were prepared to place their trust.
The whole visit was testimony to the remarkable changes that can happen, when just a small amount of money is put into action by a responsible organisation, that knows and understands the problems these people face. WaterAid uses local partners throughout the world for this very reason. That very evening I met the director of DSK and warmly shook his hand.
Whenever we met with Bangladeshi's on the trip, one question came up again and again, "Why have you come here?" Each time, I would explain that together with my friends and colleagues, we raise money for WaterAid. I came here to understand what a difference that money makes, and the answer is life-changing. It is not just the provision of water and sanitation, but everything that goes with it. To this last community the gift of water and sanitation meant far more, it became a matter of trust.