Senior Global WASH Advisor

Are you a WASH professional with a passion for training? CAWST is not like other organizations, and this position is not like others. We are looking for a unique combination of skills, experience and interests including water and sanitation, international development, and capacity development of WASH practitioners. You believe that everybody can learn, and you love training and supporting others to develop their WASH knowledge and skills. You are enterprising, resourceful, and motivated. You have an insatiable curiosity and are deeply committed to applying your skills and experience to making the world a better place.

The Position: Senior Global WASH Advisor

Reports to: Director, Global Services

Type: Full time, permanent

Location: The position is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Once travel resumes, International travel is typically four trips per year.  Approximately 50% of working time will be spent overseas

Position start date: As soon as possible

Application due date: Applications will be reviewed on a continuous basis until the position is filled

Compensation: Salary will be discussed in the personal interview so please include salary expectations in your cover letter

Position Summary

The Senior Global WASH Advisor (GWA) is part of CAWST’s Global Services team. In this position, you will provide leadership and guidance to the Global Services team, and take responsibility for complex assignments of strategic importance to the organization. As a Senior GWA, you will work directly with client organizations to increase their capacity to start, strengthen and grow their WASH programs. You will provide professional technical training and ongoing consulting support to help clients overcome technical and implementation challenges.

The Senior GWA provides expert advice and guidance on non-networked WASH technical topics and project implementation that supports practitioners to implement relevant, effective, and sustainable programs.

The Senior GWA also works with Water Expertise and Training (WET) Centres and other Capacity Service Providers to strengthen their capacity development services.

Each Senior GWA is assigned responsibility for managing relationships and CAWST service provision in several countries, and developing and executing on their country and regional plans.

The Senior GWA is responsible for developing and maintaining strong client relationships and for identifying and following up on new opportunities for training, networking and client support.

The Senior GWA works with all CAWST departments, including to contribute to our communication and fundraising efforts, results measurement, and to develop our people and processes.

Areas of Responsibility

  1. Build capacity of organizations to implement WASH projects and services
  2. Strengthen the capacity of organizations to provide WASH capacity development services
  3. Provide expertise and support to the Global Services team to strengthen capacity in implementation of relevant, effective, and sustainable programs
  4. Develop Business, Client and Funder Relations
  5. Planning, Reporting and Management
  6. Contribute to CAWST’s Learning, Research, and other initiatives

The Person


  • Bachelor’s or graduate degree in engineering, sciences, public health or other relevant discipline


  • 8+ years experience implementing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programs, including a minimum of three years delivering training and capacity development services.
  • Experience in a consultant or advisory role
  • Significant experience implementing and managing projects in the following is highly desirable:
  • Sanitation and excreta management
  • Hygiene or health promotion and behaviour change
  • Water supply and treatment


  • Fluent written and spoken English required
  • Fluent written and spoken French or Spanish is an asset

Skills and Attributes 

  • Excellent technical knowledge and experience implementing water, sanitation and hygiene programs
  • Able to create a participatory learning environment and use a range of cross-cultural training and facilitation methods
  • Service-oriented and committed to providing the highest level of professional service to clients and colleagues
  • Comfortable with complexity and ambiguity, has good judgment based on objective analysis, experience and common sense
  • Comfortable and credible in providing reasoned and appropriate advice and guidance to others based on available information
  • Easily and quickly establishes credibility with clients and other stakeholders
  • Strategic and proactive in project management and coordination
  • Excellent written and verbal communications
  • Easily adapts to different contexts, and able to maintain a professional and diplomatic approach in dynamic and challenging situations

To Apply

Please apply by submitting your cover letter and resume here. Applications will be reviewed on a continuous basis until the position is filled.

Please note: Only resumes from candidates eligible to work in Canada will be reviewed; and only those applicants granted an interview will be contacted. No phone calls, please.

Organizational Background

CAWST is a Canadian charity and licensed engineering firm. We address the global need for safe drinking water and sanitation by building local knowledge and skills on household solutions people can implement themselves.

At the heart of everything we do is our belief that when people have their basic water and sanitation needs met, they have the opportunity to succeed. This is what drives our dedicated team to work with a global network of more than 1,500 clients and partners. Together, we have reached more than 16 million people since our inception in 2001.

Collectively, we are making a difference at a scale beyond what any of us could do individually. But our job isn’t done yet and we need you to help us expand our reach.

CAWST values equitable opportunities, sustainable solutions, and collaborative and inclusive processes. We recognize and accept differences in cultural and religious beliefs.

We are an equal opportunity employer and welcome applications from all suitably qualified persons regardless of their race, sex, disability, religion/belief, sexual orientation or age

Digital Marketing and Communications Advisor

Are you a digital guru who loves to support a good cause? We’re looking for a digital marketing professional who understands the power of analytics, gets a thrill from optimizing content and channels, and creates compelling communications to connect with various audiences.

The Position: Digital Marketing and Communications Advisor

Reports to: Senior Manager, Marketing & Engagement

Type: Full-time

Location: The position is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Compensation: Will be discussed in personal interview

Position start date: As soon as possible

Application due date: Position will be posted until filled. Only resumes of applicants who are legally permitted to work in Canada will be reviewed.

Position Summary

Are you a digital guru who loves to support a good cause? We’re looking for a digital marketing professional who understands the power of analytics, gets a thrill from optimizing content and channels, and creates compelling communications to connect with various audiences. In this role, you’ll be working collaboratively with team members from across the organization to manage social media accounts, website content, and paid digital advertising platforms like Google and Facebook. You will be our go-to person to plan, optimize, and track our marketing campaigns in the online space. You will also be responsible for creating compelling and thoughtful content to support the many initiatives with CAWST and our global partners.

The Digital Marketing and Communications Advisor is part of CAWST’s Business Development team, supporting the organization to accelerate its impact. We aim to do this by engaging and influencing the global WASH sector to grow our clients and funders, marketing CAWST’s services to clients globally to increase adoption of technologies, and increasing awareness and engagement across Canada to grow CAWST’s donor base. 

If you are someone who thrives in a rapidly-evolving environment, can adeptly handle multiple priorities, and wants to be surrounded by passionate and motivated individuals, we would love to meet you!

Please note: There is no anticipated travel for this position.

Specific Areas of Responsibility

  • Help create and support the communications marketing strategy with content marketing, social media, online advertising and digital storytelling
  • Manage social media channels, YouTube, website, and paid advertising platforms
  • Optimize content and tracking using SEO and analytics tools
  • Maintain an accurate and current content calendar for all digital channels
  • Develop engaging content that is accurate, timely and relevant to our online audiences
  • Work with the Marketing and Engagement team to make recommendations based on current trends
  • Lead community management by responding to questions, comments and concerns across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other channels, as needed
  • Support with the development of paid media materials
  • Analyze the performance of our digital strategies, providing regular reports on trends and recommendations
  • Provide support to other team members as required
  • Other duties are required


  • Undergraduate degree, diploma or recognized credential in marketing, communications or related field; a combination of education and experience will be considered.

Experience and skills

  • 3+ years of experience in learning and exploring the digital marketing space
  • Experience in or understanding of international development
  • Experience with digital paid media
  • Experience in optimizing digital marketing and communications
  • Understanding of various activities within communications (media relations, paid media, storytelling, e-mail marketing, etc.), and willing to provide support, when needed
  • Demonstrated ability to take initiative and seek consultation as needed
  • Excellent writing, editing and proofreading skills
  • Highly detail-oriented
  • Willingness to research and learn about new digital marketing trends and tools


Will be discussed in a personal interview.

To apply

Click here to apply. Your application should include:

  • A cover letter that gives an overview of your experience as it applies to this role, and explains why you are excited about joining our team.
  • Your resume

Organizational Background

CAWST is a Canadian charity and registered engineering consultancy. We teach people how to get safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene in their homes, schools, and clinics, using simple, affordable technologies. To do so, we transfer knowledge and skills to organizations and individuals in low- and middle-income countries through education, training, and consulting resources and services. In turn, our clients catalyze local leaders, trainers, and change agents into taking action to meet their water, sanitation, and hygiene needs. Since 2001, CAWST’s network of clients has expanded to over 5,000 organizations worldwide across 190+ countries. Collectively we are making a difference at a scale beyond what any of us could reach individually. Together, we are helping millions of people to have better water, sanitation, or hygiene.

Our vision is a world where people have the opportunity to succeed because their basic water and sanitation needs have been met.

CAWST values equitable opportunities, sustainable solutions, and collaborative and inclusive processes. We seek to grow in our knowledge of diversity and inclusion, and appreciate the learning that results from differences in cultural and religious beliefs.


WASH in Schools: What We’re Learning

Schools around the world are coming to terms with the challenges of reopening (or not) in the midst of a pandemic. A basic requisite of a safe reopening is that students and teachers are able to regularly wash their hands with soap and water. If something good is to come out of this current crisis, it is to highlight the pressing need to improve the coverage of WASH in schools (WinS). Ryan Blyth shares foundational learning to advance WinS in this blog, the first in our series on WASH in Schools.

Photo credit: Ryan Blyth

Schools around the world are coming to terms with the challenges of reopening (or not) in the midst of a pandemic. While the challenges are common to schools wherever they are, the ability to respond to those challenges are not the same.

A basic requisite of a safe reopening is that students and teachers are able to regularly wash their hands with soap and water. Yet, the latest Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF on handwashing found in 2019, that 43% of schools around the world still lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water facilities (UNICEF & WHO, 2020). This amounts to almost a billion children lacking basic handwashing facilities in their schools, with 295 million of these children coming from sub-Saharan Africa. In countries with low income, 70% of schools lack basic handwashing facilities and half of schools lack basic sanitation and water services (UNICEF & WHO, 2020). 

“The global response to COVID-19 underlines the importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene, especially in households, schools, and health care facilities for reducing the transmission of infectious diseases and protecting global health” (UNICEF & WHO, 2020). If something good is to come out of this current crisis, it is to highlight the pressing need to improve the coverage of WASH in schools (WinS) globally.

I have a background in education and I first became aware of the challenges of WinS in low- and middle-income countries while carrying out research in Serenje, Northern Zambia, for my Master’s dissertation. My dissertation examined Zambia’s approach to education and its impact on student motivation. Huge class sizes coupled with overworked, overwhelmed, and underpaid teachers contribute to an education system that struggles to ensure all students are being provided the capabilities to thrive once they leave the education system. But the children I met in Serenje remained motivated and optimistic, viewing education as essential to their future, regardless of the countless barriers before them. One barrier I had not considered was the lack of basic WASH facilities in schools, which significantly impacted school life of students, and in particular girls. The lack of basic WASH facilities led directly to increased absences of girls and a higher likelihood of their dropping out of school. The benefits of girls remaining in education are well documented, including delayed pregnancy and marriage, and a higher likelihood of succeeding beyond school, but seeing this in reality was a real eye opener. 

Simple WASH facilities, including separate toilets for girls and boys, and privacy for menstrual hygiene management, would have a huge impact on girls’ experience in school. But WASH in Schools programs cannot place excessive responsibilities on teachers, who are already overburdened. There have to be imaginative ways of integrating WinS programming within existing school programs, integrating WASH in the curriculum, embedding hygiene behaviours into everyday activities and including students in WinS programming. And therein lies the challenge, the knowledge of the issue is there and the tools are available to address the issue, but the education system in developing countries does not have the capacity to implement the changes needed without considerable support and direction. The question is: how can CAWST best provide that support?

When I started working at CAWST, I asked my supervisor if there was any possibility of approaching specific stakeholders within the education sector for opportunities to work together. I initially saw peer networks (e.g. schools in districts) working together towards improving the provision of WASH in their respective schools. This was similar to approaches in the education sector where peer networks of teachers share experiences, successes, and failures to support and motivate each other, such as Stir Education. Up until that point, CAWST’s approach to WASH in schools (WinS) had been offering support to clients as requests came in. I believe there is potential for a more proactive approach. When I was asked to investigate the potential for CAWST to take a more strategic approach to WinS, I jumped at the opportunity. There has already been much valuable work done on WinS and the different approaches. I simply continued that process and in a less than scientific way, reached out to different stakeholders within the sector, different NGOs, colleagues, teachers. In our conversations, the three-star approach kept coming up; I’ll expand on that approach and others, and share what we’re learning, practical resources, and ways in which we can support teachers and other stakeholders in this blog series on WASH in schools. 

What is WASH in Schools?

WASH in Schools (WinS) is a sweeping statement that can mean different things to different people. A WinS program is one that provides safe drinking water, improves sanitation, and promotes good health outcomes. 

Schools with adequate WASH facilities (McMichael, 2019):

  • Provide safe and sufficient water, especially for handwashing and drinking
  • Have sufficient numbers of toilets for students and teachers that are private, safe, clean, and culturally- and gender-appropriate
  • Should provide water use and handwashing facilities, including some close to toilets;
  • Include sustained hygiene promotion
  • Facilities should be accessible to all, including small children, girls of menstruation age, and children with disabilities

While it might be fairly simple to agree on a description of what WinS in schools is, disagreement may arise in defining what WinS will achieve. Broadly, WinS programs aim to: 

  • Reduce the incidence of diarrhea and other hygiene-related diseases 
  • Improve school enrolment, school performance, and attendance 
  • Influence hygiene practices of parents and siblings, whereby children act as agents of change in their households and communities

It is arguable that all WinS programs should hold these objectives as equally important, but regardless of the priorities, the potential impact of WinS on children’s health, education, and wellbeing, and that of the school’s surrounding community is clear.

So, what can we do to make WinS a reality?

With a background in education, I observe that the challenges faced by WinS programs in low- and middle-income countries are exacerbated by problems in the education sector. In Zambia, for example, with free education for all, the general feeling is that WASH is the responsibility of the government. Despite a huge increase in access to education in Zambia, there has not been the commensurate increase or improvement in resources available. Resources are scarce and more strained in response to COVID-19. For this reason, more innovative approaches to WinS need to focus on incremental changes that are driven by, and controlled by the schools themselves, using affordable, and locally available resources using the whole school community to drive the change. 

This is why I assert that WASH programmes need to move out of the classroom and away from approaches that focus only on knowledge. Even comprehensive knowledge of what should be happening in schools will not make it happen – we see this in all kinds of behaviour change research and experience. With the shift from Millenium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, we have a unique opportunity to attend to the WASH needs of students. I’ll expand more upon this opportunity, including the new avenues for innovation and the need to measure, in our next blog on WinS, WASH in schools part II: from premise to promise.

In the meantime, here’s where you can learn more:


GIZ & UNICEF. (2017). Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Schools – International Learning Exchange. 14-18 November 2016, Jakarta, Indonesia. Eschborn, Germany; 2017.

GIZ & SUSANA. (n.d.). Managing WASH in Schools: Is the Education Sector Ready? Retrieved online: 30 September 2020.

McMichael, C. (2019). Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools in Low-Income Countries: A Review of Evidence of Impact. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(3), 359.

UNICEF & World Health Organization. (2020). Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in schools: Special focus on COVID-19.

Changemaker: Dalia Molina

Dalia is a changemaker in Colombia. She fights for visibility: of herself, the need of rural communities, and the lack of human rights, including safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Dalia is a changemaker in Colombia. She fights for visibility: of herself, the need of rural communities, and the lack of human rights, including safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.


“Rural communities are always overshadowed by the needs of cities and nobody sees our need or our work. We see a lot of human rights and environmental violations. We don’t have a good health system, good education, adequate housing, let alone basic sanitation. We spent a year and four months without water in the community of Confuso. But it’s not just me, when I look back at my ancestral roots, I see my grandparents’, my parents’, my uncles’, and aunts’ fight. I see the fight of generations.”

Water is only part of the complex challenge that Dalia fights to change, given the evolving peace process in Colombia.

“The main challenge is not to put my life, my family’s, or my community’s life at risk. Groups outside the law who don’t like my work on making rural women visible have always threatened me. We are victims of the conflict. Yet, we are proudly Afro-descendant women. Our hope lies in the Colombian peace process. That has been the fight: to unite with each other to close the gap and get our needs met.”

Together, their voices are louder and their challenges are more visible.

“We call for education, health, housing, and projects. We also demand to be taken into account as Afro-descendant women and not to be stigmatized because we have different skin color or type of hair. That is what I have to face every day and how I live.

What I have always wanted was for women to be visible, especially rural women since we are the ones who hold the municipality, the department, the nation, and the world. We are agents of change. We create the change. That is the fight and what encourages me to continue day after day with this fight.”

Dalia was fighting so actively to support her community to access their water issues, that her message got to the Fonseca Rotary Club. They approached Dalia to support them with the installation of a water system in their community and biosand filters. Through CAWST training, and with the support of the Rotary Club, Dalia played a leadership role in teaching families on the importance of these filters, as well as their proper operation and maintenance.

Being president of the community action group, these days I feel pride every time I turn on the faucet in my house and I see the spurt of water.

“Since we got water, we had the opportunity to grow vegetables and raise chickens. I take pride in having quality of life these days because water is essential for life. And where there is water, there is life.

Through community action, we could achieve it.

Dalia Molina shares her experience at an event on household water treatment and safe storage in Colombia-Dalia’s impact goes beyond her community of Confuso. She has presented her experienced and advocated for rural communities at events with the Ministry of Agriculture and the United Nations Food and Agriculture program.

Not only am I proud of that, but also the children because, my little niece, Zairet Julio, who has long hair now, thanks to improved health and nutrition, says: ‘I drink water but not water with parasites in it. This water cannot make me sick and I know this is potable water.’ I am proud of that.”


Clearly, Dalia is a role model for community change. Through Dalia’s knowledge sharing and advocacy for change, young girls like Zairet will not only be able to access water, but take pride in their identity. This is the ripple effect of Dalia as a changemaker and water knowledge as a tool for change. 


Thank you for joining the fight for generations; your investment in water knowledge will last for generations through the Water Circle.

Changemakers Impact Report

Changemakers is an impact report produced quarterly for members of the Water Circle. Members of the Water Circle are donors who make a contribution each month to support changemakers, such as Dalia. For more information, visit

CAWST in the News: Top 30 Under 30

With the release of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 Under 30, we get to focus on young people who are creating a more sustainable and just world. We’re thrilled to see some familiar faces in the magazine this year. Read on for an intro to one tenth of the Top 30, with whom we have the great privilege of working.

With just 10 years remaining to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the time to act is now. 

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global framework for action to create a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world by 2030. We’re honoured to work towards these goals with partners around the world. Globally, people of all ages are taking action towards the SDGs, but with the release of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 Under 30, we get to focus on youth who are creating a more sustainable and just world. And more specifically, what the 30 young people recognized see as the most urgent actions to take towards the global goals. 

This annual recognition shines a light on youth between the ages of 18 and 30 who are acting to solve global development challenges. We’re thrilled to see some familiar faces in the magazine this year. Here’s a little intro to one tenth of the Top 30, who we have the great privilege of working with: 

Sabuna Gamal

Sabuna Gamal is recognized as Alberta Council for Global Cooperation Top 30 Under 30 2021-Sabuna Gamal works towards SDG 6: Safe water and sanitation, as well as SDG 5: Gender equality in Nepal. Photo credit: ACGC.

Sabuna’s career in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) extends more than seven years, beginning with Paschim Paaila, a youth-led network for WASH and emergencies. Working with CAWST in her role as a WASH Training Officer with the Environment and Public Health Organization, a partner in our Water Expertise and Training (WET) Centre program in Nepal, Sabuna is constantly committed to learning and the learning of others. Her motivation stems from the need she observes in Nepal: 

Access to clean water and sanitation is a fundamental right. However, the lives of millions of children are at risk because of the lack of basic needs in Nepal. Water and sanitation-related diseases are one of the leading causes of death. Every day, children die from preventable diseases caused by poor water and a lack of sanitation and hygiene.

Moreover, there are growing challenges day by day. With haphazard and rapid urbanization, solid waste, wastewater and fecal sludge generation have increased, leading to significant impact on public health with the emergence of water-borne diseases and environmental pollution.”


Yashi Gautam

Yashi works collaboratively and across disciplines to advance access to safe drinking water in India. As the Assistant Program Lead with Sehgal Foundation, CAWST training partner in India, Yashi is making strides towards access to safe drinking water in marginalized communities, bridging science and practice. 

Yashi Gautam is recognized as Albetra Council for Global Cooperation Top 30 Under 30 2021-Yashi works towards SDG 6: Safe water and sanitation and SDG 5: Gender equality in India. Photo credit: ACGC.

We need to promote correct, consistent, and continuous WASH behavior among community members in India. This includes sensitizing and building awareness amongst rural communities of the viral and bacterial threats to their health and livelihood, and encouraging the use of simple and sustainable water treatment technologies at the household level.

There are a number of energy and cost-efficient technologies that can be used to treat chemical and microbiological contamination, including JalKalp, an adaptation of the Biosand filter, Matikalp, a ceramic pot filter, the WATSAN filter, and arsenic and fluoride nilogen (a DIY removal technology). Along with building community capacity, we also need to build the capacity of grassroot organizations and other stakeholders working directly with communities.”


Thomas Coldwell

Thomas Coldwell is recognized as Alberta Council for Global Cooperation Top 30 Under 30 2021-Thomas works towards SDG 1: No poverty, along with SDG 6: Safe water and sanitation and SDG 5: Gender equality on the CAWST team in Canada. Photo credit: ACGC.

Thomas is a talented communicator and youth activator. A CAWST team member since 2020, we get to work with Thomas every day, as he helps share stories of CAWST and inspires fellow global citizens to take action towards ending poverty through safe water.

“I’m calling on all Canadians to stand up for our global neighbours facing extreme poverty. Ending global poverty requires action from all levels of government, the private sector, civil society, and local communities. Now more than ever, Canada must increase our investment in international development efforts. The issues that hit close to home, like national security and public health, are intimately connected to the state of our world. COVID-19 is a poignant example of the fact that what happens elsewhere affects Canada, and vice-versa.

Moving toward the Sustainable Development Goals everywhere is the right thing to do, for Canada and for our global neighbours.


Congratulations to all the nominees and winners of the 2021 ACGC Top 30 Under 30! 

We’re happy to celebrate their achievements in observance of International Development Week. To join the celebration and learn more about these outstanding individuals, register for the event on Wednesday, February 10

International Development Week is a great opportunity to learn more about the global community that we are all part of. Check out the official website to find ways to take action.

Reflections on 2020: A letter to our CAWST community

As CAWST bids farewell to a challenging year and gets started on our 20th year, our VP Global Services, Millie Adam, shares her reflections, appreciation, team accomplishments, and learning.

Reflecting on the past year, it feels impossible to sum up in a letter. 2020 brought work to my home and my home into my work more than I could have imagined. Everything I know about hygiene from working in water, sanitation, and hygiene became very relevant at home as I made sure my kids know how to wash their hands to World Health Organization standards, using my favourite handwashing song and the thumb attack!

While we all felt the challenges of 2020, CAWST focused on harnessing the opportunities it presented. The year was hard, don’t get me wrong, but there were opportunities. COVID-19 increased global awareness of the importance of hygiene, which before now, had been a distant third to water and sanitation. It provided CAWST with the opportunity to explore how knowledge can be transferred online and at a distance while still catalyzing action. In 2020, the world faced common challenges, yet each of us experienced them differently. The pandemic made it clear that local knowledge and capacity are necessary to respond to these types of challenges.

Thanks to the relationships we’ve built with clients and partners over 19 years, CAWST was in a unique position to contribute to the pandemic response. Our adaptability and expertise in strengthening water, sanitation, and hygiene capacity set us up to respond quickly and effectively. We came into the pandemic with online platforms in place that we used to shift the delivery of our services. Yet, we still had a lot of adapting and growing to do.

Learning is woven into CAWST’s DNA. Providing a high quality learning experience is what makes our approach successful. Over the years, we refined our approach to ensure that people get the information they need for their role and are motivated to take action. We had experimented with online service delivery, but were still dependent on in-person approaches. We spent 2020 figuring out how to bring the best of that in-person experience to our online services: 1) targeted, practical information, 2) a fun, interactive experience that inspires people to take action, and 3) the creation of a peer network to support each other along the way. With willing participants from Nicaragua to Nepal and beyond, we had some great success in online courses and learning that we will continue to implement beyond the pandemic.

2020 took CAWST’s partnerships to a new level. Without the ability to travel, we depended on our network to continue our work and they depended on us to help them adapt and respond. No one organization or one solution will get us through this pandemic; it is imperative that we all work together. 

No one organization or one solution will get us through this pandemic; it is imperative that we all work together. 

With a long history of distilling technical and academic information so that people can make use of it, in response to COVID-19, we aimed to spread accurate information faster than the virus spread. One example of which we are proud is the creation of the COVID-19 Hygiene Hub with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. This platform enables organizations to connect and share rapidly evolving information, which is proving crucial in the response to the pandemic. With new research emerging almost daily since January 2020 on COVID-19, we have a role to play in learning and sharing learning between organizations and distilling the massive amount of growing science-based information. 

Heading into our 20th year, we are grateful for the support of our donors who, despite this volatile year, gave us the stability to keep our full team and make a meaningful contribution in the world. Whether you donated, accessed our services, or followed along, thanks for sticking with us during this challenging time. We are hopeful for the year ahead, grateful for your support, and humbled by what we have learned this year.

For more reflections and learning on 2020, check out the blog post from our team!

2020 Reflections: Learning and Hope for 2021 and Beyond

In the spirit of reflection, we asked our CAWST colleagues to look back on 2020 and highlight some key learnings from the year. Here’s what they had to say!

CAWST staff reflect on the past year with an eye to the future

You may be thinking: 2020 is one of those years that is better left in the past. It’s true, it was a year marked by sudden and unexpected change, affecting our interconnected world in one way or another. Though it is worth noting that while communities and countries may be in similar boats, those vessels are often in dramatically different waters. The effects of the pandemic have disproportionately affected vulnerable populations.

So what do we see when we look back on 2020? The CAWST team shifted to a virtual service-delivery model, enabling us to provide continued support for our clients and partners globally. Most of our staff have been working from home for more than 10 months. Like many other organizations, CAWST continues to adjust to new ways of approaching our work.

In the spirit of reflection, we asked our CAWST colleagues to look back on 2020 and highlight some key learnings from the year:

Remote Support

“In November, we started a pilot project offering 90 minutes of free remote consulting support. Though remote consulting isn’t new to CAWST, we decided to set up a more intentional and organized way of offering consulting services to the WASH world. Participating in this pilot has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done this year. Talking with people about their WASH projects, hearing about their unique context, goals, successes, and challenges, and troubleshooting with them has been incredibly interesting, and has helped me grow as an advisor. Being able to connect with people who have their nose to the grindstone day in and out has been especially meaningful for me during this year when travel was not possible, and allowed me to contribute in some small way to their work on the ground.” — Taya Raine

-Marcio providing online consulting support.

“When Emilie invited me to be part of the team of the Remote Consulting Service (RCS) project, I was thrilled with the idea of supporting our clients during these unprecedented times. We are still not able to deliver our trainings and technical support in-country, but knowing that we would be launching a new initiative of providing 90 minutes of free, one-on-one, remote technical support motivated me exponentially.

Even though I got so lucky to have my first client from Angola, a Portuguese-speaking country, I admit I was a bit nervous. The results from the service couldn’t be better. I had the opportunity to learn a lot from them and was amazed by the quality of projects and trainings implemented in the field. My first reaction when we finished the service was to share with my colleagues my satisfaction of doing this, and to see how incredible the organizations that we work with are. They can do so much for so long with so little.” — Marcio Botto

“Our partners were so resilient and flexible, and found different ways to provide support to the clients and communities they serve. For example, Sehgal Foundation in India provided support to 1,800 biosand filter users using WhatsApp. Another example: WASH SDO in Cambodia provided online training to clients six hours a day using Zoom. Our partners’ work was highly gratifying and motivated me to do my job with the same resilience and passion, whether that means making Zoom call at seven in the morning or at 11 at night.

I am very proud to say that we have accomplished so much more than what we envisioned in the beginning of the pandemic. I am sure that, in 2021, we will accomplish even more—whether by providing remote support or in-person trainings to clients, thanks to highly motivated colleagues at both CAWST and our partners.” — Suneel Rajavaram

HWTS Network

Offering 90-minute remote consulting services was one of several new initiatives last year. As a long-time advocate for household solutions for safe water, CAWST deepened our commitment by joining the Secretariat of the Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS) Network:

“CAWST is thrilled to be co-leading the Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage Network, with the University of North Carolina and World Health Organization. I was struck by the way HWTS Network members were able to creatively adapt their programs during a global pandemic as well as the diversity of experiences from across the Network.

My hope is that the Network can be a vibrant community working together to share learnings from different perspectives to improve water quality in underserved households globally. I hope that members remain curious about how to reach the end goal of people drinking safe water all day, every day.” — Melinda Foran

Online Training

Travel restrictions meant that our CAWST team was unable to visit clients and partners in their home countries. However, our team responded with creativity, innovation, and determination to design and deliver remote training this year:

“Not long ago we completed our first remote, big-cohort course in CAWST. It was a first in different aspects; we had a cohort 10-times bigger than usual, facilitators and participants were in different time zones, participants were balancing their work and family duties with their course activities, and they had to deal with a pandemic and two hurricanes! We needed to adapt to all that while trying not to lose the essence of CAWST workshops, which are designed to be as inclusive, participative, and fun as they are educational. We did that by mixing a variety of activities and replacing the physical presence for an intense and frequent virtual communication and touchpoints.” — Eva Jiménez and Eva Manzano

-Lona facilitating online training.

“As the saying goes, where one door closes another one opens. COVID-19 closed a lot of doors for us at CAWST last year due to our inability to travel. Where it opened a door was with our Wash’Em training. The demand for handwashing promotion increased exponentially with COVID-19 and with it so did interest in Wash’Em. While originally developed as a face-to-face training package, we adapted the content for online delivery when we got a request from Tearfund to deliver the workshop to 20 WASH program managers from Africa to Asia…. By the end of the four-day workshop, participants were prepared to assess their communities and enter their findings into the Wash’Em software, which enabled them to design context-specific and innovative hygiene programs.” — Lona Robertson

“If I had to choose two words to describe this year it would be “Rapid Learning.” From the moment COVID hit to now, we’ve been racing to learn new technologies and approaches to continue to support our clients at a distance—and to support them to do the same with the populations they serve. The results have been amazing to see.

I’ve witnessed WET Centre staff, who initially struggled to put together PowerPoints, become totally savvy in delivering online learning. I’ve also seen a huge transformation in our team. At the beginning of the year, we weren’t sure what learning management software we would use, or how to use the different tools we had for online learning. Now we are designing courses in Open EdX and using tools like Articulate Storyline to develop microlearning modules. It’s been a huge inspiration to see people take up this challenge. We are nowhere near the end of the learning curve, but it’s a fantastic ride!” — Lisa Mitchell

“With the move to delivering our training online, there was a need to test the Open EdX platform. The West Africa team took on the challenge and planned to offer the HWTS training developed in Rise to participants in West Africa (Ghana and Liberia). As the date quickly approached to invite participants to sign up, the team had serious misgivings about using potential clients as guinea pigs and decided to use a friendlier audience in the form of our WET Centre partners in Kenya and Zambia. These willing volunteers were given parts of the course to test out on the platform and opportunities to provide feedback. The partners were enthusiastic participants and CAWST learned a great deal from the experience, even though there are still some outstanding questions around OpenEdX.” — Ryan Blyth

Developing Resources

Clearly, this was a year of embracing new approaches to our work. Our colleagues developed resources for clients and partners at a distance, including testing latrine designs and filming instructional videos right here in Calgary:

“The digging of the latrines out at Braeside was super memorable. It was a great learning opportunity, and it was wonderful to get outside in the sunshine, get covered in dust from head to toe, and see people in-person (at a safe distance) for the first time in months. We solved problems together, chatted about work or life, exerted some real physical effort in those pits, and looked out for one another. It was a great teambuilding activity… even if it was never intended to be so in the first place. Plus, it gave me deep, deep respect for someone attempting to build a latrine from scratch. It is no joke.” — Marike Kuyper

“Filming the Biosand Filter Construction Videos was a blast! I worked with two directors at CAWST (read: “talented lead actors”) to demonstrate a whole range of topics associated with building and installing concrete filters. Who knew that there are so many little tips and tricks involved in getting it right? I sure didn’t. I have great respect and appreciation for what Pete and Tal know and for how they are able to communicate that information with humour and a sense of fun. Now, we are looking into doing voiceovers in other languages.” — Adele Woolsey

Making Materials Accessible

CAWST designs and distributes free water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) resources for clients and partners (and anyone in the world, really!) to access and use. We want to make sure that our resources are widely accessible, so we prioritize developing materials in three main languages: English, French, and Spanish. Plus, this year we added Arabic to our repertoire! Our talented translations team makes this work possible:

-Resources in Arabic on the Hygiene Hub.

“I guess everyone else at CAWST can say the same thing, but 2020 was not ‘business as usual’ for Translations. We translated a record number of words, added new languages, and added new modalities. In 2020, we translated nearly one million words, which was three times more than we translated in 2019. We also added Arabic to our list of languages: we translated both Wash’Em materials and Hygiene Hub content into Arabic, in addition to the usual Spanish and French… We also translated a few documents into Portuguese—the first time we’ve done that in over 10 years. We started working with a subtitler based in Brazil to subtitle videos. Currently, we’re working on Spanish voice-overs for the new biosand filter videos.”
— Andrea Roach

Focusing Efforts

In our current context, it’s not difficult to understand the need to focus on urgent tasks. As a nonprofit organization, we learned a lot this year about working together and prioritizing work activities:

-KnowledgePoint is a global Q&A forum for people who work in the humanitarian and development sector.

“One of the proudest points in the year revolved around the work we didn’t do. At the start of our second quarter, we were slated to do a rewrite of the KnowledgePoint website. It could have easily taken half of the year’s work or more. Since we’re such a small team, we need to know how to work smart, so we make use of lots of free and proprietary tools so we can keep up with CAWST’s needs. Around April, Josh whipped up an initial list of promising tools. We each took half the list and looked over the most promising candidates. One on my list was, which was so fully-featured, we were able to get the whole site up with a little account management, and some quick branding work. Working smart like this freed us up to work on other priorities, like the WASH Resources rewrite and new tools for online learning.” — Alex Madsen


Looking back on 2020, we want to thank our tremendous supporters for sticking with us. We pivoted activities due to the pandemic, and are proud of what we were able to accomplish together. Thank you to our colleagues, donors, partners, clients, funders, and all those who walk alongside us in our mission to ensure basic water and sanitation needs are met. We couldn’t do it without you. And we look forward with anticipation to the necessary and life-giving work that we’ll be part of in the future.

The results are in! Gift of Water 2020

The results are in: you helped us exceed our Gift of Water goals!

The results are in: you helped us exceed our Gift of Water goals!

With much appreciation for the generosity of our donors, we’re happy to report that our Gift of Water campaign raised $143,700! All donations in the campaign were matched, dollar for dollar, thanks to philanthropists, David O’Brien and Geoff Cumming. That brings our grand total to $287,400

To all our donors: Thank you for making transformation possible. You extend hope and dignity through water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). And you helped us exceed our goal to help improve access to WASH around the globe. Thank you!!


We also want to extend a warm welcome to the 78 new donors who invested in our vision for the first time this year! Your Gift of Water is helping us move closer to a world where everyone has the opportunity to succeed because their basic water and sanitation needs are being met.

In an especially challenging year, we’re very thankful for all the support we receive from donors and supporters. To share our gratitude, here’s a video from CAWST CEO, Shauna Curry:

If you want to learn more about the impact you make as a donor to CAWST, let’s keep in touch.

Japan Water Forum

The Kyoto World Water Prize was created to honour a distinguished organization involved in grassroots activities and make the importance of such activities known throughout the world.

The winner will be selected based on an evaluation of projects implemented after 2010 and completed more than two years ago. The evaluation items include:

  • The project’s contribution to the attainment of SDGs
  • It’s harmony with local culture
  • It’s effectiveness for future development of the area
  • Further criteria set by the Prize Committee

The winner of the prize will receive approximately $18,000 USD.

Deadline: April 30th, 2021

CAWST in the News: Avenue Calgary features David O’Brien among Calgarians We Love

As Avenue Calgary points out, Calgarians are what make Calgary a great place to live. We couldn’t agree more, and we’re thrilled to see David O’Brien, CAWST Board Chair in the latest edition. Alongside fellow philanthropists from all walks of life, David is featured in the magazine, focused on Calgarians We Love.

Over the past 10 months, almost everything has changed. It makes us even more appreciative of the local and global communities that surround us and support us – particularly the people within them. As Avenue Calgary points out, Calgarians make Calgary a great place to live. We couldn’t agree more, and we’re thrilled to see David O’Brien, CAWST Board Chair, featured in this month’s issue of the magazine – Calgarians We Love.

Perhaps you know David from his work at Petro-Canada, or his time as CEO of Canadian Pacific Ltd, or as chair of Royal Bank of Canada. In his retirement, David has served as chair of CAWST since 2013.

Across his myriad of experiences, David’s secret to success is this: “Be curious, ask questions, and think about how to make things better.”

We see David practice this in each interaction, whether he’s at a board meeting, lunch and learn, or visiting clients in Kenya as he did three years ago (pictured).

Retired or not, David encourages others to “get involved with something bigger than yourself.”

Calgarians We Love, from comedians to chefs, you make Calgary Calgary, and we’re thankful for you.


Get a copy of Avenue Calgary your local coffee shop, grocery store, or online here.

Households helping households

Often, the most significant barrier preventing families from implementing water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions is not the cost, but the knowledge and motivation to change their habits. When people come together in community health clubs, they have an opportunity to find solutions together and overcome the barriers they face. This is what we’re finding in our work on community health club approaches in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zambia.

“When it comes to topics like diarrhea in children and community-wide disease, community members can make changes in their water, sanitation and hygiene behaviours to transform their societies. Who will effectively trigger these behaviours to change? And more importantly, how and when? This is the challenge we face,” explains Sam Gil, Senior Global WASH Advisor with CAWST.


Indeed, there are actionable ways people can improve the quality of the water they drink and thereby their quality of life. Simple, affordable technologies, such as biosand filters, can clean water; latrines can safely manage fecal matter. Practical measures in homes, such as water source protection or regular handwashing, can improve water quality and health. Often, the most significant barrier preventing families from implementing these solutions is not the cost, but the knowledge and motivation to change their habits. As Sam says,

Human behaviour change is key to everything we do. Combine it with the right technology and services, and we can make lasting change.

The questions of who, how, and when have been central to Sam’s work with Africa MANZI Centre (AFMAC) in Zambia. With overwhelmed and underresourced health authorities, community behaviour change is fundamental to improving public health and reducing the burden on the health system. Knowing this, AFMAC, a partner in our Water Expertise and Training Centre program, sought to motivate behaviour change through community health promoters. Since 2008, AFMAC has trained over 1,000 volunteers as community health promoters; they visit households in their communities, knocking on the door with practical recommendations for improving health.

“Those recommendations are helpful, but after evaluating the community health promoter model, we found that households need extra reinforcement of knowledge before they could adopt and sustain the behaviour or technology in their home,” reflects Marike Kuyper, CAWST Global Learning Advisor.

This recognition prompted an exploration of a complementary approach: Community Health Clubs. Clubs have many names and faces around the globe. Generally, they are a model for development that convenes a group of neighbours to learn and advance on a set of goals. Clubs provide multifaceted motivation for behaviour change: peer pressure, status, belonging, and financial support are all enabled when neighbours come together.

Leveraging their learning from the community health promoter program, AFMAC recruited and trained community members to become facilitators of Community Health Clubs. Once trained, facilitators gathered a group of neighbours to form a club and led them through weekly lessons for about nine months. Each Community Health Club member would receive a card – on one side, it listed the sessions they would attend, and the other side listed the changes they would adopt in their homes. Clubs began by mapping their village and identifying challenges they wanted to approach, such as the main diseases they face. Over the course of the sessions, they progressed to learn and implement solutions, such as handwashing technique and stations. “And it’s not just come sit here and learn, each club meeting tends to start with singing, dancing and a prayer. The activities are participatory and bring people together to solve community problems. It’s fun and social,” commented Marike.

A community health club gathers to visit households and learn about solutions for safe water, sanitation and hygiene-A community health club gathers to visit households and learn about solutions for safe water, sanitation and hygiene near Ndola, Zambia

For the first phase of the initial pilot, AFMAC engaged 18 Community Health Clubs and saw promising results. On average, clubs implemented 20 new practices that improve health. “These clubs generate new dialogue that is owned by the community members. The content of club meetings connects them with solutions to the challenges they face,” asserts Sam.


Simultaneous to piloting this approach in Zambia, CAWST has been working with our partners in Kenya and Ethiopia on similar clubs, each with a unique, context-appropriate design.

In Kenya, Aqua Clara Kenya (ACK) capitalized on their strength as a social enterprise that supplies filters, as part of their Community Health Club model. They focused their club curriculum on water and promoted their filters to clubs as a solution that households could aspire to own. Additionally, ACK engaged stakeholders, coordinating with public health officers in the relevant counties and training existing community health educators to become club facilitators.

For any intervention to have almost 31% uptake in a new technology is outstanding and working within the mandate of the public health officers should give the program sustainability, shares Marike.

With CAWST’s support, their next frontier is growing technical capacity around sanitation, developing new sessions on financial planning within the clubs, and improving their capacity to monitor and evaluate the program.

A community member of Abeshege, Ethiopia demonstrates her homemade handwashing station and proper technique-A community member of Abeshege, Ethiopia demonstrates her homemade handwashing station and proper technique. This photo was taken as part of a baseline study, against which we compared results from the subsequent phase of a Self-Help Group program. After one year, we saw significant improvements in practicing healthy behaviours and sharing knowledge with others.

In Ethiopia, working with Ethiopia Kale Heywet Church (EKHC), we integrated water, sanitation and hygiene knowledge into a well-established social structure, Self Help Groups. A preexisting network of 16,000 Self Help Groups enable saving and loans among members, and EKHC saw the potential to add WASH education to their meetings. Impressive scale was achieved in terms of reaching people with new knowledge. Next, we are iterating the program to incorporate more behaviour-centered design principles (learning from another project in Nepal), monitoring, and evaluation.

In all three distinct scales and models of Community Health Clubs, a common outcome is that club members and their communities are more engaged and ready to invest in changes in their homes.

Our teams and partners look forward to supporting the next iteration and phases of the clubs. Families and communities will have more opportunity to progress their water, sanitation and hygiene practices and adopt relevant technologies. “The technology must be both available and desirable, as we’ve learned with ACK. Whether it’s a handwashing station or a filter, it needs to be fit for purpose, achieve a technical outcome, and have the attributes households are looking for,” Marike explains.

Growing from existing approaches, such as the Community Health Promoter model, the additional level of influence and learning that occurs with Community Health Clubs can accelerate change. Sam reflects, “It’s no longer people coming to knock on the doors and influence the household. It’s households coming together and influencing each other. All we have to do is help the motives emerge in the conversations and provide simple solutions.”

This story was written in early 2020. These programs have continued and adapted in response to the pandemic, and proven to be sustainable social structures for sharing vital information on COVID-19 and prevention measures. To follow along with this story, and many more from around the globe, sign up to stay up-to-date with your friends at CAWST.

CAWST In the News: Gift of Water Campaign Featured in Calgary Herald

This December, CAWST had the opportunity to speak with the Calgary Herald about how we shifted during the pandemic and our annual Gift of Water campaign. Read on to learn from CAWST CEO, Shauna Curry, on how a Gift of Water can make change that endures beyond this holiday season.

This December, CAWST had the opportunity to speak with the Calgary Herald about how we have adapted during the pandemic, and how our annual Gift of Water campaign makes a lasting difference globally.

In the article, which appeared in the print and online editions on December 10th, Shauna Curry, CAWST CEO, spoke about our work with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the creation of the COVID-19 Hygiene Hub. She also discussed how a gift to CAWST during the holiday season creates enduring, sustainable change.

From the Calgary Herald article:

CAWST’s annual Gift of Water campaign is on now and all donations are being matched through the O’Brien-Cumming Match. This year’s campaign allows you to direct your donations into three designated areas, or into a general fund. The Technologies stream helps implement technologies from ceramic pot filters to pit latrines. The Learning stream provides education to those in need, equipping them with knowledge, skills and motivation to bring safe drinking water into their homes and communities. The Partnerships area allows CAWST to teach local partners, strengthening their capacity to be agents of change.

CAWST is always thrilled to be in our local newspaper and to connect with fellow Calgarians to share what our organization is working on. We are grateful for the generosity of our community, which has been integral to bringing water education to thousands of clients and partners around the world.


Learn more about the Gift of Water campaign and donate a gift of technology, learning, or partnerships here!

CAWST In the News: Local Recognition in Avenue Calgary & EDify Edmonton

At CAWST, we take pride in our organization’s Albertan roots. That is why we’re thrilled to be part of the December issues of both Avenue Magazine Calgary and EDify Edmonton. The articles are part of our annual Gift of Water campaign, highlighting some of the work we’ve done this year in the water, sanitation, and hygiene space.

CAWST is very proud of our Albertan roots, which is why we’re thrilled to be part of the December issues of both Avenue Magazine Calgary and EDify Edmonton – two prominent lifestyle magazines based here in our province. The articles are part of our annual Gift of Water campaign and put a spotlight on some of the work we’ve done this year in the water, sanitation, and hygiene space.

Alex Laidlaw, CAWST campaign manager, spoke with both publications to share more about our model of focusing on capacity development and training to create impact that is sustainable for years to come.


With the right know-how, the people we train become more capable of addressing the water and sanitation needs of their families and share what they learn in their community and beyond. Our hope is that life-saving knowledge that’s easy to act on and understand spreads faster than disease, shares Alex.

The articles offer Albertans, and any donor, the chance to think globally by giving locally this holiday season. If you’re a friend of CAWST and located in either the Edmonton or Calgary area, please be sure to pick up a copy of Avenue or EDify, or you can find the articles online here and here.


Still looking for the perfect gift for a loved one? Give a gift that endures beyond this holiday season.

CAWST in the News: Chairman profiled in National Post

Chairman, David O’Brien shares with the National Post why he wanted to use his business acumen to tackle some of the world’s most challenging issues – the need for water, sanitation and hygiene – and his dedication to our organization, Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST).

CAWST is fortunate to have the support of one of Canada’s business leaders, David O’Brien, for more than a decade. David has served as chairman of our board since 2013 and is our principal donor. Last week, the National Post profiled David’s dedication to CAWST in his retirement years–for his outstanding contribution of financial support and time.

“I had a successful corporate career that I enjoyed, but when CAWST came along, I hitched my wagon to a cause much bigger than myself. When you do something important for others it is not just your own success. It makes a difference where it is needed. That is so rewarding and very different from being the chair of a commercial enterprise,” shares David, in the article.

Shauna Curry, CAWST CEO, and David O’Brien visit a project in Kisii County, Kenya to learn about the impact of CAWST partner, Aqua Clara Kenya. Photograph by Juozas Cernius.

CAWST is coming up on its 20th year in the sector and we wouldn’t be here without the support of donors like David O’Brien, Geoff Cumming, and so many others. In the article, David speaks on our current Gift of Water campaign and the O’Brien-Cumming Match, where all donations are being matched dollar-for-dollar.

“As the pandemic affects each person around the globe, the need for CAWST’s work – and donors like David O’Brien – is more urgent than ever,” says Shauna Curry, P.Eng., CEO of CAWST, to the Post. “All the factors around poverty in the world still exist and are being compounded by COVID. According to the World Bank, it is expected that over 150 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty because of the virus, as so many lack access to the clean water necessary to even wash their hands adequately to stop the spread.”

Thank you, David, for sharing your reasons for philanthropy with the National Post. We know you’ve inspired us, and you’ll undoubtedly inspire others, across Canada and beyond.

On Saturday, December 12th, make sure you pick up a print edition of the National Post for the full article. In the meantime, check out the online article here and accompanying video below.

Watch Donor Feature: David O’Brien

Why do you give to CAWST? Board chair, David O’Brien explains how supporting CAWST’s water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) work is taking on a cause bigger than himself and making a difference around the world.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Guest Blog on Inclusive WASH

On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we recognize the opportunity that the pandemic affords us to consider how we build back better. By better, we mean more inclusive and accessible for people of all abilities. Today, we are pleased to welcome David to our blog, as he shares an introduction to the barriers to that prevent access to WASH, and five tips to start increasing inclusion and accessibility in your WASH programs.

Photo credit: Kelly James

On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we recognize the opportunity that the pandemic affords us to consider how we build back better. In this case, better means delivering more inclusive and accessible water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services for people of all ages and abilities. At CAWST, we are committed to learning about how to design more inclusive WASH programs. During our semi-annual Learning Exchange and over lunch and learns, we have the great opportunity to invite experts from across the sector to help us consider how we can address gender, age, and disability more meaningfully in our work. One of the experts we heard from was David Achuroa. Today, we are pleased to welcome David to our blog. David is a WASH consultant and researcher, who specializes in inclusive WASH. Thank you, David, for sharing inclusive WASH knowledge with us!


The UN defines disability to include “long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder [a person’s] full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (UN, 2007, pg 4). The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there are 1 billion people with disabilities: 800 million of them residing in low- and middle-income countries (WHO, 2011). Statistic Canada estimates that 13.5% of Canadians aged 15 years or older have a disability (Statistics Canada, 2013).

My interest in disability issues runs deep. Throughout my academic and professional career, I focused my research and work on disability and disability practice in Ghana. I hold a Master of Arts in Social Anthropology from the University of Calgary, and a Bachelor of Science in Community Nutrition from the University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana. In research and community development programming, I try to apply what I learned to develop capacity of leaders to recognize and include persons with disabilities and their families.

But my passion for disability issues long predates any academic or professional engagement with the topic. Before all of this: I am, myself, a person with a disability.

In Northern Ghana in the 1980s, I was born in a rural village into the household of a smallholder farmer in the middle of a poliomyelitis epidemic. Unfortunately, as I was just learning to walk, I contracted the virus and became paralyzed in my legs. Until I was 10 years old, I didn’t have access to crutches or any assistive devices, so I would get around by crawling, or being carried by family members.

Inaccessible entrance of a school toilet
-Entrance of a school toilet. Credit: David Achuroa

Throughout my childhood, sanitation facilities were poorly adapted to my needs, and were often virtually inaccessible. I would have to crawl on my hands and knees inside dirty latrines, when I wanted to use the toilet. Handwashing stations were out of my reach and unusable. The conditions were often so bad that I would prefer to practice open defecation; opting to use nearby bushes, risking attack by dangerous bugs and reptiles.

The toilets available at school weren’t any better adapted. Once I received assistive devices, I still wasn’t able to safely enter the latrine because they lacked a ramp, and adequate space and supports to move around safely once inside.

As you can imagine, this had a profound effect on my health, my confidence, and my relationship with others.

I was excluded from many social events and traditions. Children in the village eat together, out of the same bowl, using their hands, participating in a practice that is thought to encourage sharing and instill a sense of togetherness. I was often considered dirty and undeserving of sharing in the same bowl. It was incredibly isolating and I felt totally alone. I thought these problems were unique to me.

When I started working with people with disabilities and their families, I realized I was not alone. When I travelled outside of my village for school, workshops, and trainings, I saw that it is not only washrooms in my community that are inaccessible, but most sanitation facilities I encountered were similar; inaccessible, dirty, and impossible for me, and others with mobility impairments, to safely use.

The need to use the toilet still evokes feelings of insecurity and anxiety well into my adult life because of the uncertainty of whether or not I will be able to access the toilet and the consequences this can have on my dignity. I find myself wishing that I could travel without ever needing to use the washroom.

Entrance of a household toilet-Entrance of a household toilet. Credit: David Achuroa

While working for a community-based rehabilitation program in Ghana, the people with disabilities whom I encountered expressed similar experiences and challenges. I heard stories of the economic impacts of inaccessible water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, and the resulting negative health outcomes they regularly faced. I heard about the time costs they struggled to manage: mothers of children with disabilities reported having to manage their children’s complex sanitation and hygiene needs without adequate facilities or sufficient water. This is another time-consuming chore to add to the impossible list of domestic responsibilities. I also heard stories about the stigma, shame, and embarrassment of not being able to enter a toilet without help or without getting dirty.

Persons with disabilities are disproportionately affected by poor water, sanitation, and hygiene.  Data from 34 European countries and Turkey suggest that persons with disabilities are twice as likely to lack a bath or shower in their homes as people without disabilities (UN, 2018). A disability report in Edmonton gives an overall 23% disability accessibility score after assessing public spaces such as parking, bathrooms, telephone, locker rooms, and showers (The Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement, 2015). 

Disability accessibility is even more precarious in low- and middle-income countries. In Brazil, 97% of the primary schools have a toilet within the building, but less than half of these facilities were accessible to pupils with disabilities (UN, 2018). Likewise, in Bulsa District in Northern Ghana, only 19% of public toilets were accessible to persons with disabilities (PCBR, 2017).

Understanding how to improve access to inclusive water, sanitation, and hygiene requires an understanding of the barriers that prevent access. Barriers to the full and meaningful participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of life, including water, sanitation, and hygiene can be broken down into four broad categories: attitudinal, institutional, environmental, and communication.

Attitudinal barriers encompass harmful social norms, cultural beliefs, prejudices, and behaviours. They often stem from a perception that disability is a medical problem, requiring charity and pity. I see this barrier expressed in a range of ways, from patronizing ideas of what people with disabilities can and cannot do, to beliefs that disability is a curse, a dangerous spirit inhabiting a person’s body, as was the case in communities near to where I grew up. It also includes behaviours such as preference to use the disability designated toilet room instead of the regular toilet rooms because it is spacious and convenient.

Environmental barriers include features of natural or built settings, or the way things are constructed. Traditional designs of washrooms have largely neglected users with reduced mobility and other bodily differences. Latrines, tap stands, and handwashing facilities need to be properly and safely sited and easy to approach, free from obstacles or hazards, have facilities in place to support access (like ramps), and be equipped with the necessary space and supports to ensure users with diverse needs are able to use them. However, this is still often not the case. As a result, in more than 25 years of using a pair of crutches and braces, the struggle to access washrooms hasn’t improved much.

Institutional barriers include laws, policies, programs, as well as lack of data and standards. It is the conscious awareness of institutions to consider how their policies and programs impact populations with disabilities. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often underrepresented in research and data, in decision making positions, and in consultation on policies or programs. The barriers also relate to the pace at which organizations formulate and adopt disability legislations, policies, and programs and take actions to remove attitudinal and environment barriers.

Handwashing facilities
-Imagine sitting in a wheelchair and trying to reach for the soap dispenser and tissue paper. Credit: David Achuroa

Communication barriers refer to the lack of accessible, clear, and simple messages. This also includes the lack of inclusion of imagery of people with disabilities in hygiene promotion campaigns. Behaviour change campaigns, and promotional materials, rarely feature diverse images or representation of persons with disabilities or other diversities. In addition, braille writing on hygiene education is limited and hard to find, as are sign language interpreters in hygiene campaigns. Moreover, there are directional signs and symbols to show where to locate washrooms in buildings, but these signs are inaccessible to people with poor sight.

It is important to emphasize that these challenges and barriers cannot be dismissed as exclusive to “developing countries”. These barriers are common in our own communities, right here in Canada. Recently, I was dining out in a restaurant Calgary and when I wanted to use the washroom, I had to struggle down a steep and narrow staircase to access it. It was clear to me that a customer using a wheelchair would be completely unable to independently use this washroom.  This situation is not uncommon; on more than one occasion, I have watched wheelchair users unable to reach sinks or handwashing facilities.

So, what can be done? Here are five tips on how you can start thinking about inclusion and accessibility in your WASH programming:

  1. When designing WASH programs, think broadly about of all the diverse users your initiative will include or impact. Seek to understand their unique challenges, needs, desires, preferences, and experiences.
  2. Gather and share data about disability in your WASH programs. Increased access to data will help raise awareness and can be used as a basis for designing more effective policies and programs in the future.
  3. Include people with disabilities in all phases of your WASH project; from consultation, planning, and budgeting, to implementation and evaluation. As the saying goes, the person wearing the shoe knows where it hurts the most.
  4. Look for opportunities to apply innovations to promoting accessibility and inclusion. New digital technologies such as Siri, Alexa, and voice speakers (used in elevators) can be explored for their usefulness in adding audio features to signal stations of hand sanitizers, soap dispensers, paper towels, and hand dryers for people with a visual disability. Innovations should be tested by users with different impairments. The inclusion of persons with disabilities at different stages of product development allows for proper adjustments and accommodation, before mass production of the technology and service.
  5. Policy makers, WASH practitioners and other WASH stakeholders should make a point of seeking out and participating in training courses on disability inclusive practices. We are also responsible for championing inclusion and accessibility.


To connect with David and learn more about his work, please reach out.


PCBR. (2017). Status of disability accessibility in Bulsa North District. unpublished

Statistics Canada. (2013). Disability in Canada: Initial Findings from the Canadian Survey on Disability (Catalogue 89-654-X, no.002). Ottawa: Ministry of Industry.

The Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement. (2015). Fitness Centre Accessibility Audit Summary Report. Edmonton.

United Nations. (2007). The convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

United Nations. (2018). UN Flagship report on disability and development 2018. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

World Health Organization. (2011). World report on disability. Malta.

Worley volunteers their skills to solve water issues in Colombia

Support comes in many shapes and sizes. And with many skills. The Worley Foundation have been invaluable partners to CAWST, supporting the implementation of safe water projects in rural communities in Colombia. In addition to their financial support, Worley employees have become active volunteers, applying their talents to solve water challenges.

Support comes in many shapes and sizes. And with many skills. Take, for example, the Worley Foundation: For the past three years in Canada and Colombia, they have been invaluable partners to CAWST, supporting the implementation of safe water projects in rural communities in Colombia. In addition to their financial support, Worley employees have become active volunteers, applying their talents to solve water challenges.

Skilled volunteering is a key focus for the Worley Foundation. Worley believes that through empowering their team of professionals to take action, their expertise can achieve positive social and environmental impacts. With a team of engineers, builders, planners, scientists, economists, intrapreneurs, safety advocates, social practitioners, managers and technicians, the Worley team possesses a range of skill sets to offer in support of projects and initiatives in their communities. We’ve experienced this firsthand. 

“At Worley we seek out diverse partnerships because we believe we are stronger together. I am proud of the generosity of spirit with which the people of Worley contribute skills and expertise on a skilled volunteering basis. Our partnership with CAWST helps provide access to clean water which we believe is a basic human right, and works toward achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” says Sue Brown, Director of Corporate Affairs at Worley.

Ivan and Rocio from FRPG give a presentation on safe water in Colombia at the Worley office in Bogota-Iván Castro, MSc, and Rocío Robayo, PhD, of FRPG deliver a presentation on safe water to Worley staff

In Colombia, our collaboration paired volunteers from Worley with our local training partner, Fundación Red Proyecto Gente (FRPG). In 2019, seven volunteers from Worley travelled to Cómbita with CAWST and FRPG to participate in training on biosand filter installation and user education. Then, they installed filters in households throughout the community. They also visited families that received filters in an earlier phase of the program, and to understand the challenges associated with attaining safe water.


Adriana Bolívar, HR Analyst at Worley, describes it as a very valuable and rewarding experience. “I enjoyed participating in this activity. After fundraising for several months, we saw how we contributed to improve the wellbeing of ten families in rural areas that lack access to something as fundamental as safe drinking water. It was a great learning opportunity for me and my colleagues. I am impressed by the learning gained by the filter beneficiaries, who were extremely grateful and shared their life experiences on how hard yet beautiful is to live in rural communities of Colombia.” 

Worley team helps with biosand filter construction and installation in Combita-Worley team helps with biosand filter construction and installation in Cómbita

Inspired by the hands-on volunteer experience in Cómbita, the team in Bogotá made a great effort to raise awareness about the importance of safe water. In their office, they hosted events for peers and colleagues to gain a deeper understanding of the prevailing water issues in Colombia.

In 2020, the pandemic has limited the ways that volunteers can provide hands-on support. But the team at Worley didn’t let this prevent them from lending their skills. Instead, they sought creative ways that they could apply their expertise while working from home. The result was the launch of a first-ever “Tippy Tap Challenge.”


Handwashing is a key behaviour to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and other illnesses. But not everyone in Colombia has running water or a safe place where they can wash their hands with soap. A “tippy tap” is a simple handwashing technology, made from materials that are commonly available and affordable. Worley staff formed teams, and collaborated to design their very own prototype handwashing stations. Milena Martinez, Talent Acquisition Analyst at Worley, played a key role in engaging volunteers and leading the communications with the participant teams. Ultimately, the designs were judged by a friendly panel of CAWST and FRPG staff.

And the winner is… 

Winners of the Worley Tippy Tap challenge to design a handwashing station-Winners of the Worley Tippy Tap challenge, Fernando and Ashle

The winners of the inaugural Tippy Tap Challenge were Fernando Rojas, Technology Assistant, and Ashle Zamudio, Civil Designer. Their winning model was selected for its innovative design, using recycled materials and solar pumping but at a very affordable cost.

Fernando is passionate about design and camping; that passion inspired his design. “I felt highly motivated to turn my experience and passion for design into something that can help people solve such an important need as having a place to wash their hands with soap. We are very grateful for the collaboration between Worley Foundation and CAWST as it gives the opportunity to apply our technical and engineering skills to support the most vulnerable groups in Colombia.”

As Eva Manzano, Senior Global WASH Advisor at CAWST explains, “Engaging the private sector and foundations is essential to accelerate towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The approach of companies like Worley is brilliant: they bring commitment and engagement to the next level, not only talking about financial support to the cause, but also involving their staff.

By bringing together the volunteers, we are generating a ripple effect with more people who believe in and support access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and by applying their professional experience towards it. I’m very grateful to work with such a talented and committed team of volunteers in Colombia.

Read more about Worley’s commitment to skilled volunteering in their Sustainability Report.

Skilled volunteering can take many forms, most of which do not require any technical expertise in water. Local partners like FRPG can often use support on a range of everyday business challenges, like developing a human resources policy in accordance with local labour standards, or implementing new financial controls. If you or your company would like to explore an opportunity to engage in skills-based volunteering with our partners worldwide, please contact us through our Volunteer Page.


Changemaker: Yashi Gautam

Yashi Gautam is a changemaker who bridges scientific research and practice to advance access to safe water in India, in service of the people who need it most. Whether she’s working with students, women, or people suffering from fluorosis, Yashi believes in everyone’s capacity to improve their lives with water knowledge and technical solutions.

Yashi Gautam, MTech is a changemaker who bridges scientific research and practice to advance access to safe water in India, in service of the people who need it most.


“In my master’s in water science and governance, I learned about both the technical parameters of safe water, and the current situations on the ground. Working in the laboratory yielded such magical results in chemistry and biology. At the same time, the reality in India is that people are suffering.

They can improve their lives, but they don’t know how yet. That’s how I can help them – with knowledge and technical solutions to purify their water.

Yashi works towards knowledge and technical solutions as Assistant Program Lead, Drinking Water with Sehgal Foundation, CAWST training partner in India.

“Water is the engine that drives development. Better WASH leads to better health and health is directly related to economics. Sehgal Foundation is one of the best platforms to work on safe drinking water for both research and development; and implementation. For more than 20 years, Sehgal Foundation has worked on safe drinking water for marginalized communities. Not only implementing, but also training other organizations to further adopt the technologies to reach the last mile. I believe this approach maximizes the reach and purpose effectively and efficiently.”

One of the major water quality challenges faced by communities in India is the presence of the contaminant fluoride. While it can be safe in small doses, fluoride in much of the drinking water supply in India is higher than the safe limits set out by the World Health Organization and Government of India. This can cause skeletal fluorosis, a disease that dramatically weakens the bones.

“The impact of fluoride is exponentially worse for people who are already malnourished. I’m proud to be part of ground-breaking research on how we can address the devastating impacts of fluoride using nutrition. Removing it from water can be challenging and expensive, so we need to take alternative approaches. Our study found that it can be a cost-effective solution to focus on nutrition to reduce vulnerability and suffering. Increasing zinc, iron, and protein in the diet can counteract the effects of fluoride. We’re also experimenting with explore low-cost solutions to treat fluoride-contaminated water.”

Before working with Sehgal Foundation, Yashi held an important role with as a social leader for the Navjyoti India Foundation, working to address water management issues across the district of Gurugram.

Yashi facilitates an icebreaker activity on WASH at a school Yashi facilitates an icebreaker activity to help students get more comfortable discussing WASH issues

“Gurujal was a collaborative project in which we ran workshops in 30 government schools. The workshops were targeted at students in grades 6 to 8 and their teachers, to sensitize them and build awareness on water issues. The workshops changed their knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviour. I worked with the school children to prepare them not only to practice correct, consistent, and continued WASH behaviour, but to demonstrate it to their family members and influence them to practice the same. We educated 1,080 students.”


Yashi goes against the current and challenges the norm in a male dominated, hierarchical society. Working in Bihar, a state where only 1% of households are covered by piped water supply, Yashi is designing an integrated water, sanitation, and hygiene project focused on women’s empowerment and gender equality.

“There is a lot of resistance I work against. When I train women on WASH and ask them to adopt new practices, they will often ask their husbands first. Some women don’t believe what I tell them at first. But once I convince them of the new knowledge, such as why fluorosis is prevalent, they share knowledge very quickly because ladies like to chat and gossip.”

Focusing on women’s groups, my goal is to make them leaders, who not only work to take care of WASH in their homes, but also for their whole communities. For generations, women are responsible for water and sanitation, but men are more likely to make the decisions around investments. Women lack the information and ownership, but they have a lot of responsibility for WASH in the home. My goal is that they become the informed decision makers.

Yashi after mobilizing school children to address water scarcity Yashi with school children after a workshop on addressing water scarcity

“Furthermore, lack of access to proper WASH at home and school can impact a child’s mind, especially girls. Learning opportunities are lost when children have to spend time collecting water or finding a place to defecate. And in some parts of the country, menstruation is treated as a taboo subject. Effective education programs need to be supported by fully accessible, child-friendly and gender-segregated WASH facilities.”


“With the support of CAWST, I believe I can bring an attitude change towards WASH as a shared responsibility in households. I consider myself privileged to be a part of CAWST and Sehgal Foundation’s training partnership for being trained and learning from the advisors on affordable technologies for safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene.”

Yashi, the privilege to learn from you is all ours.

Changemakers Impact Report

Changemakers is an impact report produced quarterly for members of the Water Circle. Members of the Water Circle are donors who make a contribution each month to support changemakers, such as Yashi. For more information, visit

Latrine Construction, Sustainable Sanitation, and World Toilet Day

Lately, and leading up to World Toilet Day, Global WASH Advisor Taya Raine has been thinking a lot about the integrity of the toilet. While approaches like community-led total sanitation have made impressive gains over the last 20 years, access to sustainable and safe toilets is not as common as we think. Collapsing latrine pits are a significant setback. After a summer of researching and piloting methods to prevent latrine pit collapse, Taya shares her perspective on global sanitation challenges and our process of learning about different latrine solutions.

World Toilet Day? Is that really a thing?

This was my friend’s reaction when I shared what I’d be working on today. A blog. About toilet construction. For World Toilet Day. No wonder my friends think my chosen career path is “unique.”

But yes, World Toilet Day is, in fact, a thing. Although not as widely celebrated as Mother’s Day, or World Tuna Day, or even Friday, World Toilet Day on November 19 is a United Nations day that “celebrates toilets and raises awareness of the 4.2 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation. It is about taking action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030” (UN Water, 2020).

It doesn’t take a lot of convincing to get people to realize that toilets are important. Just imagine your life without one. In fact, imagine your life without one if you were sick—perhaps with the stomach flu, or a nasty case of food poisoning.  At the risk of being graphic, what would you do?  Go behind the house?  Use a bucket or a plastic bag?  Sweaty and feverish, where do you put it?  In a garbage can? Back alley? Wait for your neighbour to leave for work so you can spread it under their rose bushes? They needed some fertilizer anyway, right?

Here in Canada we usually have access to a toilet when we need it. And we never need to think about the integrity of the toilet itself. Sewer systems and indoor plumbing make for a generally comfortable experience, and by and large the most traumatic affair most of us will ever face is having to use a toilet that doesn’t quite meet our cleanliness standards.

But humour me for a moment and think about what it would be like to live in a place where there is no sewer network, and you are responsible to meet your family’s sanitation needs. There is no municipal system or plan. You have no construction skills or experience, and you don’t know anyone in your community who has built a toilet before. The locally-available construction materials include mud or concrete blocks, and organic materials like bamboo, wood, and thatch. You may be able to get plastic plumbing parts from another city or town, but doing so would be very costly. What kind of toilet do you think you’d end up with? Would it be comfortable and safe?

Millions of people around the world find themselves in this situation. And to complicate matters further, many of those people live in challenging environments, contending with seasonal flooding, high groundwater tables, impossibly rocky ground, unstable soil formations that threaten collapse, or limited space due to urban or peri-urban crowding. These factors seriously impact toilet construction options and are barriers many find too great to overcome. Furthermore, in the face of climate change, these barriers are mounting.

-A local resident in Nepal has access to a completed latrine beside her home in a village that was almost completely destroyed during the 2015 earthquake.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about collapsing latrine pits and what they mean for a community. While it’s encouraging to note that over the last 20 years, governments, community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other groups have used approaches like community-led total sanitation to raise awareness of the dangers of open defecation. Although these groups have made impressive gains in attaining open defecation free status in many communities, access to sustainable and safe toilets is not as common as we may think (JMP, n.d.). Pit collapse is a contributor to this problem, rendering toilets useless after a single rainy season or making pit excavation impossible and dangerous from the get go. Just as one bad apple spoils the bunch, one collapsed pit in a community is enough to create fear and doubt about the integrity of pits in the whole area. This discourages the sustained use of toilets and is disheartening for people who have invested precious time and money into building a latrine only to have it collapse a few months later. You can’t blame people for feeling this way. Besides the loss of time and resources, falling into a poop pit is a baptism no one wishes to experience.

So what to do? Because CAWST has repeatedly heard from our partners around the world that this is an issue, I spent the summer looking into solutions. Ranging from fancy prefabricated plastic pit liners that can be shipped from the UK to close-to-free sand bags that are incredibly costly in sweat equity, solutions are out there if you’re willing to look. I narrowed the options by developing a list of criteria. Suitable designs would be: low cost, use locally available materials, resist soil pressures, allow liquid infiltration, resist decomposition, be easy to construct and install, have a reasonably long lifespan, and can be emptied. This was a tall order, and to be honest I didn’t find any lining methods that ticked every box. However, a number of options seemed promising. I wanted to see how difficult they were to construct in “real life.”

Taya working on the cement and dirt pit latrine using the stabilized soil method.
-Taya working in the stabilized soil pit.

So, with nowhere to go during the COVID-19 pandemic, we went underground. A group of CAWST colleagues started digging and lining pits at a board member’s business place in an industrial area in Calgary. Our first experiment was the rebar reinforced fabric lining (Grossnickle et al., 2017). We used $100 worth of 8mm rebar, chicken wire and fabric (in our case, landscaping fabric) to create a cage-like structure that would support the pit walls while allowing liquid infiltration. We cast a small concrete footing (10 cm deep) and placed a concrete dome slab on top. It was quick and easy to build, although bending the round bar into circles required some serious muscle. But if a gaggle of office staff with soft hands can do it, anyone can.

The second lining used the stabilized soil method (iDE, n.d.). This one was a bit more involved, as it required the fabrication of a circular metal mold, which was used to form the lining. Excavated material from the pit was dried and sifted, and then mixed in a 1:2:10 ratio of cement to water to soil. The mold was placed into the bottom of the pit, and the soil-cement mixture was shoveled behind the mold and tamped to create the lining. After 10 minutes or so, the mold is wiggled upward, another layer of backfill is added and tamped, and the process continues until the entire pit is lined. We did not construct a footing for this pit, but placed a square reinforced concrete slab directly on the lining. Although this method gave us a fair bit of trouble (for example, the mold became badly stuck when we stopped too long for lunch. How embarrassing…), I think it could be a promising and cost-effective solution once proper soil-cement ratios are determined and the builder has a little practice. Our 1.5 metre pit cost approximately $20 and, once again, was constructed by a bumbling office person (me) and somewhat less-bumbly colleagues.

It’s now winter time in Calgary, and our pits and slabs are sleeping peacefully under a blanket of snow. Until we can resume our experiments next summer, we plan to share what we’ve learned about the rebar reinforced fabric lining and stabilized soil method with our friends and partners in Zambia, Ethiopia, and anyone else we encounter who is struggling with pit collapse. We’ll share short videos to document what we did and learned, and encourage clients and partners to test out these methods for themselves.

I hope that by working together and through a process of testing, tweaking, trying, failing, and succeeding, we can find simple, affordable solutions to pit collapse that our partners and the people they serve feel happy to use.

So when you’re sitting on the can this World Toilet Day, comfortably reading that June 1998 edition of Chatelaine you just can’t bring yourself to throw away, give thanks for the humble toilet and the important function it serves. Bathroom times aren’t nearly as nice without one.

To learn more, check out CAWST’s Latrine Design and Construction Workshop.

This collection contains the resources for both trainers and participants for the Latrine Design and Construction Workshop. This five-day workshop is designed for latrine project implementers and masons. In this workshop, participants will learn how to design and construct latrines for low-income communities not connected to a sewerage system. The focus is on designing latrines that are technically and environmentally appropriate, and that people will actually want and use.

Seeking support as you design your latrine?

You can now apply for 90 minutes of free consulting support from CAWST staff like Taya. Find out more here.


Evenproducts. Pit liner (n.d.).

Grossnickle et al. (n.d.). Affordable solutions to pit latrine collapse.

iDE (n.d.). We Changed Dirt to Opportunity.

Institute of Development Studies. (2011). The CLTS approach.

Joint Monitoring Programme. (n.d.). World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

UN Water. (2020). World Toilet Day 2020: Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change.

Taya Raine is a Global WASH Advisor with CAWST and brings almost 10 years of experience working in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector in Africa. She has implemented WASH programs in Kenya and Liberia, and she was part of the Ebola response and recovery programs in Liberia from 2014 to 2016. For her many achievements and commitment to global health, Taya was recognized on the Canadian Women in Global Health list.  Taya’s WASH training experience includes household water treatment and safe storage, water supply, health promotion, and sanitation. Though self-proclaimed “bumbling office person,” anyone who has seen Taya use a drill, pour concrete, or whip up a handwashing station knows she is equally competent in technical theory and practice.

New problems, new solutions: distance learning during COVID-19 and beyond

New problems require new solutions. We’ve all become familiar with the challenge of physical distancing this year. Distance learning allows us to reach people wherever they are are in the midst of the pandemic. Lona Robertson, EdD, CAWST’s resident Doctor of Education, shares introductory theory of distance learning and stories of our forays into virtual WASH training—during COVID-19 and beyond.

New problems require new solutions. Or, in some cases, the solutions already exist, but the need for them increases. This has been the case for CAWST this year, shifting our services and training to new formats at a safe distance. We’ve learned a lot about learning this year, and in particular, distance learning.

Distance learning is about reaching people wherever they are and however we can. While it is often equated with online learning, not everyone has equal access to the internet. So, we first have to ask ourselves: “What does the learner need?” And then we have to get creative: audio, phone, and TV are all possible vehicles for distance learning. 

Too often, we make assumptions about learners’ needs, and get caught up in the solution, instead of understanding the problem. For example, COVID-19 has created a need to promote handwashing and the use of hand sanitizers. However, providing training on how to wash hands would be useless if the real reason people were not washing their hands was because they had no access to handwashing facilities. 

Speaking of shifting gears, we did that with our clients a lot this year, using distance learning approaches, from asynchronous to synchronous. 


Experimenting with asynchronous learning

In Nicaragua, we had planned to deliver introductory training on household water treatment and safe storage. The workshop was planned for the Ministry of Health, which has convened an intersectoral department of the government to work together towards Sustainable Development Goal 6 (ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all).

As we looked to new ways to deliver knowledge and training, my colleague Eva Manzano came up with the idea of using the Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS) Learn Space in an asynchronous learning approach. 

What’s asynchronous learning? you might wonder. It’s learning anytime, anywhere, and at any pace. 

“When I found out it wasn’t going to be possible to travel, I envisioned the HWTS learning tools and decided they could be made into a workshop instead,” recalls Eva Manzano, CAWST Global WASH Advisor. We were well on our way, since for an introduction to the topic, we had already designed the HWTS Learn Space.

With the HWTS Learn Space activities as the basis, Eva and the learning team structured a course within Google Classroom, a learning management software. Each week, participants would independently complete lessons in the Learn Space and then complete a quiz. They would also have a webinar once a month to cover key topics and questions. 

The asynchronous, distance learning approach enabled a greater reach – instead of 30 or 40 participants, there were 120. This course is still underway, but the feedback has been positive thus far. It will culminate with an assignment for participants to apply their learning in a practical way, choosing a community to start designing an HWTS program, identifying the options to improve water quality and the challenges they may face. This will help us support participants in their next steps to bring the learning from the Ministry of Health to water committees, other departments of government, and NGOs. 


Adapting a planned workshop to synchronous learning online

What is synchronous learning? It is meeting with learners in real time. By nature, face-to-face lessons are always synchronous, and now new technologies allow synchronous learning to also happen through a variety of platforms, such as webinars, Zoom sessions, live chat, and more. 

Our first foray into synchronous online learning was with WASH Program Design. This course had been planned for face-to-face delivery with our client A Vision for Clean Water in Michigan, but when COVID-19 hit, we had to adapt quickly. To shift the format and still deliver on the course, we quickly re-developed the materials for synchronous online delivery. In its new format, 20 learners participated twice per week for six weeks, engaging with the instructors and other geographically dispersed classmates through webinars, real-time Zoom meetings and a digital whiteboard.

A few of our key takeaways from this course included:

  • People can become overwhelmed with learning technologies, which may interfere with learning the content. As trainers, we need to make it easy for learners to find materials, navigate the programs we’re using, and minimize the impact of technology on the cognitive load. Training learners on how to use the digital tools beforehand is imperative.
  • We also observed the importance of social interactions in learning. Research has found that learning requires interactions between the learner and the teacher, the learner and other learners, and the learner and the content. Due to physical distance inherent in distance learning, these interactions take on greater importance. As a result, we realized that we need to be more thoughtful about how we create and maintain strong social bonds when delivering training at a distance. 


Blended learning: WASH’Em Training & Citywide Sanitation Planning

Zoom Image of Distance Learning for Wash'Em Training

Taking those learnings forward, we worked with Tearfund to deliver Wash’Em training at a distance. Tearfund program managers are dispersed around Africa and South Asia responding to humanitarian crises and COVID-19. The training focused on how to use the Wash’Em tools in the field to complete rapid assessments that enable the development of context-adapted hygiene programs.

Using a digital whiteboard for the course materials and assignments, and Zoom to deliver the real-time sessions, the course blended synchronous and asynchronous delivery. While there were challenges for participants experiencing unstable internet connections, learners appreciated the opportunity to learn the Wash’Em tools with classmates from around the globe. Most experienced a big “aha” moment at the end, when they saw the power of the software to generate program recommendations and left committed to using them in the field.

We also piloted Citywide Sanitation Planning in a blended learning format this year. Bringing together partners from the African Water Association (which is based in Côte d’Ivoire) and ITN-BUET (which is based in Bangladesh), training participants experienced firsthand how online training can be an interactive experience. Admittedly, four sessions delivered in a week didn’t leave much time for the asynchronous homework. There was also a sense that the technical skill and bandwidth demands of the digital whiteboard would not be suitable for many learners in more remote settings. Lessons like these highlighted some of the improvements that we could make for the next target audience.  

Supporting our partners

These are just some of the CAWST-hosted trainings that we brought online, but we also had the opportunity to support our partners to do the same with their workshops. In Honduras, Pure Water for the World has transitioned their WASH in Schools training online, delivering it to eight cohorts of 50 teachers. In India, CAWST supported the Sehgal Foundation in transitioning to use phone, webinars, and radio to reach their clients with biosand filter learning.

Do we miss being in a room together and delivering face-to-face environments? Of course. But seeing people stay engaged in virtual environments can be equally inspiring. Challenging though the distance learning experience may be, it is fulfilling to see learners from around the world so connected, motivated to collaborate, cooperate, and achieve despite the geographical distance between us. Facing challenges together has drawn us closer than ever—to our self-learning, and to each other. 

WASH Up Close Designing WASH Training for Distance Delivery


Let’s learn more, together

We’re learning about learning and you’re invited to come along with us. Join us for a webinar on November 26, at 7:30 am MT: Designing WASH Training for Distance Delivery. Register now for free!



Garrison, D. (2009). Communities of Inquiry in Online Learning. Encyclopedia of Distance Learning. 352-355. 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch052.

The time and space of water and health

Shortly after she transitioned from UNC Postdoctoral Research Associate and lead communicator of the HWTS Network to Associate Professor at the University of Twente, we caught up with Carmen Anthonj to learn more about her life, research, and advice for the future of the HWTS Network and water, sanitation, and hygiene in general. 

The time and space of water and health: an interview with Carmen Anthonj, PhD

Carmen Anthonj is a natural connector. Her profession as a medical geographer says it all. Connecting topics, people, disciplines, and methods, Carmen lives the first law of geography, “everything is related to everything else.” Carmen sees and studies those relations with a keen eye and endless enthusiasm. We caught up with Carmen over a coffee (wine in her time zone) and conversation shortly after she transitioned from UNC Postdoctoral Research Associate and lead communicator of the HWTS Network to Assistant Professor at ITC at the University of Twente.

We couldn’t pass up this opportunity to connect to learn more about her life, research, and advice for the future of the Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS) Network and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in general.

So, you’re a Medical Geographer. Tell us about what that entails and how did you get into this line of work?

When I was a child, I decided I would work in international development. I wanted to work with Indigenous and rural communities.  Later in life, when I first traveled to Brazil in 2006 to assist a medical doctor, who provided medical services in favelas, I had a recognition: clean water is at the core of development and of human health. There, I learned that to work effectively in the context of water, health, and development, one discipline alone would not suffice. From then on, I wanted to work on water and health issues. I debated whether to study medicine to become a doctor, engineering to learn how to build wells, social science or anthropology to learn how to see the communities’ perspectives. I even thought urban planning and infrastructure would be vital, as well as politics, economics, demography, and so many more disciplines. Ultimately, I came to realize that an interdisciplinary approach is what I was looking for, and geography—and specifically medical geography—was exactly what I needed.

Carmen walks across a log
Constantly bridging gaps, Carmen explores the health-promoting potential of water in North Carolina

The beauty of medical geography is that it is a very interdisciplinary field that uses holistic approaches. It draws on concepts, theories, and techniques of geography and geospatial analysis, but also spans environmental, biological, and social sciences, and uses both quantitative and qualitative methods. In medical geography, we apply geographical concepts and techniques to analyze spatial patterns of disease and health care provision. We look at the interactions of humans with the environment through time and space. That’s where spatio-temporal dynamics come in. Investigating spatio-temporal dynamics of disease involves epidemiology and disease ecology, and the geography of health services considering access to health care, health care delivery, and the planning of health services. However, we do not only look at disease, but also at how the environment can promote health. By health, I mean the World Health Organization definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Through medical geography, I’ve had the opportunity to work and conduct water, environment, emergency, and health risk research with various research institutes, international organizations, and governments around the globe.

Back to my childhood ambition, my focus is on the links between global health and water security in areas of water abundance and water scarcity in rural, urban, and indigenous communities in low- and middle-income countries. I look at health promotion (i) through water (e.g. safe drinking water and sanitation) and (ii) from water (e.g. flooding, extreme weather events). My major interest is water- and health-related local knowledge and risk perceptions and how they determine risk behaviours, and the cultural context of water, health, and disease.

What is one of your favourite or most influential books that you’ve read?

Picking only one book is tricky. The book that fascinated me most is ‘On airs, waters and places’ by Hippocrates of Kos (~460-377 BC), a Greek physician of the Age of Pericles and one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. I find it remarkable how almost 2,500 years ago Hippocrates related health and disease not only to the environment, but also to human behaviour. Hippocrates stated that whoever wishes to investigate human health properly should not only consider the geographical peculiarities of each locality, seasons of the year, characteristics of water, such as quality and quantity, but also human behaviour, different lifestyles, and habits. My favourite quote is in Part 7 of the book, and I love to use it to start my lectures and presentations. He says “I wish to give an account of the other kinds of waters, namely, of such as are wholesome and such as are unwholesome, and what bad and what good effects may be derived from water; for water contributes much towards health.” This is just as relevant now as it was then.

You are currently in transition from the University of North Carolina to ITC at the University of Twente. What are you looking forward to? What do you think you’ll miss?

I am very excited to join ITC, the University of Twente’s Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation. Our mission is to develop capacity, particularly in less developed countries, and to utilize geospatial solutions to deal with national and global problems. What I like most is that students are educated to be capable of acquiring knowledge and translating this into practical solutions to real-world problems, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

From a professional point of view, I am looking forward to transitioning from a Postdoctoral Research Associate position at the Water Institute at University of North Carolina (UNC) into my new position as Assistant Professor GeoHealth with new, challenging responsibilities. These include building the GeoHealth team, teaching and mentoring students, developing educational materials, and shaping the direction we are taking in water and health issues. From a disciplinary point of view, I am looking forward to integrating water and health issues at a larger scale and linking global challenges with local solutions and perspectives. From a cultural and personal point of view, I am looking forward to moving back to Europe after many years of living abroad, and to join an international team of wonderful individuals. And I certainly am excited for new collaborations in the Netherlands, Europe, and the world.

I will miss the amazing team at the Water Institute at UNC most. Thankfully, I am staying connected with my former colleagues, jointly working on some publications and a side event for this year’s UNC Water & Health Conference.

How did you become involved as the communications lead of the HWTS Network? Tell us about the intersection between Medical Geography and HWTS.

Carmen presents water and health research at the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health at the University of Bonn
Carmen presents the value of local communities as key informants in wetland management that promotes health, Institute for Hygiene and Public Health at the University of Bonn

From 2013 to 2017, as Research Associate at the GeoHealth Centre at the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health at the University of Bonn, a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Health Promoting Water Management and Risk Communication, I co-edited the bi-annual WHO Water & Risk Newsletter. So, issues related to water quality and household water treatment and storage became very familiar to me.

When joining the Water Institute at UNC, I became the lead researcher for two large UNICEF-funded research projects. One of them was on WASH Sector Monitoring in Pacific Islands project in households, schools, and healthcare facilities in Fiji, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands. This project was amazingly complex, given that small island developing states are at the frontline of climate change, and frequently hit by extreme weather events, such as tropical cyclones and flooding. Extreme weather events massively impact health service provision – this an ideal topic for a medical geographer. Drinking water access and behaviours were one of the components of the project, and highly interesting, as the people in the Pacific used various drinking water sources throughout the year, according to the season. Related to this, we also produced a WASH Policy Research Digest under Clarissa Brocklehurst’s lead on multiple water source use as a common household practice that contributes to resilience. I believe those different experiences caused Prof. Dr. Jamie Bartram to offer me the opportunity to lead the communications on HWTS and I was grateful. I took the communications lead over from Dr. Edema Ojomo, who did a wonderful job in introducing me to the world of HWTS, the Network, the Secretariat, and our partners. I am excited that now CAWST is taking the Network to the next level.

What is your hope for the future of the HWTS Network? Do you have any words of wisdom for those of us engaging in the Network? 

What I love about the HWTS Network is the variety in network members, coming from UN agencies, development agencies, non-governmental organizations, research institutions, international professional associations, and the private sector. I have seen the Network grow closer over the course of the past 2.5 years, and my hope is to see this continue.

I hope to see the facilitation of even more exchange of thoughts, ideas, solutions, and technologies. This Network is a unique opportunity to bridge the gaps between research, policy, and practice; my hope would be to see even more engagement across disciplines, sectors, and levels.

You have a long list of publications and projects. What is one of your favourites and why?

Carmen researches perceptions of water-related health risk with local populations in Kenya
Capturing local knowledge on water-related health risks in Laikipia, Kenya

There are several publications and projects I find exciting. One study I really enjoyed was on water-related infectious disease exposure among wetland users (farmers, nomadic pastoralists, service sector) in Kenya. It included a literature review to ground a theory on disease exposure related to different wetland uses, a health risk assessment with innovative approaches, such as observational assessments and syndromic surveillance, and risk perception and behaviour studies. The study revealed that the literature on wetland use-related disease exposure does not reflect real risks that the rural marginalized population faces. These real risks differ between different occupational groups, and are perceived differently according to cultural aspects and prevailing health beliefs. The study demonstrated that local risk perceptions reflect real risks, and that risk perceptions determine health-related (protective and risk) behaviour. This study underpinned the vital role of wetland users as key informants. It demonstrated that risk perception studies and resulting recommendations from the grassroots level serve as supportive tools for wetland management that also promotes health. This requires a sensitive, integrative approach that takes into consideration any and all of the humans, ecology, and animals affected. The resulting recommendations are relevant on the national and international level, for global policy making and for achieving progress towards SDG 6 to “ensure access to water and sanitation for all”, and others.

Five papers were published from this project, and my favourite is:

Anthonj, C., Diekkrüger, B., Borgemeister, C., Kistemann, T., 2019. Health risk perceptions and local knowledge of water-related infectious disease exposure among Kenyan wetland communities. International Journal for Hygiene and Environmental Health 222 (1), 34-48.

Why are local knowledge and risk perceptions so important? How can WASH practitioners leverage that in their work?

The above-mentioned study shows that communities’ risk perceptions realistically reflect prevalent health risks related to inadequate WASH conditions, the seasonality of diseases, the difference in disease exposure among different occupational groups, and the peculiarities of health risks in a semi-arid environment. The facts that (i) the perceptions correspond to the actual risks, and that (ii) the emic perspectives of the community members in the wetland allow for a more detailed picture of the situation, make the local communities’ perceptions invaluable. Risk perception studies, particularly in data-scarce settings, are precious for capturing the situation and challenges that communities are facing. Moreover, the subjective perceptions and judgements of affected individuals towards health hazards are vital in managing health and controlling diseases in complex environments.

Carmen in semi-arid part of a wetland in Kenya, investigating local knowledge on water-related health risks
Experiencing the semi-arid part of the investigated wetland in Laikipia, Kenya

Most importantly, local knowledge and risk perceptions have the potential to motivate and shape health-related behaviour, thereby reducing or accelerating the risk and exposure to diseases, e.g. through the application of (or failure to apply) protective health measures such as household water treatment and safe storage, or, in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, hygiene measures. Risk perceptions can provide an entry point to inform targeted health messaging and health-related interventions. If community members are acknowledged as valuable informants, they can inform health officials and managers.

Our study, for example, resulted in detailed and concrete community-based, low-cost, and locally feasible recommendations to improve WASH and health-promoting wetland management that health officials and WASH practitioners could make use of.

In your work, how have you seen cultural contexts influence health, disease, and WASH?

Let me refer to two studies here, starting with the one I have introduced already. In the Kenyan wetland where I captured health-related local knowledge and risk perceptions, the nomadic pastoralists had more distinct health beliefs as compared to the majority population. This animated the group to use surface water sources for bathing, for example, as this was perceived as health-promoting and healing. However, contact with standing water sources in that region could pose the risk of infection with water-based diseases such as schistosomiasis. Moreover, due to their semi-nomadic lifestyle deeply rooted in their tradition, pastoralists’ sanitation infrastructure was either unimproved and less reliable or inexistent, leading to a higher level of open defecation among this group. Such risk behaviour also comes with a higher likelihood of water-related infectious diseases such as waterborne, e.g. diarrheal, diseases. There are numerous other examples that show the influence of the cultural context on health, disease, and WASH – not only from Kenya, but also from Europe.

Another study on WASH among Roma communities, Europe’s largest ethnic minority, shows that Roma populations commonly have a very distinct understanding of the meaning of health and health risks. This is partly because of limited access to formal or informal health education, partly because of prevailing health beliefs. Considering that their WASH access in the marginalized, low quality housing at the outskirts of cities and informal settlements is often inadequate and worse than that of the majority population, this increases risk of contracting diseases, and can create an extra health burden. Distinct health beliefs and attitudes related to health and diseases may impact health-seeking behaviour and management of ill-health. In Roma culture, a spiritual base exists for certain kinds of illness and they believe in traditional curative remedies such as the power of spittle to treat wounds. Besides, in some communities, patients fear to disclose their health status because a severe illness triggers shame, social rejection, and stigmatization. Perception, acceptance, or rejection of certain diseases may determine the willingness to seek medical help or support from the communities, affecting rehabilitation. For the Roma, there is an extra layer of complexity when it comes to WASH- or health-related behaviours. Due to their centuries-long experience of discrimination and stigmatization, they oftentimes hold negative attitudes and distrust in non-traditional health practices, which may for example cause reluctance to receive immunization or other health services.

Both examples show that the cultural and traditional understanding of the ‘real’ causes of illness goes far beyond (and can contradict) the biomedical concepts of health promotion and disease risks.

Convictions, health beliefs, social stigma, and (mis) conceptions about the health scare sector are decisive factors as well. These can also go beyond, or in some cases even against, the biomedical understanding of diseases. Some illnesses are simply perceived as ‘not for hospital’, are treated by traditional healers or herbalists, by self-treatment, or not treated at all.

This is relevant both to the WASH and the health sector, as practitioners and decision-makers must consider that the success of interventions will critically depend on the involvement, support, commitment, and participation of the community.

How do you see the WASH sector changing in the next 10 years?

Global environmental change, increasingly frequent and unpredictable extreme weather events, water scarcity, food insecurity, conflict, migration, urbanization, and other processes have been impacting water security at global, regional, national, and local levels over the past decades. The contexts within which safe WASH for all shall be achieved by 2030 (UN SDG 6) are increasingly complex, and this will further challenge the WASH sector—not only in low- and middle-income countries, but among minority populations and low socio-economic and other groups in high-income countries as well.

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a brutal reminder of how vital WASH in households, schools, and health care facilities is for survival, and that the progress that has been made in achieving SDG 6 so far is vulnerable. The pandemic has also shown how vital science is for decision-making. COVID-19 is not the first, and won’t be the last pandemic. This is what the WASH sector needs to prepare for, on top of the complexities and unprecedented changes that accompany global environmental change.

Carmen relaxes on a hike, taking a break from her water and health researchCarmen tells us when she’s not conducting researching or teaching class, she’s being a social butterfly, often doing extreme outdoors activity

The First Law of Geography, according to Waldo Tobler, is “everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” The WASH sector must address and manage this complexity by the means of even closer collaboration between science, practice, and policy, collaboration across and beyond sectors, and the involvement of the private sector. Interdisciplinary, holistic approaches and system thinking—and in my opinion, medical geography and GeoHealth—are more important than ever. It is time to facilitate the transfer of local solutions to other areas of the globe, and bring global knowledge back to the local level.

Moreover, there is a tremendous opportunity for the sector in using existing data and applying new technologies to address and solve WASH challenges. But the sector is still behind in adopting such. Remote sensing, Earth observation, geospatial analysis, big data, artificial intelligence: these and other technologies bear huge potential to inform WASH-related understanding and decision-making. It is time for the WASH sector to divert its focus from mainly using primary data towards also making use of existing information and secondary data, in order to reach its full potential.

ITC at the University of Twente has been using these technologies in disaster management, water and natural resources management, governance, urban planning, food security, and GeoHealth, and I am excited to be part of a team with the skillset to apply the same technologies to solve WASH-related problems globally. If you would like to learn more, please reach out to us at ITC.

Warmest gratitude to Carmen for her leadership and contributions to the HWTS Network, and all the best in her new role! We’re excited to follow this inspiring rising star as she continues to cleave insights in the space of water and health. Do you share our mutual passion for water and health? Please join us as a member of the HWTS Network! Membership is free.