Amelia Lyons's picture
Posted by Amelia Lyons
July 26, 2013
Clean Water, Clean Hands

Imagine you are a kid living in Kathmandu, Nepal, which has a population density that makes Manhattan seem positively spacious. If you are lucky enough to have water piped into your school, you are firmly cautioned by grown-ups not to drink it (and you wouldn’t anyway, because it is orange). There are no water taps near the toilet, and no soap. You miss school regularly—on average two weeks a year—from illness that could easily be prevented by hand washing. If you are an adolescent girl, you will miss even more school, because you have to stay home during your period. In fact, you are probably going to drop out of school as a teenager, because you will fall so far behind.


Enter Splash’s hygiene education team: a group of fun-loving, energetic, creative women who come to your school several times a year. Before their first visit, some other Splash people put in an amazing water filter that made your school’s water clear and safe to drink. They also installed sinks near the bathrooms.


While the Splash installation people seemed normal enough, you are pretty sure these hygiene teacher ladies are crazy. Instead of making you sit and listen, they play silly games and sing songs. They bring ‘memory’ cards with pictures of kids doing stuff that kids in pictures are not supposed to do—like blowing their noses, brushing their teeth, and clipping their fingernails. They even have you team up with your classmates to write a song about diarrhea! The best part is that you are picked to be in a special club, where you collect enough soap for your school for a whole year. It’s your job to check every day that the soap dish is full and that kids are washing their hands. You also get to teach your schoolmates everything you learn from the crazy ladies. You are thinking maybe one day you will grow up and become a crazy lady yourself.



I am proud to say that it has been my privilege to hire and head up this team of crazy and amazing women at Splash for the past two years. As Splash’s Health & Hygiene Manager, I was given the freedom to design the most effective, colorful, and fun hygiene program I could imagine. We began in 2010, partnering with a local organization, NEWAH, with expertise in conducting hygiene trainings in rural Nepal. While we learned a tremendous amount from NEWAH about best practices, we came through the partnership knowing Splash would have to break some serious new ground. We needed to develop hygiene materials appropriate to the urban context where we work—especially if we set the goal of customizing our hygiene program for other countries. As far as I know, Splash is the first international water organization to tackle urban hygiene for kids at this scale.



It took hours of training-the-trainers, defining the purpose of a topic and its key messages, inventing and playing games for each topic, and designing teacher-specific trainings. Our first Hygiene Promoters, Annapurna (Anu) and Shruti, came with intimate knowledge of local culture and taboos, extensive teaching experience with young kids, and a thorough understanding of the challenges young people face in Kathmandu. We knew we’d have to give teachers at the schools the same messaging, so they could model healthy behavior to their students. With the help of Splash’s graphic designer and some great ideas from Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), we developed high-quality, colorful, and fun images for the hygiene program, aimed at the urban kid. And we designed a crucial menstrual hygiene curriculum—an area that is gaining ground internationally as fundamental to increasing opportunities for girls.




One of the first trainings conducted with the new curriculum was at Mahendra Adarsha Vidyashram. The kids were amazing—they voluntarily came in on a Saturday, their one day off from school all week! A little reserved at first, it didn’t take long to get them out of their seats and jumping around. I remember one hysterical moment during a role-playing game. The topic was “Teaching Parents Hygiene,” and Anu-didi (didi means “older sister”) pretended to be the “mom.” It was one boy’s job to convince her to wash her hands after using the toilet. Anu-didi was bent over double, clutching her abdomen and moaning, “Oh, my stomach is hurting! But I have to finish making dinner!” Suddenly this seemingly shy boy became very commanding—not a natural stance for a Nepali child to take with an adult! I’m not exactly sure what he said to her in his rapid-fire Nepali, but his arguments brought laughter to the class, and she finally agreed to wash her hands.



Encouraged by our successes in Nepal, this year we expanded the hygiene program to Cambodia. We hired a Hygiene Coordinator, Sea, to oversee implementation at five sites in Siem Reap, including Sangkheum Center for Children and Wat Chork Kindergarten and Primary School. During the nine-month pilot phase (conducted by local experts CSCS), we’re learning everything we can, involving more local government in trainings, strengthening our teacher and parent involvement, and bringing in health workers to answer questions from the kids.





And we’re seeing results. Random visits at sites in both Nepal and Cambodia find kids brushing their teeth at school, soap available (and being used!), and kids running—literally running—to wash their hands after using the bathroom. And these are really, really good things. Study after study has shown that healthy hygiene behaviors result in healthier kids: reducing diarrheal disease by up to 40%, cutting down on days of school missed, and increasing a child’s chances of continuing their education.





So where is Splash going from here? We’re merging our “best-ofs” from Nepal, Cambodia, and other experiences we’ve had, and refining the hygiene curriculum. Our next program expansion will happen in Ethiopia. We’re designing a more comprehensive program, increasing the number of sites with active hygiene programs. We’ve grown our Hygiene Promotion team in Nepal from two to six, and we’ll soon hire more hygiene promoters in both Cambodia and Ethiopia. We’re also bringing on a new Hygiene Manager to take my place—yes, I am sad to announce that I am leaving Splash this month (my husband is starting a career with USAID in Washington, DC!). But I’m thrilled to pass the torch to Splash’s new Hygiene Manager, a rock-star teacher with a ton of international experience working with kids and adults.


It’s an exciting time for Splash’s education programs, and I go knowing that I helped plant the seeds of something truly life-changing for kids. Thank you to the entire Splash team, and everyone who has stood beside me on this incredible journey!

Chad Engbers's picture
Posted by Chad Engbers
June 12, 2013
A Bitter Gift

When I held my son, Liam, for the first time, he was two hours old, and the rest of the world disappeared. He and I were not alone: my wife, Susanna, was at our side; Liam’s birth mom was looking on (and would soon take our very first family portrait from her hospital bed); his birth dad was in the corner; and a social worker watched over her clipboard. I’m sure there were nurses. But for a moment all I knew were the alert little blue eyes, the smell of a newborn, the gentle rhythm of his miraculous breathing.


John Donne captured the sensation perfectly in one of his love poems, where he describes his beloved as an entire world, and himself as the only person in that world:


“Nothing else is.”



So simple. So sweeping. I had no thought for John Donne in the hospital that day, but I understood exactly what he meant by that line, and I still do.


What disappeared in that moment was not just the crowded hospital room, but also a long and excruciating adoption story that stretched across several continents and nearly four years.


We had finished all of the paperwork for a Chinese adoption when the process in that country slowed to a crawl, so we decided instead to transfer our paperwork to a new program that our agency had just begun in Nepal. In hindsight, that was a very bad decision.


The orphanage director working with our agency quickly matched us with an infant girl, and pictures of her found their way onto the fridge, on our office desks, and into our hearts. We couldn’t wait for the Nepalese government to give us permission to fly to Kathmandu to meet her and bring her home.


Instead, the government shut down all adoptions in order to investigate the problem of child trafficking (which continues to be a problem) and to completely overhaul its adoption laws. While we waited for that to happen, we learned as much as we could about Nepal, and especially its orphanages, which had already been struggling and were now—with adoptions suspended—having to support their children without the income of fees from successful adoptions. We could see that the children in our orphanage were mostly healthy and happy, cared for by kind, hardworking people. But some reports about living conditions, like this one about orange drinking water, vexed us. The infant slowly grew into a toddler. We waited for over two years. Watched and waited.


Then two bad things happened. The new adoption laws clearly made our match illegal, and we were forced to give it up. In one of the last pictures of “our” little girl, she is sitting in the lap of a caregiver, who is pointing to a large picture of us and teaching her to say “mommy” and “daddy.” But we had to take that picture down and wait to be re-matched. We don’t know what happened to that girl.


The situation of Nepalese orphans now became even more acute for us, because nearly any orphan in Nepal could now turn out to be our son or daughter. (And as painful as the waiting was, that is not an entirely bad way to see the world.)


The second bad thing to happen, however, was the overthrow of the Nepalese government, one of the last remaining monarchies on earth, and its slow rebuilding. Again we waited, eventually opening a domestic adoption concurrently with the one in Nepal, and ultimately deciding to back out of Nepal entirely.


Then the good thing happened. Only five hours after I contacted our agency to close our Nepal file, the agency contacted Susanna to tell us that Liam’s birth mom had chosen us to be his parents. After four years of waiting, everything seemed to happen in five hours. And the whole hard story disappeared entirely in my first moments with Liam. Nothing else was.


Liam is now three years old, which makes me three years old as a father. And despite the delirium of joy with which he first landed in my arms, the more I grow into my responsibilities as Liam’s dad, the more I think about orphans in places like Nepal. It would be intolerable to me if my son could not have healthy food and clean water—at a bare minimum. What about those thousands of other children—who could just as easily have been our sons or daughters—who can barely get a glass of good water?


Donne was wrong. Something else is.


I have come to see our years of waiting as a bitter gift, and even a bitter gift can be put to good use. One of Anton Chekhov’s characters says that at the door of every happy man, there should be an unhappy man with a hammer, constantly tapping, to remind the happy man that there are unhappy people in the world. We do not have a man with a hammer. We have the memory of a little girl learning to say “mommy” and “daddy”; we have the faces of children who might have been our own. We cannot give them a home, or a college education, or many of the advantages we can give Liam.


But giving them clean water seems like a clear place to start.



First family portrait, taken by Liam’s birth mom.



“I’m your dad!”



Chad Engbers and Liam.



Chad Engbers teaches Renaissance and Russian literature at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His hobbies include running, playing guitar and mandolin, and losing at chess. He and his wife, Susanna, adopted their son Liam in 2010.

Aaron Walling's picture
Posted by Aaron Walling
May 30, 2013
Splash in India!


We are thrilled to announce that, as of June 1, 2013, Splash is providing +8,000 children in India with clean, safe water—daily and for the long term.


Of course, we are only scratching the surface in a country that is expected to overtake China as the most populated in the world by 2020, and that will add 530 million people to its cities by 2050 (that’s half the population of Africa!). Water degradation is already severe, and waterborne illness is a huge threat to and obstacle for kids. Clean water and effective hygiene for children in India will mean greatly reduced illness, increased school attendance, greater economic opportunity, and much brighter futures.


We chose to base our India operations in Kolkata, where the combination of (1) water degradation, (2) density of population, and (3) severity of poverty are extreme. Not only are the needs great, but the opportunity to prove success—that can, in turn, be replicated elsewhere—is truly immense. Even if we were to focus just on public schools in Kolkata, that would be more than 2,000 projects—twice that many if you include the greater metropolitan area! Whatever our final focus, Splash is prepared to bring a viable, durable solution to scale.


The Hope Foundation is dedicated to promoting the protection of street and slum children, affecting immediate and lasting change in their lives. Splash provides clean water to four of their sites in Kolkata: three orphanages and a training center.


Through a partnership with GOAL—an international humanitarian agency dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the poorest of the poor—Splash is now working with six of the largest government schools in Kolkata. GOAL had already done the hard work of vetting the schools, organizing and training management committees, building water stations, and conducting hygiene training—they just asked for our help with the water filtration part.



The 4 Hope Foundation Sites

Tollygunge Boys Home

A home for about 70 abandoned and runaway boys. This was definitely one of the most enjoyable places we’ve ever done a project installation! The boys couldn't get enough of the tools and equipment.


Kasba Girls Home

A home for 80 young girls. There is always singing and dancing—and every wall displays the girls’ beautiful drawings and art.


Panditya Girls Home

Houses 58 girls, mostly teenagers. They are always joking around, and don't even get them started talking about their favorite Bollywood stars! An additional 73 kids come here for an afterschool program.


Life Skills Center and Hope Café

This four-story building bustles with activity all day long. The ground floor is the Hope Café, where you can get a good meal and freshly baked dessert (and now clean, safe water, too!)—served up by young adults valiantly striving to learn a skill to begin a better life. The upper floors house a large sewing and craft-making training program, as well as a computer lab. The Center trains some 50 young adults a day.


The 6 Government Schools

All six schools (of which the Murlidhar Girls School is one) happen to be all-girls schools, typically serving grades 1 through 10. (Watch as we add more schools on Proving It in the coming days.) All are located in low-income areas of the city, with very high population density. As in most places we work, it is low-income families that send their kids to government schools. And the water is alarmingly bad: In one point-in-time testing sample at 50 schools, we found 70% of the schools’ water supplies to be contaminated with bacteria and 51% with E. coli. Some of the schools had small filters designed for household use—woefully inadequate for a school of 500 to 1500 kids.





Key to our strategy in India is building a team of excellent people with international savvy and local expertise. We were overwhelmed by the caliber of applicants for our first hires.


Dr. M Snehalatha

Regional Advisor – South Asia


Sneha is a rock star in the WASH sector in South Asia. Well known and highly regarded by NGOs and government leaders alike, recent positions include Country Coordinator at WASHCost India and consultant to UNICEF, The World Bank, the Department for International Development in New Delhi, and many, many others. Her expertise in Life Cycle Costing analysis will help establish and fortify our operations in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. We are lucky to have her!


Dora Chaudhuri

Area Director – West Bengal


Dora is the dedicated and dynamic young leader we have selected to build our Kolkata program.  She began her career helping street kids at the Child in Need Institute, and then had a remarkable 13-year career at GOAL, where she worked her way up to Assistant Country Director while the organization was busy installing over 600 ‘WASH in Schools’ projects.  She can wear all hats—from accounting to getting her hands dirty in the field. We see Dora as the perfect person to help us get launched in the complex, challenging environment of Kolkata. 

Dr. Jane Aronson's picture
Posted by Dr. Jane Aronson
May 10, 2013
Partners in Healing

Photo of Dr. Aronson by Mani Zarrin


Splash is honored to have Dr. Jane Aronson, “The Orphan Doctor” and Founder and CEO of Worldwide Orphans, as our guest blogger this Mother’s Day. Dr. Aronson is a pediatrician, adoption medicine specialist, and winner of countless awards and accolades, including the Angel in Adoption Award, Glamour Woman of the Year, and 2013 Time 100 Nominee. A portion of this blog post is excerpted from her recently published book: 
Carried in Our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption; Inspiring Stories of Families Created Across Continents.


In 2008, I met a young man named Eric Stowe. He is a very tall young man with a boyish face with dimples when he smiles and a very warm and friendly manner. I was taken by him in seconds and was curious about what he was doing in the world. I knew that he was doing great things in this hard world because he was so very sincere and because he made me laugh quite easily.


We knew one another from the world of adoption….he worked at an agency and I was an adoption pediatrician. We were destined to meet because we had both found a new home in this community…even though he was in Seattle and I was in New York City, we had both dedicated our life’s work to supporting orphans and at-risk children.


Few people know more about the challenges faced by children living in institutions than the adoptive parents Eric and I worked closely with during that time. Many have seen orphanage conditions firsthand, and they often have to cope with the lingering affects those conditions can have on their child’s health as well as physiological, emotional, and social development.


My own son, Ben, was adopted from Vietnam in 2000. Here is just part of his amazing story of perseverance:



He couldn’t keep his head up straight, he still held his hands in fists, and he wasn’t able to turn over. He qualified for services with an occupational therapist and a physical therapist because his delays were 33 1/3 percent in each domain of development, that is, gross motor and fine motor.


I didn’t know what to expect, even with all of my experience with adopted kids. Still, we settled into our family life. This was my kid and there was no map or predetermined plan. We just hoped that with all this work, he would be okay, whatever that meant.


Ben had six hours of physical and occupational therapy a week, but then, at ten months, he let out his first belly laugh and we came running to witness it. His neck had straightened over the months with a lot of manipulation, massage, and hard work on his part. He was happy in his Boppy pillow, able to see the world around him. He finally walked at fifteen months with a great sense of pride in himself.



By the time I met Eric, I had been working for over ten years at Worldwide Orphans Foundation to provide children like Ben with critical access to medical care, education, and psychological and developmental support. I did not think providing them with clean water was mission drift. I felt that partnering with Splash was clearly part of the mission of WWO. Children have a right to have health, and clean water is essential for good health.



So I worked very hard to help support Splash to provide clean drinking water in Ethiopia to all the children we served, some of whom were infected with HIV; without clean water, this group of orphans would always be threatened by “opportunistic infections” and need life-saving medical care for those infections, which would threaten their lives needlessly.


All of the orphans and at-risk children served by WWO in Ethiopia have clean water because of Splash—and, incredibly, we are no longer losing kids to infections. I also found out this week that there are 31 clean water sites in Ethiopia care of Splash….and I might add that I felt a certain sense of pride because my networking made it possible for Splash to scale and deliver its mission.



Splash also provides many nationals in Ethiopia with professional development and education on how to maintain the water systems. Million, my assistant camp director and sport and recreation program coordinator, is one of the many beneficiaries of Splash’s training. Now Million can train others and that is capacity in its purest form.


That is how partners work well together. They align and stand side by side helping one another grow and scale projects to reach more human beings.


I am simply grateful for Splash. On Mother’s Day, please support something that does good in the world…just something….maybe WWO…maybe Splash. Just something!




Des’ Village (Children’s Home)

WWO Academy

WWO Academy 2

WWO Clinic



Norea Hoeft's picture
Posted by Norea Hoeft
April 24, 2013
Don't Drink the O. J.

It sounds like something out of Willy Wonka: when you turn on the water at a public school in Kathmandu, Nepal, orange juice comes out.


But it's not the tasty kind with all the vitamin C. "Orange juice" is the (darkly humorous) Nepali term for the city water in Kathmandu, notorious for its high iron content, which turns the water a rusty orange color.



That's not the only problem with the water in this densely populated urban area (by conservative estimates, close to six times the density of New York City). Like many rapidly growing cities in developing countries, Kathmandu lacks the infrastructure to provide clean, safe drinking water to its residents. Some 10 million children in Nepal suffer from diarrheal disease every year.


When asked to describe the water challenges in Kathmandu Valley, Splash Nepal's Country Director, Prakash Sharma, doesn’t have to think about it. Two things, he says immediately: water access and water safety.


“The bitter truth is that the municipality supplies water for only half an hour every week, and even less in the dry season. People in urban areas must have their own, in-house source of water, whether it’s from a bore well, a hand-dug well, or tanker purchase [all of which cost money]. So access to water itself is a big challenge for poor city children and their families.”



Even if they have water in their homes, says Prakash, water safety is still a challenge, and an even harder one to solve than water access. “The infrastructure in Nepal’s cities is very poor. Water is contaminated because of bad sewage management and pipe leakage. Half an hour of municipal water a week is not enough for a school, so many have wells or make tanker purchases. And in 90% or more of these cases the raw water is ‘orange juice.’"


Prakash says that readily available treatment options, like sand filters, are inadequate. In water quality testing conducted by Prakash’s team in Kathmandu’s public schools, they consistently find high levels of total coliform well above what is considered safe to drink—even in water that is treated and looks clear to the naked eye. “This [clear but unsafe water] is an even greater threat to kids than the orange juice,” says Prakash. He explains that kids drink more of it, assuming that because it is clear it is safe. "Children," says Prakash, "especially those from poor and marginalized families who go to government schools, are at high risk of consuming unsafe water."


The disturbing irony is that schools like these in poor, urban areas, are generally thought to have “access” to water—even though it is unsafe for drinking. Some 99% of charitable water programs focus on providing first-time water access to rural communities. Those efforts are good and well, but they leave gaps (like "orange juice", E. Coli, and more). The good news is that Splash is filling this gap. Focused solely on vulnerable children in urban areas, Splash is committed to installing and maintaining water purification systems—high-volume systems that clean water to the highest possible standard, removing 99.999% of all biological contaminants—in every public school in Kathmandu. Splash's team in Nepal, led by Prakash, is already 15% of the way there.


Peter Drury's picture
Posted by Peter Drury
December 30, 2012
Straight Talk on Averages

We get asked all the time about averages... 

Average cost to ensure clean water?

Average cost per child?

On average, how bad is the water these kids would otherwise drink?


But at Splash, we don't believe in averages. We think discussions of "average" can often be misleading. If you ask the Splash staff, they'll tell you we serve no "average" kids. We have neither "average" staff members nor "average" donors.
But we also realize that giving you, our supporters, some ballpark figures might help you conceptualize just how much Splash does with so little:
  • Average cost of Splash intervention, per site: $7,500 (all in) for 10-year period
  • Average cost per year, per site: $750
  • Average number of kids served, per intervention: Between 375 and 750 kids, depending on the context
  • Average cost per year, per child: Between $2/year and $1/year (!)
  • Average water quality pre-intervention: Contaminated, unsafe for consumption (we would never let our children drink it)
  • Average water quality post-intervention: Pure, safe for consumption (we would gladly let our children drink it)
If you like averages, you have them here.
But if you want to make a difference—by ensuring clean water for individual, precious kids—you can do so here.
On average, a gift of:
  • $500 can buy a water storage tank so the kids always have access to water, even when the city water is off.
  • $200 can provide bubblers (drinking fountains) and taps for a water station so kids can drink the water any time their hearts desire!
  • $150 can provide 5 years of spare parts to make sure the water is clean, safe, and reliable.
  • $100 can provide hygiene training for kids so they can learn about handwashing (and germs)!
  • $50 can buy handwashing signs for a school.
At Splash, we pursue excellence with a vengeance. We don't just clean water for kids—we clean it to a level of quality we would drink ourselves. And we do—drink it ourselves, that is. A Splash staff member is always the first to take a drink when a new water system is inaugurated.


Eric Stowe's picture
Posted by Eric Stowe
November 05, 2012
Ethics of Partnership


While people know us for our work with water, our essential focus is children. Clean water is our way of helping them. It is children who compel our efforts, and children’s full potential that inspires us to act. We know that for kids facing immense obstacles—like poverty, abandonment, trafficking, or homelessness—clean water can make a world of difference. It won’t solve every problem—not by a long shot—but it can sure help.


In the countries where we work, we undertake water projects in institutions such as schools, orphanages, street shelters, hospitals, and rescue homes. These places of refuge, of learning, and of care, are crucial and often under-resourced, forces in deflecting or alleviating the serious risks these children grapple with daily.


Our fundamental model is built on partnership. We identify local institutions, serving children, and partner with them to ensure clean water. Each site is independent and autonomous. We don’t manage a single such institution. Instead, we look to identify excellent institutions doing great work, and offer to assist them in securing a reliable flow of clean water.


So, what happens if one of our partner sites comes under a cloud of suspicion for its leadership, its integrity, its safety, or its effectiveness? How should we respond? We are struggling to answer this very question right now.


On October 26th, the Cambodia Daily ran a shocking story about a partner organization with whom we have worked closely for over four years. An organization we have trusted and whose mission and work has moved me, personally, to tears. I am speaking about the Somaly Mam Foundation.


In the article, the Cambodia Daily suggests that the Foundation may have taken part in fabricating horrific stories about one of the girls under their roof—pushing her onto a global stage to tell a brutal story about her time in a brothel, over and over again. This young woman’s harrowing tale has now made its way to the lips of prominent global diplomats. Celebrities such as Oprah and Susan Sarandon have sung of her heroism. Her face is on the cover of a major book on trafficking. She was even a spotlight story of a recent, and highly regarded, documentary on PBS.


The Somaly Mam Foundation, in the same week, posted on its site an official response to the allegations, stating that the Daily’s article was compelling enough to warrant further investigation of the young woman’s story, but that the heart of the article may miss the point that: “We have hundreds of survivors, who are cared for in our grantee’s shelters, each with a story to tell. It is their truths that help the world better understand the deep, dark, grotesque realities of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. For those very few survivors who have the courage to come forward, our role at the Foundation is to protect them—to empower them as free women with basic human rights.”


We are presently watching this story closely, as this is very much a personal matter to all our staff, especially those in Cambodia who have worked at these rescue homes for the last four years. Many of us know the staff and girls who live in each of the centers. For those of us who have personally listened to this young woman tell her story, we are balancing on the brink of two extremes: if the Daily’s allegations are true, we have been manipulated and lied to and so feel both angered and saddened; if the allegations are false, we fear this young woman’s claims will always be in question, and that her recovery—as well as the recovery of the thousands of other girls who benefit from the programs offered by rescue homes—will be jeopardized.  


At this point, we don’t know who is telling the truth. What we do know is this: a young girl has been put in the spotlight of a conflict that ultimately has no winners.


We at Splash aren’t putting this information out there to avoid suspicion in this controversy. We know there will be times when the partners we work with are put under intense scrutiny for their activities. This is the risk we accept when we choose to work in such complex environments, where appropriate safety nets for children living on the margins are often built and borne by nonprofits in the country. Those nonprofits usually emerge from self-starter projects fueled by very passionate people—and, on occasion, by people simply looking for an easy buck. We do our level best to vet every site—not just working with an orphanage because it is an orphanage; not simply working with a poor school because of its surface needs. Vetting is shored up by frequent monitoring visits from our staff in country, which in turn guide our processes with and assessments of our partners over time. But in the vetting process, we have to rely, to a degree, on governmental accreditation of our partners and on their reputation within the broader community.


So what will we do as an organization with this disturbing information from the Daily? Honestly, we will continue to make sure safe water flows at each of the Foundation sites. It is a fundamental part of Splash’s mission to work in rescue homes. We are dedicated to removing the barrier of unsafe water for the victims of sexual trafficking in order to aid in their recovery and rehabilitation, and we will continue to do so. As I wrote in an article about our work with Somaly two years ago, and stand by today: Through our intervention, “during a victim’s time in the shelter… I know her food is safe, her water is clean, and she can bathe with dignity. It is not as much as I wish we could give, but it is a start toward a better life and I am so thankful we are a small part in that incredible, and incredibly hard, transition.”


Although only roughly related to water, this post is of great importance to us as an organization and me as its Director. The children we serve often have complicated lives- far more confusing and complex than we give credit to or even relate with. But we also don’t shy away from this confusion or complexity, and we look forward to further clarity on this story as it unfolds.

Amelia Lyons's picture
Posted by Amelia Lyons
October 11, 2012
Water Impacts Girls
In honor of the first annual “International Day of the Girl” I thought it would be good to draw a few connections I think about every day—regarding girls, water, hygiene, education, and opportunity. I am Health & Hygiene Manager for Splash, and I can tell you unequivocally that unclean water adversely affects girls.
If you want the fun & quick version, just meet Jharana here and read her visual story (by scrolling down the page).
If you want my version, here it is:  When discussing support for girls globally, I hear people invoke education, health, and economic opportunity. We talk about preventing the trafficking of girls, and of child brides. Each of these things is critical—and I think of them, too—but I also think about water.
Water impacts girls greatly. Just for starters:
  • I cannot begin to count the millions of girls who, daily, are drinking unclean water—water that makes them sick.
  • I cannot count the billions of days of school missed by girls—and opportunities set back—because girls are, naturally, menstruating.
Cultural bias and shame prevent so many girls from attending school—one week each month—which could be prevented if girls had clean water + personal hygiene education.
But I’m just getting started on why my daily work for Splash is an embodiment of my commitment to girls’ futures. Here are five ways, each day, that water distinctly affects girls:
  • Collection Duties: Girls and women are the primary collectors of water for their households in many countries. Since girls have to collect water, in addition to other household chores, they are less encouraged to attend school, less able to do homework, and less likely to advance from grade to grade.
  • Menstrual Hygiene Management: A girl menstruates one week a month, which is 12 weeks a year, or 3 whole months. If she is unable to clean herself during menstruation, she has no choice other than to stay at home (for fear of being ridiculed, feeling uncomfortable, or potential for infections). When there is safe water available for cleansing, and hygiene education is readily available, she can go to school, focus on learning, and advance her education.
  • Health: Boys and girls are equally affected by the risk of illness from unclean water. However, when a girl is sick she misses even more school (than I described above). Since many parents in poverty have to choose between limited funds and supporting their kids’ educations, they can become more likely to choose their sons (whose chances are perceived as stronger).
  • Hygiene Promotion: While both boys and girls are receiving hygiene education through our work, girls are more likely to bring it home. A girl has chores when she gets home, some of which include helping her mother prepare meals and tend to the other kids in the house. When a girl learns about hygiene regarding something like food preparation, she is much more likely to bring it up when working in the kitchen with her mom. If the family is drinking water with dinner, a girl can suggest boiling the water (or other treatment methods she learned about in the hygiene training). A boy, on the other hand, does not often spend much time in the kitchen, let alone prepare the family’s food. While he might learn healthy hygiene habits in the training, it's unlikely he will hover over his mother (and sisters) when they are preparing food to patiently instruct them. Additionally, girls spend time taking care of other kids in the house. When girls learn the right times to wash their hands, they will know to wash their hands, like when they change a baby's diaper and before cooking a family’s meal.
  • Future: Girls become mothers, and mothers tend to be the caretakers of the family. If a young girl learns healthy hygiene habits; if she learns the importance of water treatment (that germs make kids sick, and germs love to live in water, and treatment of that water can get rid of germs); if she recognizes the value of water availability during menstruation, then she will raise kids and daughters who understand these principles, as well (both boys and girls).
I will not pretend that our work is only for girls, we serve girls and boys equally, but I will suggest that water is, for girls, a critical first rung on a ladder of opportunity. Especially for a girl living in urban poverty, the ability to consume safe water, and to learn healthy behaviors for personal hygiene, is absolutely crucial for her life’s trajectory.
We clean water, to make it safe for drinking and hygiene, for girls who have been rescued from trafficking, who are growing up in orphanages, who attend impoverished schools, and more. You can read about our approach here. But most importantly, please remember: The impact of water for girls is life-changing.
Eric Stowe's picture
Posted by Eric Stowe
June 06, 2012
When Down Is Up
On May 23, 2012, if you visited our website you would have read that we provide clean water for 279,233 children. Just two weeks later that number went down to 211,922—a loss of 24%. Then with today's update (since our site auto-populates this number each day at 8:00 AM) it reads 210,257. With such a decrease, it would be easy to assume we were disappointed. Yet, in our office, we actually welcome this dramatic change in beneficiary count.
Why? Because the new number reflects two really positive developments, plus honestly addresses a set of challenges: On the positive side, we switched the way we calculate usage rates at hospitals where we work and we decommissioned a bunch of projects for several communities where we were no longer required. That's what brought us to 211,922. On the challenging side, the number went to 210,257 because eight sites were identified as temporarily non-operational. When that happens, we subtract the beneficiary number (and will add it back in, of course, once the systems are back in use). Being more honest and not being needed are both great things.
Right now the nonprofit world speaks of the communities they serve in the same way fast food chains speak of the commodities they sell. Many of us remember when McDonald’s would highlight their numbers on their reader boards—until, in 1994, they finally ran out of room and couldn’t handle all the zeros. When McDonald’s announced that they had sold their 100 Billionth Burger they had to switch to the alternate, and now ubiquitous, “billions and billions served.” It was, and has been since, a great marketing tool for them.
Unfortunately, this framework is also used throughout the NGO world, as if it is the best way for nonprofits to describe impact. You see it in advertising, annual reports, funding pitches—on and on: We have provided X # of beneficiaries with Y type of product over Z # of years. In this way, we conflate historical numbers with actual present-day impact.
But I would argue the total number of beneficiaries served throughout the years shouldn't matter to you. It doesn’t to me.
What I am concerned about is how many children are getting the product—in our case, clean water—today. The water sector is known for abhorrent failure rates. Given that service coverage often peaks and then declines in most places after the NGO “moves on,” counting up children served over the years means very little.
So what we are pushing for is a daily use rate: how many children have access to our water on any given day.
It is actually pretty easy—when a project fails, as some invariably will, we take that number of children associated with that project out of the total number.
When we decommission a project because the community no longer needs our intervention, we take those children out of the total number.
When other actors take over full ownership of our projects, we take those numbers of children out of the total number.
Last week, our numbers went down by more than 50,000 children even though nothing actually happened to any of our projects. It changed because we switched to a daily usage rate for the hospitals we serve—we had been calculating based on a monthly usage rate. Why did that change things? Counting beneficiaries in hospitals is complicated because the population changes substantially each day, unlike an orphanage or a school. We work in multiple hospitals that each serve more than 120,000 children annually—including some of the largest pediatric hospitals in Nepal, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Back in 2010, I decided a monthly number was appropriate; counting annual rates was inappropriate and daily rates seemed to diminish the sheer volume of users and impact over time. However, it has been apparent for a while that we can't discuss being honest with our numbers and have hospitals defined/counted/measured differently than the schools, orphanages, and feeding centers we work with. So, we switched to daily usage rates and subsequently the number of kiddos served dropped dramatically. Our programs and impact didn’t decrease, but our taking credit for serving a certain number did.
How about losing the additional 17,000 this week? After the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China, Splash had rare permission to work in-country with the Chinese government in the most damaged areas of the epicenter—providing clean water to 30 displacement camps, schools, and hospitals. More recently, many of those displaced families and communities have gone back to their homes and no longer need our direct intervention. The projects we undertook were thus decommissioned and with them went the number of children attributed to each site. That really is cause for celebration: families torn from their communities by a natural disaster are now able to return and start anew! How could we be anything but excited?
I don’t anticipate that our numbers will continue to dwindle. In fact, in the next ten years we are on track to serve more than 1,000,000 children daily. That is pretty cool.
But here’s what is much cooler: our overall goal is to eventually get that number to zero in the next 20–30 years. It doesn’t mean the children we serve now won’t get safe water then—it just means we will no longer be the primary drivers in that intervention. Other local actors will continue to push the work forward. Why should we keep hold of the numbers if that is the case?
I think we can either strive for a Guinness Book-style record (competing for who served the most people), or we can try to solve a compelling and complex problem. I believe the two are distinct—and should be—if we are to honestly discuss our reach, scale, outcomes, and impact.
For us, we had to lose nearly 70,000 children to get closer to that honest discussion. Yet I am celebrating rather than upset; proud rather than concerned; and excited rather than nervous.
Eric Stowe's picture
Posted by Eric Stowe
November 29, 2011
Rock Stars and Diapers

I met a famous Thai rock star today. So did the 400 kids I was with.

The rock star came to visit the Pakkred Home for Disabled Children, in Bangkok, where I was working. I was there to assure clean, safe water in their kitchen and cafeteria facilities. We were completing installation of a water purification system and needed to conduct quality checks and verify functionality of the system. The rock star was there "to make a special donation and express his charitable spirit." Even though we were both on-site for ostensibly similar reasons – to help the children – our thoughts and actions couldn’t have been more different.
The Pakkred Home houses and cares for more than 400 children from all over Thailand, ages 7-18, who have severe special needs. It is the largest of its kind in the country, and one of the better-run institutions I have partnered with in my eight years of doing this work.
Here’s what happened: The lunch bell rang. Children from throughout the campus were wheeled, carried, and assisted to their regular seats. Anxious to eat, the children’s meals were placed in front of them - yet nobody ate! I asked about the delay and was told they were waiting for "special visitors" who were filming a documentary. Two cars arrived, replete with one celebrity, three PR reps, a photographer and a videographer. Their donation: six bags of diapers, two bags of rice, a few cans of formula, and one stuffed animal.
I watched as nearly 100 children waited for over thirty minutes – hot meals going cold in front of them – for the celebrity to arrive and his videographer to capture the optimal shot. Once the right lighting and framing were achieved, I watched as the rock star, and members of his entourage, grabbed trays of food from waiting children. They then enacted carrying and serving those same meals, from the kitchen – on camera. Once done, the celebrity sat down with the interviewer to discuss his work with disabled children.
The children sang a lackluster song, rehearsed time and again for other celebrities and donor groups who routinely visit the site, the rock star congratulated his team, praise was passed around, and the video crew left full of smiles. In their wake, the children were given the OK to begin eating. They wolfed down their food in minutes. The staff then packed up the meager donation and wheeled it to the front of the building, where it sat for hours unattended.
We returned later, after closing hours, and there it all still sat – save for the rice which had already been cooked, eaten and fully depleted by dinner time.
The contribution, both ill conceived and entirely unsustainable, was provided as a feel good moment for the donor only. The rice was exhausted in an hour, the diapers will last little more than that. (And about that formula – Did the donor check to see if it is a brand the children are accustomed to? Is it appropriate? Or might it upset the already sensitive stomachs of the children who receive it?)
I recognize that it is easy to rally and rail against self-promotion disguised as charity, especially when contrived for a rock star’s media blitz. But that is not my purpose here. Instead I would like to spotlight a core deficiency in one-off contributions – generally speaking – and of poorly managed donations. For any charitable organization, this is fundamentally crucial terrain. And it is under-discussed (probably for fear of offending "well meaning people") across the sector.
Good intentions – combined with naiveté, or self-congratulation – can go awry. Imagine if the videographer had instead captured a thirty-minute wait, followed by a contrived act of service, then featured the headline "Celebrity makes children wait for food – then pretends to serve it!"  Only then would most people have perceived the true story – and the gravitas it carried. When we leave scenes like this un-critiqued, it hurts everyone.
Prior to launching Splash, I worked in international adoption. Over several years, I was privy to observing groups (often with honorable intentions) tout and publicize their "relief projects" to media, international governments and adoptive families alike. Quietly in my mind, I called these "diaper donations" – as this "relief" consisted, more often than not, of people traveling great lengths to spend five minutes with a group of marginalized children to drop off a few bags of formula, clothing and diapers. Very infrequently was this model challenged by those in a position to do so.
What I am describing, here, is actually the context wherein Splash came to be conceived. I tried to figure out a meaningful, measurable, and sustainable intervention to improve the health and development of children in the orphanages I worked in – something that was vital for the children, requested by the staff, and previously lacking in the institutions. The answer didn’t reside in cheap clothing, it wasn’t fostered with a few grocery bags of produce, and it certainly wouldn’t be realized by a week’s worth of diapers, nor a day’s worth of formula. Safe water, in this situation, sat at the crossroads of all factors I was considering. It has become the lifeblood of our work ever since.
It took years of obsessive focus to codify our approach, and to develop a model that could even come close to being regarded as sustainable. We are continually refining our work to ensure the best and most far-reaching solutions for the children we serve. Yet even at our advancing stages of development, we conduct our work with a healthy dose of humility. We believe we must continually learn. So when I see antiquated, inadequate and truly untenable "diaper donations" being repeated, it is incredibly disheartening.
Our work centers on seeing these children have clean water at their disposal daily. Whether on day one or day two thousand, safe water should no longer be a thing they worry about, or are negatively impacted by. And we are staking our reputation on ensuring this is the constant reality. This requires a ton of hard work to build the base, a handful of failures to continually learn from, deep collaboration with the communities we serve to ensure sustainability, and open minds and ready ears to ensure successive growth. It is a much tougher and complicated route, but we will take that any day over the fluffy narrative of "diaper donations" and self-praising back patting.
Sadly, the water sector is rife with these types of donations: short lived photo-op contributions of filters, wells, hand washing and toilet projects that are uninspired, go unsupported, and remain unprotected for long term use. These may have a greater immediate impact than the offerings from the rock star that I cringe at, but they don’t have staying power.
We are a small agency—fairly young, and relatively unknown - but we know what types of projects we don’t want to emulate. To ensure our work is both needed and sustainable will cost us more, require greater bandwidth, assume trial and error, and necessitate a ton of innovation. But we won’t, and can’t, take part in the small thinking and weak impact of "diaper donations". (Imagine popping through for five minutes and dropping off a water filter!)
The work of our Splash team is based on listening to our local partners closely; building trustworthy partnerships (and if not, stepping back); assessing real needs; collaboratively planning solutions; training the students and staff for success; and being driven by a guiding vision of sustainable, locally appropriate solutions.