From 3D-shoes to armadillos: How one year at VIA Water changed our perspectives

Willemijn Nagel and Karin van der Weerd both joined VIA Water about a year ago, and the programme has since been gaining more and more ground. In the meantime, our perspectives are changing as well.

In the past year, the team travelled to Mozambique (2x), Rwanda (2x), Kenya, Benin and Ghana. We organised our very first event and talked to hundreds of people during events in the Netherlands and abroad. We reviewed more than 80 teasers, and organised two accelerators. We signed an MoU and an LoI, and we were interviewed for numerous publications. We thought endlessly about our procedures, finalised them only to tweak them again, and continued to look for improvements. We learned how working intensely alongside each other in a small team means you must be flexible and willing to talk about your irritations, and how it also means you can achieve great things.

We received many hopeful emails, spoke to people who ‘got it’, but also received scepticism and distrust. We decided a one size fits all approach is not for ‘our countries’, and decided to develop specific approaches for each one. We answered the question ‘Why do you not work in Nigeria – Pakistan – Angola – The Phillipines – India – Lesotho -Egypt – Ethiopia – Morocco?” exactly 5349 times. We were praised for ‘flying budget airlines’, and asked why there is no permanent representative in each country.

We learned that non-existing or non-functioning tax systems are a root cause of many problems, and that this might mean a blocked road can remain that way for 15 years. We noticed it’s possible to discuss plastic waste issues whilst all drinking from your own plastic water bottle. We saw what a difference good education makes, and how language can be a big barrier. We learned that pre-paying for reliable water is the future, and data gathering is a key issue to tackle. We noticed how WASH is the ever popular topic for many of our proposals, even though we try to address other pressing needs as well.

We learned that even a packed programme becomes more relaxed when you and everyone around you moves along with time delays and setbacks more easily. We loved getting out of airplanes in the middle of the Dutch winter and feeling the sun on our faces. We were amazed at how beautiful the Rift Valley is, and were relieved by the lack of big spiders encountered during travel. We missed our Dutch breakfast of sandwiches and cheese, but loved drinking from a coconut.

We heard about the positive new role for NGO’s, in which they can become a neutral broker with a trusted role in the community. We saw people trying to gain land by filling up a swamp with garbage, but we also saw people using 3D-printers to print shoes for feet deformities, and people creating beautiful bags out of plastic waste. We encountered poachers selling armadillos by the roadside, but we also saw many bright young people anxious to start changing circumstances in their country for the better. We heard about gas stations being built in protected areas, but we also met people who believe in educating children about nature preservation, in order to educate their parents as well.

With our second year ahead of us, hopefully the programme gains even more ground. Ground we hope to gain through the introduction of our programme to more people and by a steady flow of proposals and implemented projects. But also by learning about new perspectives every day, and including those into the programme as we go along.

Date of publishing: 17-07-15

About this knowledge platform

VIA Water is a programme that aims to identify innovative solutions for water problems facing cities in seven African countries: Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda and South Sudan. These countries are priorities within Dutch overseas development policy. After consultations with the water sector, the original Knowlegde Platform Water for Development was transferred into a valorisation- and innovation programme.


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