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Water Mission

To empower communities to access increased quantities of clean water through infrastructural development, water treatment, community leader training, and education.


Program Description

In the rural Honduran and Ghanaian communities where the Water program currently operates, families have limited access to sufficient, clean water. People often have to spend hours each day travelling to the nearest water source to collect and carry home water in buckets and jugs. Additionally, the available water is subject to high levels of contamination, including parasites and bacteria, and is rarely treated before being consumed. Even these contaminated sources can be completely consumed during the dry season, requiring community members to collect water from farther locations, using more of their time and energy. Without an increased quantity of clean water for drinking, cooking, hygiene and sanitation, community members, especially children and the elderly, are at high risk of contracting water related illnesses, which can have serious if not fatal health consequences.

The Water program implements sustainable water solutions to prevent water related illnesses in communities with limited access to clean water. With access to a higher quantity of clean water and with corresponding water, hygiene and sanitation education, community members can cut off the connection between water and illness and ultimately live healthier more productive lives. Water projects are implemented through the utilization of student volunteers during 7-10 day trips to Ghana and Honduras, called "Water Brigades."


Program Components

Community Organization and Brigade Preparation

Before water projects are implemented in Honduras or Ghana, Water program staff meets with communities to establish project parameters and goals in order to ensure the future sustainability of any water projects.


In Honduras, the Water program begins a project by communicating what is to be done, the parties’ roles in the project to the community members, along with the impact that the project will have. It is clearly stated that no project is a gift and that the project belongs to the community. A Water Council, a community Plumber, work groups, and group coordinators are formed or identified in the community to create structure and leadership around the project. Then, Water program staff, community leaders, and the local government all sign an agreement before ground is broken. At all times during the project, the Water program ensures that the community is aware of the project schedule and upcoming tasks to be completed. On occasion, project implementation is split up into stages depending on volunteer numbers and brigade seasons. These stages are well established with the community in anticipation of the project implementation. Through working side by side with the community every step of the way, the Water program aims to increase the community’s knowledge and ownership of the water projects.


In Ghana, the Water program begins working with a community by defining what Global Brigades provides as an organization, general responsibilities of both parties and how the community and families will benefit. Since systems are decentralized and constructed incrementally, families are surveyed and ranked on a priority scale. Once a family has been selected, a thorough agreement is explained and signed between the Water program staff and the family. This agreement states responsibilities of both parties, price for a system, construction participation expectations, and material gathering responsibilities. Before and during a Water Brigade, families are actively involved in material gathering and construction activities, providing them with a broad understanding and appreciation of their new system.


Infrastructure Development

In Honduras and Ghana, different types of water infrastructure projects are implemented in order to meet the needs of communities and are based on the sources of water available in each country.


In Honduras, Water program staff and volunteers work with community members to construct a new community-wide water system, or implement necessary reconstructions, additions, and repairs on an existing water system that has failed to function properly. These systems are either gravity-based, pump-based, or a combination of the two. Infrastructure of these systems include the intake structure at the source, conduction line piping, a central storage and distribution tank equipped with a chlorinator for treatment, distribution network pipelines, and household connection faucets.


In Ghana, Water program staff and volunteers work with families to construct Household Rainwater Harvester (HRH) systems. A HRH system has two components: a gutter system and storage tank. Gutters collect rainwater from a family’s roof into a ferrocement storage tank. Ferrocement storage tanks have been used in developing countries for over 20 years and are a reliable and affordable technology. Water Brigades utilizes families, volunteers, masons and plumbers to construct these systems, over the course of 5 days.


Water System Implementation (Water Brigades)

Water projects are worked on with community members and families through the utilization of student volunteers participating in 7-10 day programs called “Water Brigades"


Water Brigades are typically made up of about 15 or more university student volunteers and other members of the Global Brigades team. Depending on the duration and country, each volunteer fundraises between $1,400-$2,200 which covers a portion of the construction supplies, airfare for the participants, and the follow-up. Some of the specific costs are: supplies, travel insurance, meals, lodging, interpreters, coordinators, ground transportation, and program staff salaries to make evaluation and improve sustainability.


In Honduras, during a 7 day Water Brigade, volunteers experience many components of the water program, as well as make meaningful contributions to the project itself. First, volunteers have the opportunity to see the water issue in a specific community first hand and meet community leaders. This could include investigating the current water infrastructure, visiting peoples’ homes to hear about the water needs directly from those affected, or participating in a formal meeting with the community’s Water Council. Volunteers will also work side-by-side with community members on the infrastructure development, with activities ranging from digging trench and installing pipes to mixing cement for the dam or storage tank.


In Ghana, during a 10 day Water Brigade, volunteers experience various components of the water program and construct a HRH for a family or families. First, volunteers have the opportunity to understand the water issues first hand by visiting water sources and talking with families about their water needs and everyday lives. Volunteers then work with a family in building their respective family’s HRH. The construction activities can range from steel tying, to mixing concrete and mortar, to plastering.

Treatment and Filtration

Once the infrastructure is in place, the Water program works with communities to address the quality of water being distributed through the new system.


In Honduras, water treatment is implemented through chlorination at the central storage and distribution tank. Community leaders are trained in proper treatment techniques and equipped with the necessary tools, tables, and formulas to calculate and monitor water treatment to ensure that they are providing a high quality of water to the community.

In Ghana, water treatment is implemented by providing families with water filtration units. These filters are provided with each HRH. These water filters are used to filter HRH rainwater and water collected from other natural sources, providing families with a simple and effective way to prevent water related illnesses.

Education and Training

In order to successfully implement the use of clean water and to ensure that the water systems are maintained, education and training are vital.


In Honduras, the Water program works both with training community leaders as well as educating families and schoolchildren. Throughout the implementation process, Water program staff and volunteers educate and train the community and their respective Water Council about their new water system and how to operate, maintain, and administer it to ensure the sustainability of the project. The Water program staff and volunteers implement educational workshops with community youth on subjects relating to water, hygiene, and sanitation. The Water program also trains community volunteers or committees to act as “health experts” within their communities, to assist with the youth educational workshops, as well as provide household education to families regarding safe water storage, personal hygiene, and household sanitation.


In Ghana, the Water program works with local masons and leaders, and trains a community technician who is skilled in making any future repairs to systems in their community. A committee is also trained to act as “health experts” within their communities in providing education regarding personal hygiene and household sanitation. Education consists of household education and school children education. Household education consists of two topics that volunteers will discuss with families. The first topic covers HRH orientation, operation and maintenance. The second topic incorporates the water filter, installation, instruction, and demonstration. For the school children education, volunteers will also be responsible for organizing and presenting a specific education topic to children at the local school. These topics, such as washing your hands or understanding the importance of clean water, aim to promote awareness and form the foundation for health in the future.

Follow-up and Monitoring Impact

Once implementation is completed and the water project is tested and approved by the Water program staff and community leaders, the project is officially handed over to the community or family. At this point, Water program staff begin the follow-up phase in which the community is visited incrementally over time to review the state of the water system and water committees/council. Time between initial follow-up visits is short, but as the project progresses further into its lifetime successfully, the Water program staff scales back the frequency of the visits leaving the project in the control of the community. During these visits, Water program staff uses the indicators listed above to monitor the success of the project and the impact it has on the community’s health and quality of life.

Role in Sustainable Transition Strategy

Access to a high quality and an increased quantity of water in communities is essential to progressing a community’s goals of sustainability in health and economic development, ultimately leading to the exit of Global Brigades programs from a community.


In Honduras, the exit strategy begins the first day that the Water program enters into a community, by working alongside and teaching the community throughout the entire process of project implementation.  Following the completion of construction, Water program staff provides a formal, four-day training of the Water Council regarding the ongoing operation, maintenance, and administration of the water system.  Following project construction, the community begins a trial month with their water system, during which month Water program staff works closely with the community to ensure that every aspect of the water system is fully functioning.  After the trial month has ended and the water system infrastructure is working consistently and without problems, the Water Council and Water program staff meet with the entire community to establish the monthly water fee that will be paid to the Water Council. This monthly fee is to cover the monthly costs of chlorine for water treatment, the stipend for compensating the plumber, administrative costs for the Water Council, material costs for any maintenance needs, and any savings that the community would like to accumulate for the future of the water system. Once community leadership and the water fee are established, Water program staff hands the system over to the community but remains in contact with community leaders regarding the state of the system.  Water program staff continues to provide support through follow-up visits, which consist of reviewing the physical condition of the system and meeting with the Water Council to discuss system administration and provide any technical recommendations or feedback. Follow-up visits are completed about once every four to six months for the first two years after project completion and about once every six months to a year for the third and fourth years after project completion.  Once the project enters its fifth year of completion, the community is ready to independently sustain the system and the Water program fully exits from the Honduran community.  


In Ghana, the Water program implements its exit strategy through community engagement, a trained community technician and consistent follow-up visits. A family’s engagement is extensive throughout the preparation, planning, implementation and post implementation periods. Some of these specific elements are collecting local materials for construction, working and learning with volunteers to build their own systems and performing system maintenance after completion. Water program staff provide a formal training to a community technician regarding system operation, repair and maintenance, problem diagnostics and more. Community members are encouraged to start incrementally saving through the Microfinance Brigades’ Community Development Fund (CDF). This will allow them to maintain a specific “repair” fund in the case that a repair and payment is needed from the community technician. Follow-up visits are used to monitor the methodology of the Water program, track the status of a system, observe the families’ abilities to maintain and pay for repairs, provide feedback to families, and track success indicators. The visit’s frequencies are set at every 4 – 6 months after system completion. After two years of acceptable performance and the success indicators being met, the Water program fully exits from the Ghanaian community.


Greatest Funding Needs
Wells & Pumps

In Honduras, the Water program’s traditional funding model works excellently for most types of water systems. Some communities, however, require more complex water solutions such as accessing water through digging a deep drinking water well and/or installing an electric pump to provide homes with a water connection. Digging wells and purchasing and installing pumps, unfortunately, are costly activities that are done by contracted experts who are paid in a lump sum. The work and funding of a project component such as a well or a pump is not conducive to volunteer participation or funding. Fortunately, the well or pump is only a portion of any water project, and the remainder of the project is funded and completed by Water Brigades volunteers. This means that in the case that a well or pump is needed to provide a community with water, only the supplemental funding for that portion needs to be obtained. Through fundraising initiatives, partnerships, and donations, Water Brigades has been able to complete two projects that required pumps, and hopes to continue doing so in the future to best meet community needs.


Additional Household Rainwater Harvesters

In Ghana, construction of Household Rainwater Harvesters (HRH) is the limiting factor in providing community wide coverage. Donations received outside of a Brigade will be directly and wholly invested into building more HRH systems. Funding of this nature would allow the Water program to make continual progress between Brigades and accelerate the ability to sustainably exit communities at a more efficient rate.


To read more about the Water program’s Exit Strategy and how donations contribute to the strategy, please read the Water Program’s Role in Community Exit Strategy section below. If you’re interested in learning more about funding opportunities for the Water program, please contact Global Brigades’ Director of Student Affairs Christie George at christie.george@globalbrigades.org.