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Image credit: Christelle Kwizera

Christelle Kwizera: Water Access Rwanda

Christelle Kwizera: Water Access Rwanda

Tackling Rwanda’s water crisis

Image above: People collecting water from a water kiosk

Christelle Kwizera tells Leading Change how she is working to make water accessible to under-served communities while solving one of the greatest epidemics of our time – unemployment.

In Rwanda, about two in three people live in poverty and millions lack access to safe water and basic sanitation facilities. To solve this problem, Christelle Kwizera founded Water Access Rwanda (WARwanda) in 2014 to provide simple, affordable and durable water systems to Rwandans. At that time, there was an urgent need to provide clean drinking water for people living around crocodile infested areas.

WARwanda works in all parts of Rwanda digging ground waters, drilling small utility systems, providing water pumps and distributing water to people in urban and rural areas. It rehabilitates old boreholes, constructs new ones and puts electrical pumps and filtration in the water systems to make them clean and healthy for use. In communities where there is no electricity, WARwanda uses solar power or generators to pump the water.

“Instead of walking several kilometres to the water source, we lease water to people,” says Christelle. “In cases where they are getting water from a contaminated source, we drill a borehole nearer to the community and provide clean water that is closer to them.”

Rural dwellers getting water from the INUMA kiosk. Photo Credit: Christelle Kwizera

Rural dwellers getting water from the Inuma kiosk. Photo Credit: Christelle Kwizera

WARwanda also supports and partners with local teams in Burundi, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. So far, WARwanda has provided Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) trainings to over 2,000 households, trained 55 trainers and created 18 WASH committees to make sure that the water projects are successful.

“Providing water systems has allowed me to achieve my other goal which is to employ young people and see communities develop,” Christelle explains. “Being a social entrepreneur has helped me see how business can benefit people. It’s more rewarding than being an average Wall Street person.”

Funding the work

The first project executed by WARwanda was supported by Christelle’s Alma matter – Oklahoma Christian University, USA.

“There were also people who contributed to the very first project we did so that we could have a presence and start doing some marketing. Now, most partners don’t really support the company but the community that we serve.

“For instance, on our website and Facebook page, we listed the prices of constructing a borehole. Some generous people would contact us and say they want to provide a borehole for a particular community. The same way, people contact us to provide water for their family or an orphanage that they care about.”

In urban areas, people pay anytime they want to get water. The money collected is used to maintain the water system, pay attendants at the pump and sponsor the establishment of more water systems in the future.

However, this model is difficult to replicate in rural areas. What WARwanda does is to encourage village elders to appoint a water committee that collects 100-200 Rwanda Francs (approximately US$0.12-0.24) from households monthly. The money is put into an account for use whenever there is a need for maintenance.

Unfortunately, this model too has been unsuccessful in most rural communities.

“Sometimes if the community is committed, they contribute money but after the first three months they stop,” says Christelle. “In this case, you will find that most boreholes are broken after a while. That is why our long-term goal is to move away from providing hand pumps to providing pumps that use solar or electricity.”

Providing solutions

This year, WARwanda launched the Inuma groundwater solar kiosk project – a new model for sustainable provision of water to rural and semi-urban areas that will sell purified groundwater in local communities. According to Christelle, "Inuma represents the Holy Spirit and the essence of life that is in each person." The Inuma project plans to solve three major problems:

  • provide better access to water
  • ensure the sustainability of water systems 
  • and guarantee a continuous clean water supply for villages.

To serve poor rural communities better, WARwanda often relies on funds from donors.

The INUMA solar kiosk provides water to people in rural and perri-urban areas. Photo credit: WARwanda

The Inuma solar kiosk provides water to people in rural and perri-urban areas. Photo credit: WARwanda

“We want to serve everybody – those who can afford it and those who can’t. But usually we act like any other business. We market ourselves, seek partnership with people who want to hire us to work, sign contracts and collect money. Doing all these allows us to hire and train people.

“So even if we have a social mission, we are still a business. The only difference is that we sometimes accept non-profit money and do work at a loss or at a very minimum profit.”

Relying on mentors   

“Challenges come and go. Sometimes you are not able to address them. All you are able to do is hold strong and long for them to pass,” says Christelle.

Like many social enterprises, Christelle says the main challenge facing her business is finance and getting the right people to do the job. However, she has learnt to rely on mentors to forge ahead.

“Mentors are the biggest thing in my life after God. I don’t have one mentor, I have multiple mentors. Seeing how they do things is like seeing what perfection is,” she says.

“I don’t necessarily go out and ask people to be my mentor. The few times I have done that, it didn’t work so well. I realised it’s better to develop a relationship with somebody and let them know the role they serve in your life.”

Setting priorities

When you are doing something good, people will want to get you involved in other good causes but Christelle says she has learnt to exercise caution.

“I am actually involved in so many projects and I will say it’s a weakness in itself but I don’t get burnout because I am able to listen to myself,” she says.

“Avoiding burnout is easy. It’s about listening to yourself and not ignoring your spiritual, emotional and physical life. You just have to know what is important to you and don’t be overwhelmed with work. So when you are doing something good, the best option is to train someone else to do it.”

She adds, “If you have the calling to serve, answer it and surround yourself with people that can motivate you. Being young is the best time to make mistakes.”

Christelle Kwizera

"Mentors are the biggest thing in my life after God. I don’t have one mentor, I have multiple mentors. Seeing how they do things is like seeing what perfection is."

Christelle Kwizera