By Madison Dellamuth
Since I was young, I always had a desire to travel the world. Growing up I was keenly interested in learning about other cultures and languages. Something inside of me lit up whenever someone would talk about an international experience. In addition to this, I have a heart to help and serve others. As I contemplated these two desires and how I could utilize them both, I decided to apply for the Peace Corps after finishing my bachelor’s degree. I served two years in Uganda, gaining exposure living at the village level, engaging with community members and learning the complexities surrounding development work/humanitarian aid. It was this experience that solidified my career path in international development.
My time in Uganda made me realize two things: the reality of life in a developing country is considerably different than the images the media displays, and second, much of development work operates from a “top-down” approach with little sustainability. I found that community members want to be involved in reaching the solution. They are eager and determined to change their situation. Development practitioners must shift their focus of being the fixers, to being collaborators. Lifeline holds this view in their Everflow model, and it is one of the reasons why I joined the team.
The Everflow business model is one that allows for community self-sustainability because of its nature as a social enterprise. This project works against the cycle of donor dependency that has created the current paradigm of build, neglect, fail, repair. With new water projects lasting approximately only 2-5 years and boreholes being without repair up to three months out of the year, this can leave hundreds of households without access to a clean water source. Unlike the current paradigm, Everflow is a build and repair business model that utilizes trained local mechanics to respond urgently to breakdowns and perform regular maintenance check-ups. Community water users pay a fixed monthly fee for these services, ensuring clean water is flowing year-round. This approach reduces the need of external funding sources and allows communities to be self-sufficient in meeting their needs. Using local tools and personnel is what makes Everflow a sustainable solution to an important problem. In my opinion, this is how development work should be, and why I am excited to join the team.
After completing my Peace Corps service, I enrolled at the Heller School, where I am currently working towards my Master’s in Sustainable International Development. The curriculum has given me new perspectives and angels in approaching development challenges, specifically from a policy standpoint. Through dialogues and country specific case studies, I have learned how to analyze complex issues and reflect on how current or subsequent policy changes could be enabling or hindering development outcomes.
My overall goal as a WASH policy fellow is to gain practical experience of the work involved in a policy and advocacy position. I am eager to learn and practice the skills necessary for effective policy engagement at all levels of government. Actively participating in government discussions and meeting with other NGOs in the WASH sector, will help me understand and deepen my knowledge of the cultural, social, and economic drivers at play that are influencing policy in the sector. In completing these tasks, I hope to gain the confidence and ability to digest, critique, and advocate for national policies to better match project sustainability goals.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside such an experienced and talented team of professionals. Being given an active role within an INGO is invaluable to me as a beginning development practitioner and I am excited to get started.