Schools + Water = Hope for new life

Water4Life_1

Kimberly-Clark trains the trainers: About 30 volunteers from Kimberly-Clark Colombia completed training on the new water filters Kimberly-Clark provided in Puerto Tejada. This team then provided training and education about water safety and hygiene to the 400 recipients of the filters.

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Kimberly-Clark Colombia’s Water 4 Life project: A volunteer prepares a new filter for residents of Puerto Tejada.

Kimberly-Clark’s Water for Life program helps keep Colombian children in school.

Imagine your 10-year-old child attends a school without drinkable water or sanitation. If it's a hot steamy day, there is no water to satiate his thirst. If he needs to go to the bathroom, he has to wait several hours until school is dismissed. What would you as a parent do? Would you send your child to this school?

In Puerto Tejada, Cauca, Colombia, where Kimberly-Clark Colombia's mill is located, that's exactly what the parents in this community faced. Many parents didn't see the value in their children attending school. If the children did go to school, they would often leave in the middle of the day, negating much of what they learned. Without an education, many would end up in gangs and continue the cycle of extreme poverty.

Water for Life grows beyond Kimberly-Clark's walls

In 2010, Kimberly-Clark Colombia's Puerto Tejada plant's social committee led a project to supply 400 Kimberly-Clark employees who had no access to drinkable water with clean water for their everyday needs. These employees were provided with UNICEF-approved water filters and hygiene education. Committee members were trained on filter use, assembly and maintenance as well as hygiene practices. They, in turn, passed this knowledge on to their families and community. The program was a tremendous success.

"We felt like once we solved the water problems of our employees, we should be doing more for the community," says Mike Lloyd, Kimberly-Clark's director of Global Environmental Services. "Our team in Colombia identified the lack of water and sanitation in the schools as a big stumbling block for education. We approached the school board and asked to partner with them. We would build a water filtration system for the schools, if they would manage it."

The school board agreed. Soon after, two neighboring schools, Ana Silena Arroyave and the Jose Hilario Lopez, had potable water and sanitation facilities. To also ensure that the benefit extended to students who attended after-school activities, water was pumped to the nearby Colombianitos Foundation, a non-governmental organization dedicated to transforming the lives of children who live in impoverished Colombian neighborhoods.

The Kimberly-Clark Colombia team didn't stop there; they pulled together a volunteer group to beautify the schools so they would be more attractive to students and their families. More than 50 Kimberly-Clark  employees spent two days painting, planting and repairing areas around the schools. The Kimberly-Clark Professional team renovated the bathroom facilities and presented a hygiene campaign to the students.

"This program has changed the lives of so many people in our community. The children now want to come to school," says Elenita Mora, manager of Corporate Affairs at Kimberly-Clark Colombia. "When I last spoke with one of the school's directors he told me that everyone wants to put their children in this school. That's an exciting result of changing this community's reality."

Students learning to be entrepreneurs

The Water for Life program extends beyond simply supplying water. One of the requirements was that that the community manages the program. Partnering with the Colombianitos Foundation, many students are learning how to be entrepreneurs.

The new filtration system supplies all three facilities with excess capacity, which offers an opportunity to sell water in one-gallon bottles to the community. Technology developed by the supplier of the filtration system also allows water to be sealed in individual bags that can be sold at school sporting events and to the community. It is the students' job to sell the water so that the program can be maintained. Offered at a much lower price than other local providers, the proceeds from the sales are used only to cover the plant's operation costs. Their training consists of spending a day at Kimberly-Clark Colombia's mill where they learn about the water filtration system and why it's important for a community to have potable water. They learn about finances from the Colombianitos Foundation.

"A new story is being written between the Puerto Tejada community and Kimberly-Clark Colombia with this new water treatment plant," says Carlos Morales, Puerto Tejada's mill manager. "Working alongside the local authorities, our strategic allies and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] such as Colombianitos, Kimberly-Clark Colombia has made a positive impact on the lives of our local community."

To date, the Water for Life program has impacted 1,600 children and an additional 1,200 people who live in the schools' neighboring communities. One million gallons of clean water per year is now being supplied to the Puerto Tejada community. The Kimberly-Clark Colombia team is energized by the results and is researching the viability of expanding the program into other schools.

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