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
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
"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.