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TravelLocal Fund for Good: interview with Just a Drop

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As part of our commitment to being a force for good in the travel industry, in 2023 we set up the TravelLocal Fund For Good. This fund will be distributed to charities around the world that are doing crucial work to alleviate challenges like environmental degradation, wildlife conservation, and access to clean drinking water. One of these is Just a Drop, an incredible charity dedicated to providing access to safe water through community-led development, with a focus on sustainability and quality.

We speak to Brendan Hanlon, the charity’s Head of Fundraising and Communications, about Just a Drop’s motivations, main projects and challenges, as well as the ways in which they’re helping change lives in communities across Africa, Asia, and Central America.

How would you explain the importance of what Just a Drop does?

Millions of people across the world don’t have access to safe water, which creates so many barriers – and giving people the way to overcome these is life-changing. I’m fortunate to be part of an organisation where we can see the impact of our work in the local communities.
Safe water, of course, makes people healthier, and we do a lot of work around hygiene to maintain that long-term health. Our projects are quite holistic and have a wider impact beyond this: we do a lot of work around sanitation as well as in schools, where children can be given a better education – including on menstrual hygiene for girls. We also use water to develop sustainable agriculture, ensuring food security and improving livelihoods through income generation. We offer small income loans to the locals, allowing them to establish businesses and move out of poverty, and we also make soap to help improve hygiene. We have a comprehensive programme which genuinely changes lives.

Just a Drop in Kenya

Could you tell us more about Just a Drop’s story and how it came to be?

We were founded 25 years ago by Fiona Jeffery, who used to run the World Travel Market and is now a board member at the Institute of Travel and Tourism. She ran the Just a Drop organisation by herself for many years, until about 12 years ago, when our first full-time member of staff joined. There are water issues all over the world, but over the years, we’ve continued to work in the same few countries to make an impact. Since the pandemic, we’ve tripled in size, which is very encouraging.

Which countries do you operate in, and do you have plans to expand beyond them?

We currently work in six countries: Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Cambodia, India, and Nicaragua. In these, we don’t just focus on one specific area, but look at areas of need and address these based on our capacity. We work with in-country partners and adopt a grassroots approach, meaning that all the organisations we work with are community-driven – this is a big part of our work, which helps towards sustainability. Our work is also based on system strengthening, which means we aim to get better at the work that we already do locally. For example, we sink boreholes for access to water, and through system strengthening we find the means to get water from the borehole to people’s homes; one way we’ve found of doing so is through solar power.

Next year, we’ll be starting work in a new country: Tanzania. Part of our strategic approach is to investigate the potential to work in new countries, where we have to find the right partner who’s focused on community-led sustainability, accountability, transparency, and trust – these are all very important to us.

Just a Drop sustainable agriculture in Kenya

Do you have an example of how Just a Drop has changed the lives of a local community?

In Kenya, we ran a programme to work with the local community and build a sand dam to purify water as it is filtered through the sand. We then built a shallow well next to it, to be able to extract millions of litres of uncontaminated water, which won’t evaporate as it’s underground, and which thousands of people can access. Another great thing about the sand dam is that it raises the water table, which makes the surrounding land fertile: the community can therefore start to practise agriculture on it. We build terraces which help with soil erosion and water retention, we provide materials and training, and through this we can help ensure food security, sustainable agriculture, and economic impact across a community of several thousand people – driving up livelihoods in what was a really desperate area before.

How do you pick the projects you work on?

Everything is community-based: we don’t just give them a solution, rather, a community approaches us first to express their situation, and we’ll work closely with them to determine the best solution. We also don’t have set solutions, as these will change across the countries we work in. For every project we do, the community has to be involved and contribute, as the sense of helping creates a sense of ownership, of how to maintain the facilities we install locally.

We undertake a very thorough and robust process with our in-country partners, interrogating any project proposals they send us; this can take between six months and a year, as we want to ensure it is the best possible project for that area and that the money we’re sending them is being spent appropriately.

Safe water in a village in India with Just a Drop

Once a project has reached a successful outcome, do you continue working with the communities?

Yes, we monitor each project for at least seven years, to make sure the solution we’ve implemented still works. Community involvement is really important: we ensure constant communication and continue to visit them, as do our in-country partners. We value the communities a lot and have a great relationship with them.

What are some of your goals for the next five years?

Alongside getting set up in Tanzania, we’re doing more environmental work; for instance, we’re setting up watersheds in Nicaragua to preserve the water, thereby making the land more fertile. These are long-term, sustainable projects that help maintain the land for future generations. All our work is measured against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which we’ve contributed to 11 of; we’ll be looking at ways to do more of this.

What are the main challenges you face as an organisation, and how do you overcome them?

There are many challenges working in the field, even just getting materials to a location. Sometimes during a country’s rainy season, roads will just wash out; at one point in Kenya, we were heading to a school and we’d be wading through knee-deep water because cars couldn’t access and there was no other way to get there. Another challenge is making sure the community stays engaged, which sounds really easy, but you’ve got to work at it and know what you’re doing. And of course, there’s the challenge of raising money to make sure we can actually do the work we want to do.

Handwashing at a school in Nicaragua with Just a Drop

How can people contribute and support Just a Drop?

We have a lot of people helping raise money for us, through marathons, challenges, development committees, company fundraising… We also receive regular donations which I’m always so impressed and humbled by. There are loads of different ways to get involved, and I enjoy helping people do so by providing them with support and materials. We also have people joining us and the communities to work on the projects on site – it’s hard and dirty work, but very fulfilling, positive and a worthwhile commitment.

Is it possible to visit the projects you’re working on?

One of the great things about my job is that I can take supporters out to see our projects. So far this year, we’ve taken three groups out, which is really brilliant: you’re not there as tourists, but to meet the locals and hear from them, in their own words, what impact these projects have had. I think it’s a privilege to be able to visit: you’re going to these really rural places that nobody goes to, and each visit is a joyous occasion filled with singing and dancing.

Make it happen

If you’re looking for ways to support Just a Drop yourself, please visit their website or get in touch with them directly. You’re also welcome to chat to them about visiting their projects on-site and exploring their hard work to help local communities thrive.

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