My Kingdom . . .
the African sky, so wide and so close.
I can almost touch the sharp edges of the stars.
I can tame the wild dogs with my song.
I can make the tall grass sway when I dance.
I can make the wind play hide-and-seek.
But I cannot make the water come closer.
I cannot make the water run clearer.
No matter what I command.
from The Water Princess
written by Susan Verde
illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016
I turn on the tap and water comes out. Every time. Hot and cold. I shower, water my plants, give some to my cats, wash my dishes and clothes, make coffee, brush my teeth, steam my vegetables—whenever I want to.
Last week I was lucky enough to hear Sivan Ya’ari, founder and CEO of Innovation: Africa, tell about her work. Life is full of serendipity. Or like some say, surprising co-incidence. That’s how Sivan explains it, anyway.
When she was looking for her first job, someone suggested talking “to that man over there.” He was looking for someone to work for him, but he told Sivan her English was not good enough. She asked about French, because she lived in France for most of her growing-up years. She had come back to Israel, where she was born, to volunteer in the Army.
She was talking to the owner of Jordache jeans and French turned out to be just fine. He sent her to Madagascar to oversee quality control for jeans being shipped to the United States.
That’s how Sivan got to Africa and found poverty. African poverty. The people, children especially, were in poor health. They had no shoes, no food, no medicine. Sivan investigated. She quickly found out that there was no electricity in the small, remote villages. No refrigeration to keep medicine fresh.
Solar energy was being developed in Israel as soon as the country was born. Harnessing the energy of the sun seemed a practical solution to the tension surrounding oil in that part of the world. By 1953, the five-year-old country was producing solar water heaters. By the early 1990s, 90% of homes were using them, saving millions of barrels of oil every year. And the solar panels Israel is producing now are efficient and affordable.
Sivan asked why the children were not going to school. The nurse at the medical center told her they were too weak. They were sick. Medicine was not available.
So Sivan went home, raised a little money for a solar panel and installed it on the medical center for lights and refrigeration. Now medicine was available. But still, the children were not in school. They had to spend too much time looking for water. And the water they found was not clean, or plentiful. Since Sivan made electricity available, she wanted to build a pump house, powered with a couple more solar panels, to bring up the water lying under the feet of every thirsty African person.
It is extraordinary to see people discover running water for the first time.
Sivan’s non-profit works with the governments of many African countries to discover which villages need the most help. That is where Innovation: Africa goes.
Local people do the building and the work to keep the water and electricity flowing, everything from maintaining the building and the grid to changing the lightbulbs. And the children go to school.
Israeli technology provides drip irrigation to grow more crops with less water.
People in the villages are healthier, more educated, and financially independent. Sivan says she has learned three things.
Sometimes good is not good enough.
It doesn’t take much to help people. Only recognizing a problem
and looking for a solution.
The cause of a problem can be its solution. In remote villages in
Africa, the sun is now working for the people instead
of causing drought.
You can find more information about Innovation: Africa and Sivan’s TEDx talk here: https://www.innoafrica.org/team.html
-—stay curious! (and grateful)