People best know Swarovski as a producer of extravagant crystals. The mountain rivers of Austria originally powered the company, providing a close connection and reliance on the water resource since the company’s founding in 1895. This connection was the eventual inspiration for the creation of the Swarovski Waterschool in 2000.
- Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population and predictions determine that this rate will continue to rise.
- Estimates determine that 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services such as toilets or latrines.
- Every day, approximately 1,000 children die as a result of preventable water-related or sanitation-related diseases.
- Moreover, 70 percent of all deaths from natural disasters are from floods and other water-related disasters.
- Gender disparity in water collection is a major issue. Women and girls are responsible for water collection in 80 percent of the households without access nearby.
The Three Pillars
Swarovski Waterschool helps communities overcome these challenges through the implementation of its three-pillar approach:
Access to Safe Water: Working with local partners, the Swarovski Waterschool implements short and long-term solutions to provide schools and communities with access to clean drinking water.
Water Education: The organization has developed its own curriculum, which it teaches local educators and works with them so they can integrate it into their lesson plans. The curriculum focuses on educating children on the importance of sanitation and the relationship between their community and their local water source. This pillar comes with an emphasis on ensuring that women and girls receive proper training and education to become leaders in the movement toward sustainability in their communities.
Access to Sanitation Facilities: Swarovski Waterschool emphasizes handwashing and keeping rivers clean to promote healthy and sustainable living.
Reach and Impact
As of 2017, the organization estimates that it has educated 500,000 children, trained 10,000 teachers and interacted with 1.5 million community members across 2,500 schools. These schools are in seven countries spread across five continents. Its pilot program started close to its headquarters in Austria, but the projects have since spread to other communities and countries in greater need of education and resources. This includes communities in:
- Brazil: The organization began its efforts in Brazil in 2014 alongside the Earth Child Institute and the Sustainable Amazonas Foundation. Its work here has focused on preserving the rainforest and providing sanitation facilities and rainwater tanks to villages in the state of Pará, one of the poorer regions in the country.
- China: In China, the organization has reached over 100 schools across four river basins since 2008. Here, the focus has been on academics and developing projects that get the students collecting samples and information from their local water sources to learn more about them. The organization has also involved Chinese politicians to create greater awareness and enact change toward more sustainable living.
- Uganda: Since 2009, the organization has supplied 30 schools with rainwater tanks and sanitary facilities. Swarovski Waterschool has also opened water supply systems for 20 villages, 20 water boiling facilities across several schools and installed 40 new and improved latrines with increased sanitation and hygiene.
Water and Poverty
From 1990 to 2010, global poverty halved. In the same time period, the percentage of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water also halved. This shows a clear connection between the two issues.
Additionally, a lack of access to clean water often leads to sick children, meaning missed school days. This especially affects the education of girls because they are often the ones retrieving the water. Some must walk miles to a controlled water source only available for a few hours every day. Lack of proper hygiene for young girls is also a major issue, often causing them to miss days of school and even to drop out.
Uganda is one country that has struggled to retain girls in its schools due to a lack of proper hygiene facilities. With all these disruptions in education, women and girls lose opportunities and become stuck in an impoverished life. Swarovski Waterschool has directed its work toward this issue in Uganda and elsewhere through the installment of new latrines and hand-washing stations which meet the needs of girls and allow them to stay in school.
Another major issue that the least developed countries face is the extraction of their resources to make products to ship all around the globe. Ninety percent of freshwater withdrawal in rural areas in the least developed countries is for the purpose of irrigation. Food and fiber production uses much of this water of which companies ship products internationally. The Swarovski Waterschool invests in local projects to improve the direct consumption and use of water.
Through its educational programs, installation of latrines, washing stations and water collection tanks and its work with local organizations and leaders, Swarovski Waterschool has been able to have a meaningful impact on the lives of those living in poverty. To learn more, watch its documentary “Waterschool” on Netflix which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and the World Economic Forum in January 2018.
– Scott Boyce