Walu idea offers villages a cleaner reality

by Sydnee Brooker

Courtesy of waluinternational.org
Courtesy of waluinternational.org

In 2007, best friends Zack Parker and Taylor Paul arrived in Lido, Papua New Guinea in search of the perfect wave. Although the young travelers were ecstatic to find what they were looking for, they were distraught by what they did not find — electricity, toilets, running water and real means of sanitation were not present in the beautiful, underdeveloped village. Although they didn’t know it at the time, the young men would soon return to make long-term changes in the community.

After traveling, Parker began his Master of Business Administration program at San Diego State and in Fall 2009 was assigned to create a sustainable business plan for a class project. The poverty-stricken community of Lido came to his mind and, with five other students, Parker drafted a nonprofit business model focused on improving the sanitary conditions of coastal communities in Papua New Guinea.

However, earning a good grade was not enough for the students. After dedicating hours of hard work, raising money and awareness and finding their way through a bureaucratic maze, their business model became a reality with the creation of Walu International in October 2009.

Growing up, Parker’s younger brother could not pronounce the word “water” and would ask their mother, “Can I have a glass of walu?” This family anecdote is where the name of the organization originated. Today, it is Parker and his associates’ hope that people in underdeveloped countries have the chance to ask their loved ones if they would like a fresh glass of “walu.”

Although the founders of the organization were successful in creating a business plan focused around this idea, they realized they needed some assistance to realistically implement new practices within the communities they were trying to help. In December of last year, Dr. Dave Jenkins, the founder of SurfAid International, jumped on the Walu board as its community development consultant.

“Jenkins helped us formulate an overall operational strategy,” Parker said. “Behavior change takes years and he taught us how to slow down and do things correctly the first time. Just having (the locals) build something isn’t the problem; having them learn how to use it is the problem.”

Jenkins suggested beginning with the single village of Lido as a trial and error site to formulate a community development plan that could be successfully repeated in other areas. Walu’s current plan is called “Community-led Total Sanitation.”

“We train local people to be the liaison between our organization (and the village),” Parker said. “We’re in the community every day, but when it comes time to give presentations, it’s local people who present issues and motivate (the community).”

With help from Jenkins and locals, Walu recently set up 60 unsubsidized hand-washing stations in Lido in less than a month. The team hopes this new development will dampen the prevalence of cholera, an infection in the small intestine causing severe diarrhea, within the community. According to the Walu website, one in six children die in Papua New Guinea every year because of diseases similar to cholera, and about 90 percent of these deaths could be prevented with better sanitation practices.

In the future, Parker hopes Walu International will be at the top of the nonprofit water sanitation and hygiene industry. Its next project within the U.S. will be a monthly donation campaign established to show it gives a crap by raising money so people in less privileged parts of the world have access to a toilet. The campaign will kick off with a fundraiser event May 11 at Bar West in Pacific Beach. To find out more information about Walu, visit waluinternational.org or check out the organization’s Facebook page at facebook.com/waluinternational