12/21/2017 08:09 EST | Updated 01/09/2018 14:34 EST

When We Give Girls Time To Make A Difference, Everything Is Possible

Access to clean water is a first step in changing the future for women in Madagascar and around the world.

How often have you felt there wasn't enough time in the day?

If only you had more time, you could get more work done. You could dedicate more time to the people you love. You could even spend more time nurturing yourself. Choosing how we spend our time is a privilege that many take for granted. If, in order to survive, we had to dedicate half of our day to undertaking a dangerous walk for water, how we use our time would no longer be a matter of choice. The biggest cost of not having access to safe water in Madagascar is losing time, and the most affected group, unsurprisingly, is women.

One year ago, I met Raoly, Véronique, Miora and Vero in a small village called Tsarafangitra. I came together with this group of incredible women in Raoly's home, where we spoke about all the household chores that we liked the least (the most detested being unanimous — laundry). We talked about our worries and about our hopes for the future. Their wishes were simple and clear: they only wanted health for their children and for themselves, and the opportunity for their children to get an education and work towards their own dreams for the future.

Every day they must walk to a water source located about 1.5 kilometres from their home. It sits at the bottom of a steep hill that they climb twice daily to meet their family's basic needs. It is a contaminated water source that can make these women and their children fatally ill. It was here that I watched a seven-month pregnant Raoly struggle to fill and hoist a 20-pound bucket over her head and walk breathlessly back to her home. I watched as Raoly poured the water for her two young boys to drink and later filled her own cup to quench her thirst from the journey.

Darlene Paguandas

Since they were young girls, these four women, and millions like them, have spent countless hours walking for water. This task has stopped them from getting an education. Raoly's boys can read, write, do math. Raoly cannot even write her own name.

The time they spend walking for water keeps them from earning an income, spending time with their families, taking care of themselves. The time they lose when they are sick from this water can have consequences that affect their entire families when they cannot fulfill their household duties.

There are not enough hours in a day to do it all.

In December 2016, Natasha was born. A girl.

Being born female in a developing country has a different meaning. For many, it means following your dreams until you are 12, and then supporting the dreams of your brothers; 24 per cent of girls in Africa do not finish primary school (compared to 20 per cent of boys). Being a girl means being the primary caregiver to your siblings, your parents and eventually your own children, and putting necessity before aspiration

Natasha's life will be different. She, and every girl born into this community going forward, will be the first generation to never know the burden or dangers of sourcing, carrying and drinking unsafe water. Natasha will start her life as an equal to her brothers. She will be able to attend school regularly, increasing her chances of finishing school by 15 per cent. She will have time to pursue her own dreams.

Ernest Randrarimalala
Natasha, December 2016
Darlene Paguandas
Natasha and her brothers, November 2017

Almost exactly one year later, I was reunited with Raoly, Véronique, Miroa and Vero, just one week after seven brand new taps we turned on to service the 508 people living in Tsarafangitra. A week is not a lot of time to see a lifetime of change, but there was a lightness of step and a look of respite that I did not recognize in them a year before. It was as though you could see the burden had been lifted when something so basic was now available just outside their door.

Rami Accoumeh
Rami Accoumeh

Access to clean water is a first step in changing the future for women in Madagascar and around the world. Access to this basic resource is fundamental in the progress of equality for women and girls.

The world water crisis is one of the truly solvable global issues of our time, and we have the opportunity to change the future of every girl born into developing communities around the world. Natasha represents millions of girls around the world just like her, who when provided the opportunity, will be the change the world needs to ensure no human being is ever overlooked.

When we give girls time to make a difference, everything is possible.

Darlene Paguandas is an Event Manager for Aveda Canada. Aveda Canada and Collega International have supported WaterAid for over ten years and raised over $4 million as part of their annual Earth Month campaign.