A young leader’s fight to expand access to clean water in rural Africa amid a pandemic.

Social isolation and frequent handwashing are the two most effective and quite simple weapons against COVID-19. Yet nearly 90 percent of rural Africans do not have access to reliable water inside their house or simple handwashing (soap and water) facilities. The public water points that service the majority are very crowded places. They needed to be opened so that water was available, but they were potential sources of infection. This meant that for hundreds of millions of people in rural Africa, social isolation and frequent handwashing were not possible.

At Water Access Rwanda, we were already on a drive to connect households with safe water at home, a simple act that saves women time usually spent walking for water, and reduces carbon emissions and river-bank activities. Our plan was to reach 400 households by the end of 2020. As of this writing, we’ve reached 1,727 people in their homes, 800 students, and expanded to an entirely new district.

The pandemic pushed us to act urgently. We were determined to connect more households per day, and to connect schools with clean water so they can have handwashing whenever schools re-open.

COVID-19 meant shifting our plans as a company for a while and responding as part of one global community. The focus was to survive and to empower the communities around us by responding with solidarity. As lockdowns meant most of our vulnerable clientele couldn’t get to work, we responded with free water and extended payment options for when they would be able to pay.

As we slowly learn to live in a world still affected by COVID-19, I have learned a lot as a leader. Through the urgency brought on by the pandemic, I learned that we can help even more people on a daily basis than we did before the pandemic. I learned to celebrate small victories including survival and not just growth – and, how we can all soldier on, together.

Christelle Kwizera is the founder and managing director of Water Access Rwanda, and a CGI University alumna. Water Access Rwanda is dedicated to eradicating water scarcity by providing services to collect, purify, and distribute clean water.