Written by Seán Kearney 11:02 pm IWSH

IWSH Champions leading Social Impact in the United States, Australia and Ireland

IWSH International Program Director Grant Stewart (bottom left) in Melbourne with WorldSkills Australia Plumbing and Heating competitors and organizers.

Hello again everyone and thanks for checking in with IAPMO’s International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation – better known as IWSH. It’s been a busy few months since our last update; in that column I highlighted three upcoming projects — all set to go, across three different countries – and I’m pleased to report back that all were delivered as planned and on schedule.

First up, we were excited to get back to work with our partners and friends on the Navajo Nation, supporting DigDeep with a new sanitation component to enhance their award-winning Navajo Water Project program. Following soil testing and design development earlier this year, during the first week of August an IWSH team helped install two engineered septic systems – pressurized mounds using EZflow leach-field pipe and septic tanks from Infiltrator Water Technologies. In the Baca-Prewitt area of the reservation, where conventional septic systems are failing, IWSH provided a working demonstration and educational resource the community and other regional authorities. The long-term effectiveness of any IWSH initiative truly comes from the inclusion, support, and leadership of the local community. We were delighted to be joined in Baca-Prewitt by representatives of Indian Health Services (IHS), Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority (NECA). This was a successful pilot project assembling several interested parties all with the shared goal of improving sanitation services for the Navajo people.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, a new Plumbing Champions social project was launched as part of the WorldSkills Australia National Championships & Skills Show, hosted at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on the doorstep of our IAPMO Oceana office. This project resulted in the donation and installation of 16 new hand-wash stations for a Yooralla Enterprise Center in Mooroopna, Victoria — a small town located approximately 115 miles north of Melbourne. Founded in 1918, today Yooralla supports more than 30,000 people with disabilities of all ages and needs across this region, and so our efforts to connect with and support them were very well received during and after the WorldSkills Australia event. Three weeks later and 10,000 miles away, another Plumbing Champions project was delivered via the WorldSkills Ireland National Competition in Dublin — this time providing a full bathroom renovation for a social housing property overseen by a local homelessness charity.

Over the past year, Plumbing Champions has become an important and innovative new platform for IWSH, enabling us to build meaningful community outreach activities into high-profile industry events such as skills competitions and trade fairs. These latest efforts in Australia and Ireland have provided further learning, understanding and experiences that we will carry forward into future Plumbing Champions editions; there are some pretty exciting new opportunities on the horizon, so we will keep you posted!

All of this new project activity flowed seamlessly into this year’s IAPMO education and business conference, the highlight of which (for us) is always the presentation of the annual IWSH Award. These are reserved for our most exceptional community leaders and stand-out volunteers each year, and so the timing and symbolism of our 2023 awards could not have been better as we recognized two stars of the overall IWSH story — Cindy Howe and Susan Snow.

We were honored to welcome Cindy to conference to accept her award in-person, and join our IWSH panel presentation later on the same day. As in previous years, a lot of effort went into making sure she was unaware of the award-giving and that the announcement would be a complete surprise on the day; yet again, our team outdid itself on this front, so well done to all involved!

As director of the Navajo Water Project, Cindy has helped develop and deliver every single IWSH activity on the reservation since 2018. Any volunteer who has been lucky enough to join us on “the rez” over these years will have their own stories and memories of meeting and spending time with Cindy — for me personally there are several, including an impromptu stop-off for lunch in her family home, and tears during an emotionally-charged, standing-room-only community meeting at the Baca-Prewitt Chapter House during our first Navajo Community Plumbing Challenge event.

Susan has also been a key figure in the IWSH journey, and from the very start — she was originally involved in setting up IAPMO’s fledging foundation, which has evolved to become the IWSH we know and love today. Late last year, Susan reconnected with IWSH to introduce Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma — the oldest American Indian College in the United States — and in April an IWSH team followed up to successfully remodel an existing classroom, providing a new laundry facility for students living on campus.

We think everyone who attended conference this year would agree that Cindy and Susan were deserving winners of these latest IWSH Awards. Perhaps unbeknown to us — out there in the crowd — may have been another, future winner (or two, or three…). We certainly hope so! Sincere thanks to all who donated to the IWSH cause while at conference, as your generous support enables IWSH to go from strength to strength.

As this is my last column of the year, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a happy holiday season and all the very best for 2024. Please do keep up-to-date on all things IWSH via our various social media channels @IWSHFoundation.

Thanks again for all of your goodwill through 2023; talk together again in the new year!

Last modified: May 8, 2024