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Let’s say you want to tackle the issue of clean water access.

Around the globe, 783 million people lack access to safe, clean water, according to the UN, and you work with a group that wants to do something about it.

No doubt your company or organization will plan systems to improve water treatment, quality and reuse. You’ll take the systems to the countries that need them, install them alongside existing infrastructure and check that they work smoothly.


Then what? Does this sound like enough to solve the issue?

But in the case of water, this communication becomes an international dialogue across countries and cultures. Beyond communication in general, it’s important to remember language when conducting educational campaigns.If you’ve worked on any kind of public works project, you’ve no doubt noticed what’s missing: communication with the public. Involving the stakeholders is crucial, since they will ultimately be responsible for using and maintaining the system.

Teaching communities about water re-use, wastewater management and the water cycle will be more effective if companies and nonprofits communicate in the local language.  Even if community members speak a second language, receiving information in their native language will resonate more and allow them to take ownership of the project.

Removing the language barrier also ensures that details will be understood, and allows the project to be adapted to a local context.  Since water is essential to life on earth, it shows up in many religious and social traditions, which may impact the way community members view access to and use of water. A successful project will take these into account.

Ultimately, removing language barriers will help involve the local community and empower them to continue water access improvements independently. By taking local language and culture into account, companies and organizations will insure that a project has a long-term impact and will achieve its goals.

photo credit: K. W. Sanders via photopin cc

One thought on “How Eliminating Language Barriers Helps People Understand the Value of Water

  1. Great blog, Elisabeth. I did a humanitarian aid project for water purification/distribution efforts in Peru (’10) and my Spanish wasn’t quite as up to par as it is now. Technical language of filtration, distribution, and design was challenging for me and I looked to our director for assistance while speaking with the indigenous locals. I appreciate the statement, “Ultimately, removing language barriers will help involve the local community and empower them to continue water access improvements independently.” I think it is important to incorporate local communities’ voices with water projects so that it doesn’t become a service that is provided to their community, rather something that does “empower” them in the process with intentions of reaching a “long-term impact.”


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