The world was literally at her feet. As the daughter of a career diplomat, Liberian-born Saran Kaba Jones traveled the globe with her family–from Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt to France, Cyprus, and the United States. Jones had many business avenues open to her. But when she, in 2008, returned to her home country, which had been devastated by years of civil war, she knew she had to do something for the people of Liberia.
Her efforts began with Fund a Child’s Education (FACE) but Jones soon realized that one of the major impediments to education was the lack of clean drinking water. Kids had trouble focusing on school when they lacked water. Countless children were ill due to using unsafe water. They missed school. And the schools themselves had inadequate sanitation.
Looking at the bigger picture, Jones also realized that unsafe water inhibits a country’s economic growth. So FACE Africa was created to bring clean drinking water to some of the most remote areas in sub-Saharan Africa, starting with Liberia.
In January 2009, FACE Africa was established and incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) organization. Jones knew she was on the right track when, later in the year, the organization was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Davis Project for Peace. That same year, FACE completed its first clean water project in Barnesville, Greater Monrovia, in partnership with Clean Water for Kids. They installed a water purification system capable of producing up to 20,000 liters of drinking water daily, helping about 300 people.
Since 2009, FACE Africa has raised over $250,000 for clean water projects in Liberia that have benefited more than 10,000 residents.
The organization has received support from partners like the Voss Foundation, JP Morgan Chase Community Giving, P&G’s Covergirl, The Global Neighborhood Fund, Chevron and The Segal Family Foundation.
In January 2013, FACE Africa launched an ambitious new initiative to provide complete water coverage to the entire county of River Cess. River Cess is one of the most marginalized regions in Liberia. The initiative, known as County-by-County or CbC, expects to build 250 water points over a 3 to 5 year period. The initiative will also address the county’s challenge in meeting the Millennium Development Goal for water by 2017. When it is completed, CbC will benefit more than 60,000 residents.
Jones, who was appointed an International Goodwill Ambassador, recently co-founded the Monrovia-based company, Empire Group. Empire will create businesses in the areas of small-scale manufacturing, agriculture and hospitality. The company is already building a four-bedroom guest-house in River Cess County, which will serve as the only formal guest-house in the county.
TNJ.com got to find out more about FACE Africa from Saran Kaba Jones, who splits her time between Boston and Liberia.
TNJ.com: What first got you interested in the clean water issue?
Saran Kaba Jones: In 2008, I returned to my home country Liberia after a decade-long civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and millions were displaced from their homes. Most of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed or abandoned and the very fabric of society torn asunder. This was a conflict that forced my own family to flee the devastation 20 years earlier.
Shortly after the end of the war in 2003, Liberians began the difficult process of trying to rebuild their society one piece at a time. My interest in the clean water issue was born from the ashes of this conflict, out of a need to help others reclaim the means to build a better life and prosper. It began with “Fund a Child’s Education” (F A C E) but I quickly realized that one of the major impediments to education was the lack of clean drinking water. Children were not showing up to school for extended periods of time, severely hampering their development. I discovered that, in a majority of these cases, a child had contracted one of the many illnesses caused by unsafe water or that the school’s facilities were inadequate to attend to a child’s sanitation needs. At that point it made sense to focus on solving the issue of water, which was directly related to all the other areas of development.
TNJ.com: What prompted you to launch FACE Africa?
S.K.J.: The path that led me to FACE Africa started really when I was a young child. I have always had a strong concern and compassion for others, and have always strived to help whenever possible. From a very young age, I was exposed to a world of diplomacy, travel and community service since my father was a public servant and career diplomat.
Born in Liberia, my experiences traveling the world, as well as my time spent living in four different countries made me certain I wanted to do something internationally that would help people, and specifically Liberia – I just never knew what.
One thing I did believe was that the most effective way to bring about positive change in Africa and end the cycle of poverty was to invest in the education of its young children.
In 2005, I began sponsoring a young family friend through high school in Liberia. After a few short years, he went on to graduate and enrolled at the University of Liberia where he is currently a student. When I realized just how much of an impact my rather small support had made, I decided to share my story and convince others to sponsor kids in Liberia. That was the beginning of what is now FACE Africa.
When I finally went back to Liberia in 2008 after being away for almost 20 years, I was struck by the devastation caused by the war. I witnessed acute poverty; saw the poor state of the education and healthcare systems, and deplorable infrastructure. I witnessed a tragedy related to unsafe water and it quickly struck me that the lack of clean water and proper sanitation was the cause of a lot of the health issues in the country. The implications of not having access to such a basic human right were even more severe for girls and women who bear the burden of collecting water and it became clear that any serious effort to create change in Liberia needed to start with water.
TNJ.com: How do you raise money for the organization?
S.K.J.: Fundraising has been a real challenge for us.
Currently we rely on individual donations and small grants from foundations, which is not sustainable. My goal is to grow FACE Africa into a sustainable organization funded with full-time staffing and a full operating budget that will really allow us to scale and do more.
We are currently looking for ways to becoming self-sustaining. Whether it’s developing a social business that will create employment opportunities while supporting our work or identifying individuals with resources willing to invest in our mission, we want to be able to focus our efforts on service delivery rather than on the struggle to raise operational funds.
Currently we accept donations via our website and we are currently testing out a new platform that will allow individuals to set up their own fundraising campaigns to fund water projects in Liberia.
TNJ.com: What are your long-term goals for the organization?
S.K.J.: Right now we are focused on our County by County program in Liberia. Our goal is to show that with the right strategy, focus and investment, we can solve the water crisis. If we can prove that our CbC model works in Rivercess, Liberia, we plan to replicate it in other parts of the continent, and make access to clean water a reality for hundreds of millions of people.
We have plans to expand to other countries beyond Liberia. When it comes to the issue of clean water in Africa, the numbers are staggering. Of the 800 million people worldwide that lack access to safe drinking water, 350 million of those are in Africa, with a majority in sub-Saharan Africa.
On the continent alone, 40 billion hours a year are wasted walking to fetch water. That has enormous implications in terms of overall productivity and economic development of the entire continent. Our mission is to be a part of the solution of solving the water crisis in Africa so that communities and countries can get on a path towards long-term sustainable growth and development.
TNJ.com: What do you enjoy the most about the work you do with FACE Africa?
S.K.J.: I get so much satisfaction from seeing the immediate impact of our work. Our projects reduce water and sanitation-related disease burden, increase productivity, promote human welfare and truly transform a community. More importantly, I enjoy working with my team members who all bring to the organization a level of passion and drive that is beyond inspiring…What’s remarkable is that this is a group of passionate young people (all 30 and under) who are coming together to make a difference and change lives through the basic provisions of clean drinking water.