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Here at Sawyer, we’re grateful to have over 140 charity partners executing clean water projects in communities around the world. This International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting those who work most closely with (or are entirely led by) women. 

In many communities, the responsibility of collecting and filtering water frequently falls on the shoulders of women. This often requires women to travel great lengths on foot and comes at the expense of their education and safety. Empowering women does more than improve the health of the community; it helps break generational poverty.

“Once the water is good, people drink more. They are no longer chronically dehydrated. They miss less school and work. This leads to increased education and income. Clean water does more than improve health. It changes lives.”
                                        Sawyer Ambassador Heather “Anish” Anderson on Uganda’s clean water projects via Impact Nations

Read on to learn more about the incredible organizations that are empowering women all over the globe, one filter at a time. 

Kora in Okrane (KIO) 

Core Values: Respect and care for our family and community, our culture and traditions, our environment, ourselves and others.

Founders: Monique Levy-Strauss and Francyne Wase-Jacklick

Main Area of Impact: The Marshall Islands

Story: Kora in Okrane - meaning “women who rise at dawn” - was founded 17 years ago entirely by volunteers. Since then, KIO has tackled a wide range of community needs from installing smokeless stoves in homes to hosting children’s reading events. 

The Marshallese are some of the kindest and most welcoming people in the world, and also the most resilient. The Marshall Islands have been dealt a great deal of hardships - especially in the form of nuclear testing by the United States after WWII - and there are more on the horizon. Climate change is a real threat to the people living on the islands, so the RMI (Republic of the Marshall Islands) EPA and KIO often partner on projects where clean water and climate resilience overlap. 

The project to bring clean water to every single person in the Marshall Islands began 6 years ago, with distribution starting in the outermost atolls and working inward toward the capital of Majuro. Implementation of the project began by prioritizing the most vulnerable of their community. KIO volunteers worked with traditional women leaders to ensure that everyone on the islands understood how to use and maintain the filters, and last July the project to secure clean water for every household in the Marshall Islands was officially completed. 

"That's really our strategy: to empower the woman and then she will empower her family."
                             —Monique Levy-Strauss, founder, Kora In Okrane (KIO)

The impact of KIO goes beyond the direct impact of their programs. All over the Marshall Islands programs, government offices, and NGOs are run by women, and in January 2016 they elected the first woman president of the South Pacific. 

Learn more about how KIO led the Marshall Islands to the finish line last July and secured accessible, sustainable clean water for every single home on the islands in this video by Backcountry Exposure’s Devin Ashby.

Water by Women 

Director: Sister Larraine Lauter

Vision: We believe that every child, everywhere, should be drinking clean water. 

Main Areas of Impact: Haiti, Honduras, Kentucky, the Navajo Nation

Story: Armed with the staggering knowledge that 2 million deaths occur annually due to unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene, Water by Women (formerly Water With Blessings) began with a simple question: What does accessible and sustainable clean water look like for communities? 

In many areas of focus for Water by Women, clean water is available, at a price. But this price often comes with a choice: medicine, or water? Clothes, or water? Transportation, or water? The team at Water by Women works tirelessly to provide a solution that means families and communities no longer have to choose. 

Our work with Water by Women began in 2008 as they became one of Sawyer’s first international charity partners. Now, WBW provides us with filers from the field that have been used and maintained daily for up to 15 years. Analysis of these filters provides us with crucial data that we use to inform future clean water projects. 

Water by Women focuses on empowering women by promoting self-determination and dignity through their programs at every opportunity. They believe Water Women are heroes for their own people and ensure that trainers are made up entirely of nationals serving their communities. 

Learn more about Sister Larraine and the Water Women of Honduras by watching Miranda Webster’s film Miranda Goes to Honduras!

The Waterbearers 

Founders: Jane Brinton, Spryte Loriano, Erin Toppenberg

Main Area of Impact: Ecuador

Mission: Inspiring women who have access to clean water to get it to those who do not.

Story: In 2016, the trio Jane Brinton, Spryte Loriano, and Erin Toppenberg launched a 30-day fundraising campaign with a deadline of World Water Day, March 22nd. Their efforts focused on empowering women to lead the charge for clean water in their communities paid off when they were able to inspire 100 women to take their challenge. Over 320,000 people gained access to clean water thanks to their campaign and the efforts of those they inspired. 

Since then, the Waterbearers have been a powerful force for clean water through their efforts to empower women to take action and have impacted lives in over 34 countries to date. 

Even for places like the Marshall Islands which have achieved border-to-border status, there are still 2.2 billion people across the globe who lack access to clean drinking water. International Women’s Day is our opportunity to appreciate the women who every day do the work in hopes of making a difference in the lives of others in their communities. 

Thank you to KIO, Water by Women, and the Waterbearers for empowering women everywhere through clean water access for all!

Links for Further Reading 

Celebrating the Water Women of Honduras by Chelsea Newton on the Sawyer Blog

How the World Water Crisis Disproportionately Affects Women by Hannah Singleton

Drinking Water by UNICEF


March 8, 2024

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Katie Houston

Katie AKA Oats is a solo thru-hiker with over 3,000 miles under her belt, making her a passionate conduit for culture, lingo, and other backcountry knowledge. Through her work, she is able to educate audiences on good trail ethics and strive for an outdoor community where everyone feels like they belong. Check out her adventures with Thru the husky on her website and Instagram.

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