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IWC Africa student visits IWC Australia and WASH Conference

Kundai Chihambakwe, MPhil student from IWC water node at Monash South Africa, writes about her trip to Brisbane where she joined IWC Australia Masters students in classes at The University of Queensland and attended the IWC-hosted 2011 WASH Conference.
IWC Africa student visits IWC Australia and WASH Conference

Kundai Chihambakwe, MPhil student from IWC Africa

The students were very welcoming and made me feel as though I had always been part of the class. We had many laughs during lessons and the energiser and role plays that we took part in. I chatted with each one of them and learnt a lot about their backgrounds and homelands. It was interesting to note that many of the students hold academic backgrounds in engineering!

They took time out to show me around campus and the “cool” places to eat and also suggested places in Brisbane that I must see. An interesting adventure I had was our field trip to the Oxley Waste Water Treatment Plant where the issue of sanitation and the water treatment process was broken down step by step and gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for what really happens to our water once it goes down the drain.

Another highlight that I shared with my classmates was making a video to raise awareness for the plight of the Dugong. ( I also had the opportunity to meet with the IWC and International RiverFoundation (IRF) teams, which was nice to be able to put faces to the emails and spend some time just chatting away with them.Kundai 2

My time spent being “touristy” around Brisbane city was amazing, I found it hard to believe when I was told and shown places that had been completely submerged during the floods and now were fully operational with hardly any trace of the former natural disaster. To me that was an excellent example of disaster planning and communities coming together for the common good and accomplish great tasks.

I was greeted by an electric hum in the air upon my arrival at the Bardon Conference Centre in Brisbane as academics and practitioners in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector from across the globe came together to share knowledge and skills at the 2011 WASH Conference in a bid that this creative melting pot would lead to improved sustainable safe water, sanitation and hygiene practices across the globe. Needless to say, as a budding academic I was humbled to have the opportunity to rub shoulders with such a wealth of WASH professionals and draw upon their various pools of knowledge.

The conference was kick-started by an indigenous welcome from Kargun Fogarty; this was also my first time hearing a didgeridoo being played live! The opening plenary sessions on days one and two were opened by key-note speakers from UNICEF, WaterAid, the World Bank and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who focused people’s attention onto pressing issues such as the millennium development goals and behaviour change in terms of WASH.

In order to cover a range of topics, the conference was divided into four main themes namely; institutional sustainability, functional/environmental sustainability, behavioural change & social sustainability and financial sustainability and had sessions running concurrently throughout the two days, which allowed delegates to choose which ones they would like to attend. I opted to attend one session from each group in order to help increase my breath of knowledge with regards to various matters that surround WASH.

Days three, four and five were the training sessions in which an interactive approach was used to not only cover various WASH topics, but also allow the delegates to brainstorm, role-play, have group discussions and ask questions. This was the part of the conference which I enjoyed the most as it was a more intimate setting and allowed for greater knowledge sharing and debating in a relaxed atmosphere. Topics that I had never given much thought to, such as how the disabled in rural communities go about seemingly simple tasks such as going to the bathroom and bathing, were brought to my attention in an honest but frank manner.

The group plays and simulation tasks that I was able to engage in during the last three days were very thought provoking and reinforced the notion that we still have much to learn, and our walk to making a sustainable WASH future is a long one, but one that can be achieved through effective governance and greater education and awareness.

Tea and lunch were filled with endless networking and I must admit that I felt a tad the “still growing little fish in a very big pond”, but a very excited growing little fish I was! Being exposed to experts in my intended career path served as a real eye-opener to the various WASH plights across the world and also started the academic juices flowing as to how can I help make a difference?

The delegates were very encouraging of me pursuing my Master of Philosophy in Integrated Water Management and several of them even suggested some promising thesis topics I could look into, while others subtly hinted that they hope to see me presenting in years to come!

Attending the 2011 WASH Conference right at the beginning of my masters program afforded me the opportunity to jump straight into the deep end and gain a greater appreciation of our global WASH predicament, as well as get first-hand accounts from people who have been there in the various fields and to gain a greater appreciation of the day to day problems they face as they try to create a sustainable path.

A very special thanks goes out to the IRF, the IWC and Monash South Africa for giving me this opportunity. I have made new friends, seen new sites and mixed and mingled with professionals from a vast array of cultures. There were a lot of take-home messages which I hope to be able to incorporate, not just into my research, but into my personal practices as I begin my journey as a future WASH ambassador.



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