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Honour for a Social Worker

08 Apr 2013

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George Okoh writes that a little known Nigerian woman Ada Oko-William won $50,000 cash award for her work on poverty reduction

For Ada Oko-William,recognition came from afar giving credence to the saying that a prophet is not recognise in his home.

An African woman from Benue State dedicated to the cause of reducing poverty in Africa, who believes that the development problems of Africa have African solutions, Oko-William emerged the winner of the biennial OU International Water Prize which has made her $50,000 richer.

With half of the cash award going to a charity of her choice, the purpose of the OU International Water Prize is to recognize and honour an individual who has made significant international contributions, either through research or teaching or service activities, in the field of water supply and sanitation, with a focus on the world's poorest living in developing countries.

The Prize is a biennial award sponsored by the Water Center at the University of Oklahoma, United States and made possible by generous gifts from alumni and friends.

In 2009 and 2011, the winners received $25,000 cash reward respectively. This award is the largest prize dedicated to the field of water supply and sanitation in remote areas of emerging regions.

“Water and personal hygiene are critical to the development agenda of Africa. They are catalysts that can sponsor and trigger growth and development in other sectors of the economy and are indeed valued input to economic development,” said Oko-William.

Trained as a social worker, in the last 14 years Oko-William has actively been involved and engaged in the social development sphere in the West African region.

She is highly committed and dynamic in the dispensation of her responsibilities in ensuring that indeed the African vision of prosperity, economic independence, social and political stability is achieved. She is living this vision in her recently taken up role as Associate Director, sanitation, at Water and Sanitation for Africa Community Development and Sanitation Services.

She brought her experience, knowledge and especially dynamism to bear on the delivery of sanitation services to some of the world’s poorest people.

Oko-William’s career transcends the different spectrum of engagement in the sanitation sub-sector in Africa considering her work with rural people in poor, low income and disease stricken communities in Nigeria, through the communities of the deep forests of Sierra Leone and Liberia and in the wild vast desert lands of communities in Niger Republic.

The hallmark of this career has been inspiring communities to take action about their own development through participatory processes, critical analysis of their situations, proffering solutions and taking actions to address the undesirable situations to them.

The award which is highly competitive through a process of nomination saw Oko-William getting nominated for her  contribution to the development of  demand-led sanitation approaches in Africa and directly working with poor rural communities in West Africa that include Nigeria, especially in post conflict contest to achieve total sanitation in Niger, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In Pujehun and Kenema Districts in Sierra Leone, Oko-william worked closely with district officials and the communities to achieve open defecation-free status in certain chiefdoms. Using the community led total sanitation approach, the communities were organised to analyse their sanitation situation and construct latrines and hand washing facilities to achieve open defecation- free status. This particular intervention was significant and far reaching in its effect as it was service targeted at people that had been scared by the war in Sierra Leone. Left in the reconstruction phase of their lives and really hoping to just live their normal lives, through inspiration and direct engagement, they were brought to a place of personal empowerment to address their sanitation problems without subsidy or aid but relying on locally available materials and resources alone.

Some communities with access road problems self- organised to construct bridges across streams. That clearly was a demonstration of the catalytic effect of improving access to WASH, a validation that WASH can always be a vehicle for addressing other developmental issues.

She was a member of National Task Group for Sanitation (NTGS) work in Nigeria advocating for and securing government funding for WASH projects across northern Nigeria.

With a relatively young career in sanitation, the impact of Oko-Williams work has been already felt across the African continent. This award will serve as a great motivation for her personally and to other budding young professional women in Africa.

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