As a young child, Georgie Badiel had to get up before dawn every day to walk to the nearest well. Carrying an empty container on her head, she walked three hours round trip every day, with her grandmother and female cousins. As she walked, she felt the injustice of the situation burning inside her.
Badiel has come a long way since then. She’s now a renowned supermodel, and she’s on a mission to help the people in her homeland access clean water more easily.
Born February 7, 1985, in Ivory Coast, Badiel grew up between there and Burkina Faso. Once she achieved success, she went back to her native village in Burkina Faso to help.
The problem wasn’t just in her hometown. Millions of people in Burkina Faso lack clean, accessible drinking water.
Women and girls are in charge of these long, dangerous, exhausting daily journeys to procure this precious commodity. Once collected, it cannot be drunk immediately, because it is full of dangerous bacteria; it must be boiled and left to cool. Almost entire lives are immolated to this work, with the same routine every day.
The website of Badiel’s foundation describes her frustration with the situation even as a young girl: Her brothers and male cousins were allowed to sleep while her and the other girls in the house had to go fetch the water. Georgie had a hard time accepting this gender inequality. At night, before going to bed, Georgie would ask her grandmother, “Why is the water so far? Why do we have to boil the water before we drink it?” Her grandmother replied that Georgie asked too many questions.
She lives and works in New York now, but she hasn’t forgotten where she came from. Badiel refuses to resign herself to leaving things as they are.
How is it possible that she can take a long, hot, clean shower in her Manhattan apartment, while her aunts, cousins, nieces, sisters, friends, and countless others in West African countries can’t even dream of it?
The turning point in this story was the birth of a baby. Georgie tells Italian paper Corriere della Sera that five years ago she flew from the USA to Benin to visit her pregnant sister.
Things there were not at all different from how she had experienced them years before. Her sister had to wake up before dawn to go fill buckets with water. Some women who lived in the countryside had to walk as far as six hours and face the risk of assault from men and wild animals.
She saw this as an unacceptable situation. Georgie wanted to do something about it in an intelligent and forward-thinking way, to be an example of true female empowerment.
After exploring various avenues to bring fresh water to homes and villages in Burkina Faso, and running into numerous obstacles, she started her own foundation. It’s not just about digging wells. It’s also about sanitation, education, and empowering women to be agents of change.
According to the foundation’s website, they’ve educated more than 15,000 children about basic hygiene and sanitary practices, have restored 110 wells, and built 19 others—helping more than 270,000 people have access to clean drinking water. They’ve also empowered 118 women to help their communities by training them to restore and maintain wells.
As both a fundraiser and a teaching tool, Badiel has participated in having her story turned into a children’s book, The Water Princess.
For Badiel, access to water is about more than health and physical sustenance; it’s about freedom. In an interview on the programme ‘Course Correction’, hosted by Nelufar Hedayat, she said, “Water enslaves people because they have no choice.” Without water, “there’s no freedom. You can’t go to school… Women don’t have that freedom to have the possibility to do other things for themselves and for their children.”
In the interview, she goes on to say: “You know, every time I go back home—all I’m thinking and all I’m seeing is how can I do more. It’s never enough, whatever I do… Now when I go to Burkina Faso, all I want to do is to find the solution [for] how we can bring clean drinking water to my country. Because when I go to villages, I see women like me, I see young girls like me, that have to spend three hours, four hours—some of them sleep on the road, just to bring back a bucket of water for their family. You know, if we really want to solve poverty, we need to start from the basic. And to me the basic is water. This is where life starts.”
(Adapted from Aleteia.org)