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September 25, 2013

Speaker discusses importance of sanitation projects worldwide

NORMAN — Teachers, parents, children, speakers and international activists joined together to sing, “I believe children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way,” at the close of the 2013 OU International waTER Conference on Tuesday night.

Ada Oko-Williams, who won the 2013 OU International Water Prize for her work on sanitation and behavioral changes within communities, said the song always inspired her to follow her own path, and she hoped all of the conference participants would find similar inspiration.

The waTER Conference, which began Monday and will conclude today, brought together participants from multiple disciplines responding to the UN Millennium Development Goals of bringing water and sanitation to developing countries. David Sabatini, director of the OU waTER center, said the conference had about 200 participants from 20 countries and five continents.

Working in western Africa for the past 14 years, Oko-Williams, who is from Nigeria, said she had experience working directly with communities to bring them access to sanitation.

“Through my work, I’ve been able to bring inspiration to communities in very difficult situations and help them actually work on their problems,” she said.

Discussing some of her work in Benue, Oko-Williams said people there had never used a toilet, much less knew what a water facility looked like.

Her work focuses on sanitation, but Oko-Williams said building latrines can lead to the rallying of a community and the discussion of other issues.

“In Benue, the latrines lead to talks about money for school fees, hygiene for women and the community’s general well-being,” she said.

Some of the places where Oko-Williams has worked on brining sanitation have been in government turmoil. Sierra Leone was a particular challenge for Oko-Williams after it came out of six years of devastating war.

“There was no sense of government. We had to think about what we could do before the government got there,” Oko-Williams said. “My work there was beyond the output of the projects (constructed latrines).”

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