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In Basbedo village, Burkina Faso, 40-year-old Josephine has gone into business for the very first time.

"We had crops before, but it wasn't enough," she tells us. "Then one night I thought of what I could do to make things different. That's when I started to make beer."

A brand new business

Meeting Josephine at the home she shares with her husband, Andre, and their four children, her determination to create a better life for her family is powerfully clear.

She set up her beer-brewing business two years ago, after WaterAid began a pilot project in Basbedo. Like other communities in sub-Sahelian Burkina Faso, the people here face a dry season that can last for up to eight months of the year, with soaring temperatures making rivers evaporate and groundwater levels drop.

Josephine, 40, brews beer from sorghum at her home in Basbedo, Burkina Faso.
Having regular access to water means Josephine can brew and sell beer, providing the income she needs to take care of her family.

Every year these brutal conditions force families into a desperate search for water, or face unimaginable decisions that are all too frequently a matter of life or death.

"We only had one borehole before. There were queues and even serious fights there," Josephine explains. "People used to suffer a lot."

'Making beer means I can take care of my children'

Like many parents in Burkina Faso – where almost three million people lack access to safe water and around 12,000 children under five die from dirty water and poor sanitation every year – Josephine's motivation to supplement her family's income is rooted in personal tragedy.

"I have seven children but three died," she says. "The ones who died sometimes had pains in their stomach and pain in their body.

"At that time I didn't have the money to take them to the clinic. But since I started making beer, I can get my own money to spend myself. I can buy medicine and take my children to the doctor."

Josephine, 40, brews beer from sorghum at her home in Basbedo, Burkina Faso.
Josephine brews beer from red millet at her home in Basbedo village, Burkina Faso. 

A pioneering approach

The results of our work in Basbedo, and the two other villages where the pilot project took place, were so extraordinary that this spring we've launched our Project Sahel: Water 365 appeal, with the goal of implementing this pioneering approach in a total of 14 drought-prone communities in Burkina Faso.

This means not only investing in infrastructure and improving access to water, but also training local people to become fully-fledged water experts, so they can monitor rainfall and water levels and help their communities make the decisions that will ensure they have access to water every day of the year.

Combined with working with the government to guarantee long-term investment in infrastructure and training, this approach could transform lives across the sub-Sahelian region.

Josephine with her husband and daughter outside their home in Basbedo, Burkina Faso.
Josephine with her husband Andre and their daughter Ratba, 8.

For Josephine, it's the new well that's made the biggest difference to her family's life, providing a reliable source of the water she needs to complete the brewing process, which involves mixing red millet with water and yeast to create beer.

"I take water from the well to brew my beer, to wash our clothes and for all our other cleaning activities," she says.

"It's not far from here – we just cross the road and it's on the other side. It helps us a lot. If we didn't have the well I wouldn't be able to do what I am doing."

Read more about out pioneering approach to water access in Burkina Faso >