child in Malawi

Water for Life: Collaborating to Empower Women Around the World

Photo by Sara Fajardo for CRS

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Throughout our 75 years, Catholic Relief Services has learned a lot. Most of all, we’ve learned that we can’t do our work alone. Collaboration with the communities we work in, with our supporters, with the Church and with our partners brings us great joy.

collecting water

Women and children collect water at a borehole in Sissili Province, Burkina Faso. Photo by Sam Phelps for CRS

The National Council of Catholic Women is one of our first partners. CRS and the NCCW have worked together since 1946, when councilwomen joined CRS to support World War II refugees.

“Called together by the U.S. bishops in 1920, the NCCW has a long history of leadership and service grounded in our Catholic faith,” says Maribeth Stewart-Blogoslawski, president of the NCCW. “It was natural for the NCCW to partner with Catholic War Relief Services when World War II necessitated relief efforts, such as clothing for war orphans, which the NCCW ladies supplied in abundance.”

War Relief Services later became Catholic Relief Services. Over the years, the collaboration between NCCW and CRS expanded. Today, NCCW members support our work through their prayers, donations and legislative advocacy. They also educate dioceses, parishes and Catholic women about global social justice issues.

“The fact that they are active members of their parishes and making up voices of diocesan leadership—it’s great for our bishops and others to hear from women who have such a connection to the work we are doing overseas,” says Kimberly Mazyck, CRS relationship manager for national partnerships.

NCCW supports programs that benefit women and children. These programs include educating children, supporting refugee families uprooted by conflict or natural disaster, providing opportunities to pregnant women and new mothers through health initiatives, and helping consumers make a difference by purchasing products that empower women farmers and artisans.

Another program—Water for Life—makes clean, safe water available to families. Program funds are used for integrated water systems that combine irrigation, sanitation systems and basic hygiene education. These all contribute to stronger communities.

hand washing

Rosali Ouedrago demonstrates hand-washing during a hygiene promotion session in Burkina Faso. Photo by Sam Phelps for CRS

“There is a fundamental symbolism of water in the Catholic faith,” says Olga Baeza, a longtime NCCW supporting member and former province director for the Archdiocese of Washington. “We strive daily to live out our baptismal promises. NCCW’s special commitment to water is central to NCCW’s unified voice in support of, and as an advocate for, our universal family and respect for life.”

In many places around the world, women manage the household water supply, often walking long distances to retrieve it. Water is life, as our drinking, bathing and cooking rely on it.

“Our NCCW members feel strongly that human dignity—which should be accorded to all persons—includes access to clean water and sanitation,” Maribeth says. “We are so happy that we can provide this life-giving gift of clean water to areas deprived of this resource.”

“Women understand water,” says Jacklyn Ireland, CRS communications specialist for partnership training and engagement. “When you take the word ‘water,’ you are talking about agriculture, nutrition and health. With NCCW, this is a program they can understand because they can relate to it. They see water for the value that it has. Without it, people can’t survive.”

In Ethiopia, NCCW has supported a watershed management program. Hillside terracing and sustainable land-use planning help to naturally replenish exhausted water supplies. Communities now have access to more water, which has increased crop production, generated more income and improved overall health.

Even though the partnership between NCCW and CRS spans more than 7 decades, it has the capacity to grow and raise awareness about life-giving programs.

“Other partners usually have significant paid staff, but for NCCW this is their ministry—this is something they are involved in outside of work, outside of their families,” says Kimberly.

“I see the potential for greater promotion and education in our local communities about the global mission of Catholic Relief Services,” Olga says. “Our NCCW membership is a beautiful way to live our faith in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world.”

Jacklyn agrees. “The women of NCCW are true women of God,” she says.