CSR Alumni – Zach Parker

When my best friend and I took off around the world after finishing our Hospitality and Tourism Management degrees from SDSU, I didn’t think that would lead me down a specific career path. We were going surfing, not trying to save the world. After seeing countless places around the South Pacific and SouthEast Asia, there was one place that I loved; Papua New Guinea. I liked having no electricity, no running water and pooping on the beach. Unfortunately, pooping on the beach isn’t very sanitary.

I came home completely lost in life… and broke. So, I started graduate school at SDSU and started Walu International as a class project. The idea behind Walu International had won a couple competitions based around the idea of having surf contests and “giving back.” From there, Walu International was developed with the encouragement of Dr. Jess Ponting, Dr. Martina Musteen, and Alison Gerlach.

Walu International is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the hygiene and sanitation in the coastal communities of Papua New Guinea. Our operations team has been living on and off in Lido village, Papua New Guinea for the past few years. Our goal is to make sure the community first understands their problems, and then empower them to come up with their own solutions that will lead to healthier lifestyles.

walu-2For example, Walu International recognized that the village didn’t have toilets. It didn’t take long to figure that out! Rather than going in and dropping off toilets from the Western world, the team decided to let the villagers come up with their own solution with this process. If we dropped off toilets from the Western world then we might come back and see that the toilet seats would be used as boomerangs and the pipes would be used as baseball bats. It turns out we had a lot more to learn about educating the villagers about HOW, WHY, and WHEN to use the toilets. We think that getting the materials is about 3-5% of the problem. Be very cautious of organizations promising toilet and water filter numbers, they are not SOLVING the problem. The problem is education and awareness, not materials. This is how we empower the villagers:

  1. We ask the villagers what they want to see changed in their community (Walu asked and they said that they wanted toilets). If we went over there without asking, then it seems as if we are pushing our Western culture on the villagers versus asking them what they want. This is a slow process. People are on different time schedules. Everything can always happen tomorrow or in a week, but never today.
  2. Determine how they want to build the toilets. They have been pooping on the beach for thousands of years so the change will not happen overnight. Do they want men’s and women’s bathrooms? Do they want them by their house or at the beach? Do they want to start using toilet paper or keep a splash bucket next to the toilet? These are all things that we couldn’t decide, but the villagers had to come up with themselves. In our heads, we would think that they would want toilets close to home, but how do we know? Maybe they look at Western culture and think that we are disgusting for pooping in our own homes and that pooping should be as far away from the house as possible. We had to ask.
  3. Fundraising. The village is currently fundraising for toilets by using Bingo in 4 different areas of the village. They are raising their own money to build their toilets so they feel like it is their project and they have ownership over it. To date, the village has raised $14K! Walu feels great letting our donors know that the villagers are basically matching their donations.
  4. Construction. The villagers will build the toilets using their own money, labor, and materials so that the process can be easily replicated around the village and surrounding villages.
  5. We will monitor the results and adjust for future projects. The problem we see with some international non-profits is that they expand into other communities before they actually know if their model works. Why would you want to replicate a shitty model? (No pun intended).

The biggest challenges that we’ve had to overcome were:

  1. Not succumbing to the pressure to produce “sexy” results. Most non-profits like to say, “We have built 35 toilets, that help 189 people, that will save 7 lives.” Those are vanity metrics. They sound great , but they end up causing more harm than help. Walu has had to fight the urge to produce those sexy results and instead do what is best for the community, which is to let them lead the project.
  2. Having patience building an organization is key, especially in a developing country. Different cultures move at their own pace. It was always challenging to go from fundraising/marketing in the US to going to the village. Two completely different speeds.
  3. Building relationships with donors doesn’t happen overnight. Walu originally thought that fundraising was going to be easy, but it is very time consuming and is extremely challenging. You have to put your head down and go for it.

Biggest accomplishments:

    1. Our partnership with the Monterrey Institute of International Studies. We now have graduate level International Development students helping us with our projects.
    2. Our “Give a Crap” campaign was nominated as a top-25 awareness campaign by a charity in the USA.
  1. Walu has listened to the community and are truly trying to make a difference and not just pass out water filters.
  2. Walu hasn’t given up.

For more information feel free to contact:

Zack Parker
CEO and Founder of Walu International
(831) 234 4372

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