Female role models make a mark in society

By LI HONGYANG | China Daily
Updated: Feb 16, 2023
Zhu Dixinyao (third from left), secretary-general of MyH2O, poses for a photo with residents who benefited from the first public welfare water station in Gangu, Gansu province, in 2019. Zhu's NGO devises and implements solutions to improve the quality of drinking water in rural areas. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Editor's Note: China Daily profiles three women from different backgrounds across the country who are succeeding in their chosen fields.

NGO boss committed to community work

Zhu Dixinyao and her team at MyH2O are dedicated to improving the lives of villagers. They do this by conducting tests of drinking water sources in rural areas and finding ways to make them safe.

Since the NGO was founded in Beijing in 2015, it has mobilized thousands of university students as volunteers to visit more than 1,000 villages in 26 provinces, collecting more than 5,500 water samples for testing, said Zhu, the organization's secretary-general.

The 29-year-old graduate of Pitzer College in the United States said she opted to do full-time public welfare work in environmental protection after witnessing the hands-on efforts of her friends in the US. Having become interested in the environment at college, she worked as a volunteer for several public welfare groups.

"The changes that short-term support bring will be short-term changes. I am eager to see what happens to the people I helped, and whether there are good, long-term changes," she said.

"So, working in the field full time can help me better understand their problems and needs, provide sustainable support and bring about real change."

Zhu (right) and her team test the water quality on a mountain in Garze Tibetan autonomous prefecture, Sichuan province, in 2019. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Zhu joined MyH2O in 2019, and she is now in charge of the organization's day-to-day operations and talent training.

The NGO's major campaigns are designed to devise and implement solutions to improve the quality of drinking water in rural communities and schools. For example, in 2019, it opened its first public welfare water station in Gangu, Gansu province, a semiarid region in Northwest China.

During the dry season, the villagers used to store drinking water in their cellars. However, it became turbid after standing for long periods, and people had to buy bottled water for children and guests during festivals.

"Water turned out to be a luxury," Zhu said.

Since the first station opened, more such projects have been implemented in dozens of villages across seven provinces, including Yunnan and Hebei.

Initially, one of the biggest challenges the NGO's volunteers faced was winning over residents in some villages. For example, when they discovered poor-quality water and made plans to install a purification station, some locals had concerns about how the move might affect the settlement's reputation.

For example, some would ask "Are you here to sell water purifiers?" or "Are you here to accuse us of not doing a good job?" or "What financial benefits will you get?"

However, thanks to the assistance of other nonprofits who were familiar with the villages, the communication problem was quickly overcome.

From 2015 to last year, MyH2O collected data and information from more than 1,000 villages in 26 provinces to further formulate solutions to improve the safety of drinking water in remote places.

"We use the data for policy advocacy. We can produce examples, papers, reports and white papers, and deliver them to the relevant government departments," Zhu said.

"We hope we can bring about a change in policy from top to bottom and solve the problem of rural drinking water on a large scale."

Zhu conducts a field survey in Ulaanqab, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, in 2021. [Photo provided to China Daily]

According to the National Development and Reform Commission, the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project, a government initiative, has provided safe drinking water for 280 million rural residents nationwide over the past decade, while also consolidating and improving the security of supplies for 340 million people in the countryside.

Zhu and her team have witnessed the changes. Last year, during a field survey at a village primary school in Hebei, Zhu was delighted to find that the water quality was up to standard, and that supply equipment had been installed.

"When we went to some villages a few years ago, the residents used shoulder poles and buckets to carry water. Recently, those villages have been connected to a supply network and faucets have been installed in people's homes," she said.

A stable institution must have a stable team, though, and recruitment is sometimes a headache for Zhu.

"It is hard to find experienced communication personnel and environmental science researchers who are willing to work for public welfare institutions for a long time. Most of the money we receive from the foundation, corporate sponsorship, individual donations and crowd-funding flows to the countryside," she said. "Almost all public welfare organizations find it difficult to attract outstanding people to work for them as they are not well-funded, so salaries are low."

Her biggest hope this year is that her team can find more outstanding young volunteers who are willing to deepen their experience and long-term development in the fields of public welfare, environmental protection and water resources.

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