After a 4-year hiatus due to the pandemic, FACE Africa hosted its 12th annual WASH gala in New York City, welcoming more than 250 national and international guests, on Saturday, March 25th. This year's in-person event has already raised nearly $150,000 through ticket sales, live donations, and sponsorships.
For years, the WASH gala has continued to serve as the annual gathering spot to help raise awareness and funds for clean water projects in rural Liberia. The United Nations says 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water while UNICEF estimates nearly 200 million children across 10 African countries are at the highest risk of death due to water-related threats.
"Numbers like 2 billion and 200 million are so large that the human brain interprets them as an abstraction but these are real people," said Alphonso David, the CEO of Global Black Economic Forum who also spoke at the gala.
FACE Africa founder and CEO, Saran Kaba Jones, fled the continent when she was 8 years old due to Liberia's civil war. She returned nearly twenty years later and began the non-profit in 2009. "The pure joy, love, and togetherness I witnessed in every corner of the room reminded me that despite the past four challenging years, people are still willing to come together to support a cause they believe in," Jones said.
The amount raised from the gala so far is up 87% from 2019 while FACE Africa still works to meet its 2023 fundraising goal of $200,000.
The night, hosted by media personality Shoana Cachelle, included captivating videos that told personal stories of Liberians who benefited from the organization’s recent work. Seeing proof of the impact their support has had on so many lives, moved some attendees to tears. Tilo Stolz, a United Nations officer who purchased a $350 supporter level ticket said he supports the gala each year because he admires Face Africa's "drive and dedication."
In previous years, funds from the annual gala have gone towards drilling for water, maintaining water pumps, and providing safe water, hand-washing stations, and health, hygiene and nutritional education to thousands of people living in isolated Liberian communities. Event sponsors for this year included the Niraj Bhatia Foundation, the National Basketball Players Association Foundation, Moët & Chandon, and the Cordes Foundation.
Towards the end of the event, Niraj Bhatia surprised attendees by also matching a portion of donations.
"I decided to sponsor the event and match donations because I wanted to help bring awareness and activate more people to get involved," Bhatia said. "I have worked with FACE Africa for several years and believe water, food, education, and self-empowerment are the root of change."
The WASH gala was named an official United Nations World Water Day event in 2010 to help curve the global water and sanitation crisis while empowering more people to take action. This year, FACE Africa's newly appointed board chair, Abiola Oke, received a proclamation from the New York State Senate for "upholding the values of community."
“We must organize, we must work together," Oke said. "I’m honored and enthusiastic to grow the work the organization is committed to."
For FACE Africa’s chief operating officer and field director, Pauline Egan, that work is personal. “After working in the field in Liberia over the past four years, which can take a physical and emotional toll, this year's event re-energized me and reminded me of why I continue to want to commit my life to this work," said Egan. "We’ve been through so much but we’ve also grown."
Since 2009, FACE Africa’s interventions have impacted over half a million lives through community-based programs focused heavily on health and hygiene training and financial management. Its programs are also focused on reducing gender inequality while ensuring at least 50% of its own committee and staff is made up of women.