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"The award contributed to WASH in ways beyond my imagination" - we talked with Benti Ejeta from Ethiopia about his first year as an awardee.

Benti Ejeta wins first Ton Schouten Award. Photo: IRC

What was your first reaction when you heard that you had won the first Ton Schouten Award?
At first, I was surprised and amazed. When I learnt more about Ton Schouten's work and dedication for WASH storytelling I felt that great responsibility had fallen on me. The passion and dreams he had, especially to enhance the voices of communities, are what I can truly connect with.

Do you feel that the award has given you new possibilities to tell WASH stories?
When the news was shared on IRC's website, I shared this on my own social media account. This generated enthusiasm from different stakeholders and created a stream of possibilities to talk about WASH in Ethiopia.

Shortly after I shared the news of the award, I was contacted by the Amharic service of Germany's international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. The award provided a good entry point to be invited for an interview, but eventually the conversations focused on WASH. We talked about women in WASH and how the lack of access to WASH services affects their lives for instance. Since a large part of Ethiopia's population listens to this radio, it gave me and the topic great exposure. After the programme was aired, not only friends and family, but also WASH sector organisations and high officials contacted me. Even the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity called to express their gratitude for telling the story of WASH in the radio programme.

I was also invited to speak at the 17th International Symposium on Sustainable Water Resource Development in Arba Minich University in June 2017, which was the very first time I gave a presentation at an international event. The attendees were academics who theoretically know everything related to WASH and water resources. Through a video (an edited version of the video here) where communities tell their own story I was able to show them something practical that complemented their knowledge. They were touched by the personal style of the story and it motivated discussions during the sessions and breaks of the symposium. Initiating this type of conversation is very important.

Since receiving the award I feel that in a short time I have contributed more to WASH sector dialogues than in the years before. The award opened many doors and helped me amplify important messages.

Has the award brought change to your career as a communications professional?
The award definitely strengthened my portfolio. I got a job at the JSI Research and Training institute as a Learning and Knowledge Management specialist. I'm currently telling stories about the health sector, but I aim to make connections to WASH whenever I can. After all, access to safe WASH services is intrinsically linked to public health.

Can you give examples of linking WASH to public health in your stories?
Shortly after receiving the award I published a blog, titled 'Healing the Scars', which is about the severe health consequences that lack of access to safe water can cause.

In October 2017, the Carter Center in Ethiopia invited me to deliver a training on storytelling. I talked about the Guinea-worm disease (GWD), an infection that can occur when people drink water that contains water fleas which are infected with guinea worm larvae. In my stories I aim to clearly demonstrate how diseases are linked to WASH challenges.

What are some of the highlights of your contact with IRC?
I had the chance to meet Petra Brussee, Head of Corporate Communications at IRC in August, 2017. She knew Ton Schouten personally and was able to tell me more about him and his passion for WASH storytelling. I am proud to have in a way become an IRC team member and continue his important mission through my own work and hope to keep in touch with IRC and collaborate on other WASH stories beyond this first year. I believe this important mission has no time limit. As a winner of the award, I feel a direct responsibility to dedicate myself to this cause my entire life.

Petra Brussee and Benti Ejeta celebrate Benti's award win. Photo: IRC

On the 2nd of June, 2018, Ton's birthday we will be announcing the second recipient of the Ton Schouten memorial Award for WASH Storytelling.