Masouma Rasouli is the first female Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) engineer with World Vision Afghanistan. Read her story in her own words.
When I was a child, I used to stare at the night sky and raise my hands to catch one of those little shining things, especially the biggest one which my mother said was the moon. I didn’t have any idea what they were and what they did in the sky; I just wanted to catch them and bring one to my home so that everywhere could light up.
We didn’t have electricity, and my mother had to break the ice from the small canal in front of our house to take water to wash the clothes in winter. It became my wish that one day I will bring electricity and water to our home. I was a child, not more than eight years old, but I felt a responsibility to bring happiness and comfort to our home.
Watch Masouma share her story in her own words:
Throughout high school I challenged the perceptions of what women can do, graduating with the highest score among all the male and female students, with a 99% score. This meant I could take the Herat Vocational Technical Institute’s entrance test and study two more years and receive my associate degree.
We moved to the city so I could study at the technical college, and my family finally had electricity and water. But I knew there were still children wishing to catch the stars to light up their houses like I had as a child. This made my dream grow from helping my family to helping my people.
So, I stepped forward, stronger than before, and registered myself for the university engineering entrance test.
When choosing my major, I noticed that there were no girls in the mechatronics department. The students believed that it is a career path only for men since it is hard to accomplish and work in this sector.
Fearlessly I chose mechatronics to prove that girls can! And I outshone more than most of the boys in the class. After my graduation, the number of girls who chose the mechatronics department increased.
The first female WASH engineer
When it was time to join the workforce, I was disappointed that female engineers were not welcome to work in many organizations and companies. Few of them believed in the abilities of a girl in this field. But I found a job as a lighting designer in a small company. I learned a lot and gained a lot of experience; however, it didn’t satisfy me because it was very far from my desire to help my people.
My first experience with World Vision was in February 2019 as a Training Officer in the Faith in Social Change Project. After eight months I joined the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Department as the first woman to work as a WASH engineer with World Vision Afghanistan.
As a WASH Engineer, I directly engage women in the projects that are designed for them – something which was never considered before. I look at the projects from the perspective of women, getting them involved in solving their own problems.
I remember traveling to a small village outside Herat with my colleague to conduct a needs-assessment. When talking to the men, it didn’t seem like the community needed a water system. However, in this community, women are responsible for collecting and providing the water, and they used to face a lot of problems that men didn’t consider to be a challenge.
The women shared their problems very openly. Many of the women and girls were suffering from infections, hair loss, and diarrhea. Conflict between children while filling their containers, and losing the water containers because of crowded lines of children, were a common result of an unprotected water source. Despite these problems, the men of that village said they had a reliable source of water. They didn’t count women’s health challenges as a problem. When I spoke to the women of the village, I understood how important it is for them to have a voice and access to clean water.
I am a woman with ambitions who has proudly stepped into a challenging career. Building clean water projects is not only a dream career for me, but a clear path to help other women learn, increase their capacities and encourage them to take the lead in their life and career like I did.
The community leaders I work with, at first do not easily greet me, but later, when they understand that I am an engineer trying to help them, they start respecting and referring to me as an Engineer, not “just as a woman.”
COVID-19 brought some restrictions in my job but it won’t stop me because I know it is vital, especially in this pandemic. The WASH team and I are working hard to provide water for people in communities where they don’t have access to clean water.
Since the start of the pandemic we have distributed 1000 feminine hygiene kits to women and girls along with information about reproductive health and hygiene and how it intersects with COVID-19. We have constructed and rehabilitated toilets and solar-powered water supply systems for two schools, giving the students access to safe water to drink and wash their hands regularly. We have also installed four water supply systems in four villages located in outlying areas, so now they can have access to water and can take precautions in this pandemic.
Although I couldn't bring the moon into our home, I will continue to work hard to prove that women with or without education can be powerful and are able to handle jobs that men can do. And I will continue to work hard to reduce poverty, support gender equality, increase good health and well-being, and help to provide clean water and sanitation to communities in need.
World Vision research warns that 30 million children’s lives are at risk from secondary health impacts like infectious disease, malnutrition and malaria because of increased instability caused by COVID-19. This compounds an already dangerous situation for the 42 million children without access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, including handwashing facilities, which are so critical in preventing the spread of disease. Learn how you can support humanitarian workers like Masouma to help more children overcome these challenges.