Born in Port Said, Egypt, I remember the fear and disruption of living in a region torn apart by the Six Day War in 1967. Ultimately, my parents made the difficult decision to relocate our family to the United States, seeking a more stable environment. As I grew older, married, and had children of my own, my Egyptian roots and the memory of what our community endured during the war remained an integral part of my identity. As a child, I never would have imagined that one day I’d be working hand in hand with Israelis to help bring positive change to the world. This is the story of how life brought me to this partnership, and together, helping change the cycle of poverty for 12 sub-Saharan communities – and we’re just getting started.
In 2015, my then-teenage daughter urged me to accompany her on a trip to Africa. Year after year, she had asked, and I had declined. But this time something stirred in me, and I agreed. Our visit to Tanzania then and our return trip in 2017 exposed me to the harsh reality of dreadful living conditions faced by the people there. They were at the mercy of the rain for sustenance, trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty with no clear way out, and the well-meaning philanthropists who were donating were only perpetuating the cycle of destitution.
We visited Upendo, one of the students whom my daughter had encouraged me to support in 2016. Upendo brought us home with her to meet her family. What I saw devastated me to my core. Walking through her village, we saw the depths of poverty, farmers sitting around with no crops because the rain hadn’t been kind that month. Women walking for miles to fill up a jug of water from a watering hole, regardless of whether the water was even clean.
Eradicating thirst with Israeli water tech and expertise
Upon returning home, I was so deeply moved by what I had seen, that I knew I had to take action. In a world where we can send messages across the globe in milliseconds, where technology had powered industrial revolution after revolution, I was determined that there must be a solution to this problem. In 2018, I founded Water 4 Mercy, Inc., a nonprofit organization with the mission to uphold human dignity by eradicating thirst, hunger, and poverty in Africa. Our vision to combine both ideas in the old saying “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach him to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime” was to provide a sustainable water system, empower these communities as our partners, and ultimately change their reality from poverty to success.
I had previously read Start-Up Nation, and it was to Israel I looked for Water 4 Mercy partners that would implement these solutions. In just five years, we’ve already brought clean water to 50,000 people in 12 sub-Saharan villages through solar water pumps and drip irrigation systems, all remotely monitored in real-time locally and in Israel, thanks to Israeli innovation and our partnership with the Israeli nonprofit Innovation: Africa.
However, clean and accessible water is only the start of the changing of the tides for these communities. We then build on these projects, partnering with Israeli NGO CultivAid and the premier Catholic vocational training school network, Don Bosco Technical Institutes of Africa to share knowledge. By Teaching their Teachers to Teach with AITeC, the Agricultural Innovation and Technology Center, where students, local farmers, and extension workers learn innovative development practices in nutrition training, climate resilience, income generation, and more, we are growing a new generation of experts for the future of food and nutritional security.
Knowledge is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and through AITeC we are able to share Israel’s innovative water technologies and agricultural knowledge throughout Africa, thereby uplifting communities.
Through capacity-building initiatives, training sessions, and project implementations, we have witnessed the positive impact of Water 4 Mercy’s recipe for success. In our first five years, while building relationships and infrastructure, we’ve transformed more than 50,000 lives and have trained over 750 farmers to sustain their crops, feed their livestock, and meaningfully participate in their local economy.
The transformation I’ve witnessed is profound. I quickly learned that our team’s solutions provide a permanent answer to the water and food scarcity faced by many African communities. Villagers who once knew only despair now had hope, dignity, and the means to support themselves.
The memories of my childhood experiences during the Six Day War have now been replaced by the heartwarming memories of the people in Africa saved by my partnership with Israel. Water 4 Mercy’s projects have not only brought clean water but also nutritious food, hope, dignity, and a pathway to self-sufficiency. ■
Nermine Khouzam Rubin, MBA MHS, is the founder and CEO of Water 4 Mercy, Inc. a US-based nonprofit organization harnessing Israeli technology and agricultural expertise to eradicate thirst, hunger, and poverty in Africa.