Babatope Babalobi Babalobi@yahoo.com
My heart has been heavy since last Friday. I have just overcame the initial shock, grief, and psychological trauma of losing a dear friend and colleague, one of the finest in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector.
One of the most depressing assignments a Journalist could face is to break the news of a friend’s obituary. When I heard of the sudden death of Juanita last Friday through an email by Saheed Mustafa, Policy and Partnership Officer at WaterAid, I refused to spread the news.
Later that same day, when Oluseyi Abdulmalik, Communications and Campaigns Manager, WaterAid in Nigeria, specifically requested I quickly write a befitting tribute on Juanita During, I also could not surmount the strength to do so.
How do I start writing of Juanita in the past?
My relationship with Juanita During was more than that of a professional colleague. She was a friend and motivator. She was also an inspiration in water, sanitation and hygiene sector -advocacy and activism. Personally, I regard her as a model, and she was always there to support and encourage my work.
For those who do not know her, Juanita, was the before her death, the Head of Policy, Advocacy and Partnership at the African Centre for Water and Sanitation (CREPA) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
She had earlier worked for WaterAid Nigeria as Head of governance, UNICEF, and the Afri-projects Consortium which managed the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) in Nigeria.
She was reported to have died on died last Thursday, August 16 at a Burkina Faso hospital after a brief illness.
My eyes are filled with tears as I write this piece on a person, that has been described by various people as a ‘Rising Star’ in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, nationally, regionally, and internationally. As the Yoruba ethnic group in Nigeria will say’ Iku fi osika sile, omu eni rere lo’. (Death left the wicked and took a good person).
Juanita was one of the most passionate people on WASH that I have come across. Her profound commitment to increasing access of services to the poor is perhaps unmatchable by any other person in Nigeria, nay in the African continent. When I approached her for an interview at the Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene in Mumbai, October 2011, she said she is willing to answer all questions, saying with confidence and modesty that even if she was just woken from a sleep, there was not question on WASH she could not answer or an issue she could not respond to.
No International meeting on WASH was complete without her participation and egregious contribution. She had the WASH facts on her finger tips and figures on her lips. She is well known and respected for making informed commentary with a power of oratory fuelled by a deep conviction that WASH issues need to be put in the front burner.
You cannot come in contact with Juanita and not become won over to WASH advocacy. On August 24, 2011 during the World Water Week in Stockholm, she was one of the speakers at a seminar titled: ‘Drive to 2015’, where the strategies of achieving the WASH Millennium Development Goals were discussed. Before she was called to the podium, the speakers before her, had described water sanitation in esoteric and technical terms, such as ‘human excreta’ and ‘human waste’.
When she picked the microphone, she set the hall literally ablaze with an infectious conviction, speaking powerfully, breaking the communication barrier, and laying the facts bare; she described human waste simply as ‘shit’ to a thunderous applause. Her quarrel was that even the sector practitioners are reluctant to talk about ‘shit’ in plain and simple language.
The proceeding of the event as report by eWASH titled: “Stakeholders discuss ‘shit’ at World Water Week” http://assemblyonline.info/?p=13269; is reproduced below:
“At a seminar on ‘Drive to 2015’ during the World Water Week in Stockholm, yesterday, During said: all stakeholders need to talk more about “shit”.
Speaking forcefully that the sanitation target in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can be achieved, if sanitation becomes trendier to stakeholders, she said “I’m not very good at political correctness, but let’s face it; we are here to talk about shit,”
“It is not pretty, it doesn’t smell nice and we want to get away from it, but it is a matter of life and death. We need to make sure that sanitation and hygiene is trendy, hence the catchy acronym: SHIT”, said Juanita During who represented CREPA (Centre Regional pour l’Eau Potable et l’Assainissement à faible coût) at the ceremony”
The second day, she event was expectedly the lead story of the ‘Waterfront’ the daily newsletter of the World Water Week, and her picture and comments graced the cover. http://www.worldwaterweek.org/documents/WWW_PDF/Media/2011/2011WWW-Thursday-low.pdf
As some of us her friends and colleagues in Stockholm, sat down to review the ‘Waterfront’ story of the titled: ‘Sanitation needs a higher profile to achieve UN targets’, a colleague who jocularly wanted to diminish the impact of her messages, commented that her picture was put on the cover of the Waterfront, because of beautiful face. The rest of us defended Juanita, stating while we agreed that she had a beautiful face, she also had a beautiful brain and a mastery of WASH issues.
Juanita was a queen. She had a beautiful face and a beautiful heart. She had a charming and infectious debonair , yet friendly, humble and down to earth. She knows her job and was exemplary in her profession. She was a golden fish in hot demand by all development partners.
She once told me she is not perturbed about her marital challenges, confessing that she is a child of God, and God’s marital plan for her will eventually materialised. Death missed the point by snatching her as she is about to settled down in marriage after the years of waiting. Unknown to death, Juanita has gone home as a bride, to meet the true bridegroom.
Goodnight Juanita, you shall be sorely missed. But we shall meet in heaven.
Babatope Babalobi is the Executive Director of Bread of Life Development Foundation, Lagos, Nigeria.