Roanna Purcaru, a VSA returned volunteer, recently completed the prestigious Water Leadership Institute (WLI) program run by the Water Environment Federation (WEF). Roanna volunteered in the Cook Islands as a water engineer working on water supply improvement initiatives in 2016.

“The intensive WEF WLI program is aimed at educating, training, and providing opportunities that enable developing and emerging leaders to build strong lasting relationships within the water industry,” says Roanna, who is based in Phoenix, Arizona and was one of 52 participants selected from all over the United States and Canada.

"The competitive selection process made us reflect on the current crises facing the water industry, and what can be done to contribute to the solutions," Roanna says. "My experience as a volunteer water engineer in the Cook Islands through VSA, was one of the drivers for my interest in participating in this program.

"Having experienced the direct impact of water scarcity, lack of water infrastructure and climate change on vulnerable communities in the Pacific islands, I carry those learnings with me wherever I go. I was also inspired by my mentor and humanitarian engineering advocate Evan Mayson of GHD and VSA Council member, who recently retired.

"The discussions within the WLI cohort, some of whom are municipality leaders, really helped me reflect on issues locally, including lack of access to water due to social inequality and poverty within North America.”

The focus areas for WLI projects include aging infrastructure, aging workforce, public education, public awareness, and “One Water”. One Water is the concept that all water (surface water, groundwater, stormwater and wastewater) has value, and managing this precious resource must be done holistically and sustainably. Roanna's group created a community outreach webinar aimed at training WEF leaders and instructors to teach the concept of One Water to children aged 5-14.

"I was part of an inspiring project group of 11 members and we developed a strong connection, despite only meeting virtually. I contributed towards incorporating diversity, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and cultural connections with water into the webinar curriculum. My experience as a volunteer really enables me speak on these topics with passion and commitment. The nature of humanitarian projects is typically community-driven. They are grounded on partnerships, require multiple disciplines, and the focus is often on finding simple solutions to basic needs (such as access to clean, reliable water supply and sanitation).

“Essentially the message we would like to share to children at a young age is how different life can be depending on which part of the world you live in, and which community you are a part of. These communities, which do not have clean access to water are extremely resilient and adaptable. They can find their own solutions, and the role of volunteers is to enable, motivate, and develop that local capacity. My goal for sharing the VSA message during our community outreach was to introduce the humanitarian pathway as a career option for future water professionals.

“Volunteering has impacted my life and career in many ways. Four years later, I still believe that I gained more than I have given during that volunteering time and I aim to continue being an advocate for VSA’s great work.”

Applications for WLI 2021 are now open (