Katherine Cherry is a member of The Coca-Cola Company’s Global Public Affairs & Communications team, based in Atlanta, Ga. This summer, she hopped a plane to West Africa to help staff the World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja, Nigeria.

While in the region, Katherine decided to take Albert Einstein’s words of wisdom to heart: “The only source of knowledge is experience.” She adventured south from Nigeria to Ghana on a learning journey to get an up close and personal view of Coca-Cola’s sustainability programs at work. Setting out from Accra to the rural countryside of Ghana, Katherine experienced the incredible work of Coca-Cola’s partnership with Water Health International. Here is her story.

Describe your first impression of Water Health International.

I stepped out of the passenger seat of our off-roading sedan, after a bumpy and dusty trek out of Accra, Ghana, to the village of Pakro. Before my hand could close the door, I was wrapped into a bear hug by a man wearing a traditional Ghanaian robe, a Stevie Wonder baseball cap and a huge, bright smile. “I am the Chief of Pakro Region – welcome to my Water Health Center!”

The message was clear – this is not just another fly-by-night development project run by Westerners on weeklong excursions to the developing world, posting selfies with African children.

This was HIS Water Health Center. The community runs Water Health International. 

Katherine in Ghana

He escorted me into the pristine blue and white facilities, introducing me to his team – clad in sharp Water Health International uniforms, all members of the Pakro Community – engineers, community ambassadors, technicians, sales and distribution representatives.

By engaging, training and employing members of the local community wherever they operate, Water Health International is building a sustainable future, ensuring its continued success. The community is educated about water health. The community becomes a talent pipeline to run the Water Health Centers. The community becomes the driving force for the prevention of waterborne illness. The Water Health International model engrains itself into the fabric of the communities in which it operates.

Describe some of the people you met during your visit. What were their names and roles? Did they have a compelling story?

I had the opportunity to have a World Economic Forum Global Shaper from the Accra Hub, Gary Al-Smith, join me on my site visit to Water Health International. Gary is a hard-hitting journalist, channeling his journalistic skills as a vibrant sports host on CitiFM in Ghana. He is a social media wiz and a soccer fanatic. We have pledged not to discuss the outcome of the 2014 USA vs. Ghana World Cup Match for the foreseeable future!

Gary Al-Smith
World Economic Forum Global Shaper from the Accra Hub, Gary Al-Smith, connects with  a local.

As a local Ghanaian, I was especially grateful to have such an awesome companion for our interviews. Gary was able to translate and use his interviewing skills to strike up conversations with locals that I am sure that I, as a visiting foreigner, would have never been able to pull off.

Gary floored me when he launched into a conversation with a very intimidating man in the community of Manhean, Ghana, who has made a business of distributing contaminated water from a dirty creek outside the town. Despite strongly disagreeing with what the man was doing, Gary was able to break down barriers and connect with the man on an interpersonal level about the importance of not drinking contaminated water, highlighting the mission of Water Health International.

Here is a video of Gary’s impression of his experience with Water Health International.

Also, be sure to follow him for further updates on his work in Ghana on twitter at @garyalsmith!

After visiting Water Health International, are you more passionate about sustainability and community?

I believe Gary said it best in the car on the way back to Accra. When you live in a city with clean drinking water, it is easy to live a life of blissful ignorance in regard to water. I brushed my teeth this morning in without a second thought about the quality of the water in Atlanta. Yet, for my friends in Pakro and Manhean Ghana, this assurance is not the case. That is why Water Health International is so important. They help make access to clean water a reality for people in communities around the world. As Gary said, after our humbling and inspiring experience in rural Ghana, complaints like your cell phone battery dying or being stuck in traffic seem absurdly insignificant. I am very glad to have gained this life altering perspective. 

What was your favorite memory of your experience?

Katherine in Ghana

I tried... and failed… at carrying water buckets on my head! The community ambassador at the Manhean Water Health Centre, Mrs. Diana, was so patient with me. Her full-bellied laughter at my attempts to balance the precarious bucket on my head still rings in my memory with absolute delight! Carrying water is a skill taught to young girls in Ghana. It is an essential part of their daily lives and a great point of cultural pride. It was incredibly inspiring to see buckets of clear, clean, fresh water from the Water Health Centre being carried back on women’s heads from throughout the community. They are the keystone of change. By fetching the clean water, they are ensuring that both they and their families can thrive free of waterborne illness. Here's the video:


What are your passions? Why?

Animal Rescue. I adopted my sweet girl Lulu from the Howell Mill Road Humane Society in Atlanta on Valentine’s Day 2014!

Where would you like to go on your next adventure?

I would like to travel to Brazil, play soccer, walk on the beach, and experience Coca-Cola’s investment in female artisans and recyclers through 5by20