*This article was first published in Fusion magazine and is reprinted here with permission.
Lumbie Mlambo was born in Zimbabwe but considers herself a proud Texan. She is President and CEO of JB Dondolo Inc. an organization she set up in honor of her late father to carry on his legacy. The desire to carry on her father’s work earned her the UN Global Leadership Award from the United Nations Association. The award honored the work the organization completed towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation through installing a filtration system at a clinic in Zimbabwe. JB Dondolo Inc.’s mission is
To remove barriers to accessing basic needs that underserved and impoverished communities face. JB Dondolo, Inc. firmly believes that access to clean water is a human right. The Music for Water Campaign is the initiative by the organization to provide sanitation to the Navajo Nation.
F. Lumbie, your decision to follow on your father’s legacy is really inspiring. Why was that important to you?
L. My father’s name was JB Dondolo. He passed away a few years ago. Before he died he asked us to finish the work he was doing at the clinic he helped build in Zimbabwe. I promised I would finish what he started. So I went to Zimbabwe to continue his work.
F. That was a big commitment. Did you know what that would involve?
L. I honestly went there thinking it would be a small task, and underestimating the work that my father had already started. I had no idea at the beginning what I would be taking on. Just that I had promised to finish his work. I knew it involved working with people, who are in low income, impoverished and underserved communities. We initially were addressing the issues of sanitation and hygiene, but our focus soon turned to trying to provide water to the community, as that was what they needed. Providing water to a community is much more complex that people realize but we did provide a water system as promised.
The campaign we are running for the people of Navajo Nation is very similar.
F. What kind of challenges did you find once you got there?
L. Oh boy, I really didn’t understand the magnitude of what I was taking on. The clinic serves about 20,000 people and has only three ICU beds; two of those are delivery beds and one recovery. It was also difficult as the people there didn’t really know me and didn’t even know my father had a daughter so young. They didn’t really see me as someone who could solve their problems so they said, “If you can give us water then you can leave us alone and your work will be done.” I agreed that was what I would do, and then I began researching and fundraising to try to fulfill my promise. We initially were addressing the issues of sanitation and hygiene, but our focus soon turned to trying to provide water to the community, as that was what they needed. Providing water to a community is much more complex than people realize but we did provide a water system as promised.
The campaign we are running for the people of Navajo Nation is very similar. I was astonished when I became aware that people in the US are living without water. Listening to people’s stories was like listening to the stories of those in Zimbabwe. The situation was almost the same. I was really quite shocked to find a similar situation here in the United States in 2020.
F. What was one of the hardest challenges for you with the project in Zimbabwe?
L. Fundraising for the project for me was one of the hardest things. It is probably the hardest part of any project. Trying to get people to support a cause they know nothing about is really difficult. I just kept going and kept pushing, building relationships and gradually growing support.
The beginning was definitely a struggle, but as people saw my passion for the project then eventually it became more like a movement than an organization.
People have been so supportive of our project and we have an amazing team.
F. How did you become aware of the Navajo nation and the challenges they were facing?
L. Literally it was all over the news. I was listening to it and wondering how I could help. I reached out to someone I knew to find out how we could reach out to the community. At the beginning it was difficult to establish a connection. Once we did however, it was like flood gates opening. We began to receive lots of calls.
F. What do you mean it was difficult to establish a connection?
L. Initially, I think the community was a little distrustful of us. I can understand that. They have been promised so much by people in the past and have been let down and I understand why they would not open up so readily to anyone or risk exposing themselves to the pain of reliving empty promises.
Once we established a relationship and they had also begun to see what we had achieved in Zimbabwe, that helped them to see that we were there to help. I think the Navajo community has had people come in and take from them. I can really understand their lack of trust.
For us, the main thing was to build trust and to provide the small things we could before tackling the issue of water. We are providing hand sanitizers and disinfectant materials.
F. So this project and campaign is much deeper than water, right?
L. Exactly, because I do realize that relationship building is major here. If you are going to work in the Navajo nation you have to work first on building a relationship. To learn to trust each other. They have been let down so many times, by people who say they are there to help and to give but instead come in and take something from them, so I get it, but we are not there to do any harm, we are there to help.
F. What is the Music for Water campaign?
L. Music for water is both a campaign and a competition. Beatrice Davis, who came up with the idea Music for Water, started it. People submit a song for our charity, which we will use for one year and it must have a message about water. The winners would also get a one-time distribution with an international record company, Great Mountain International Records, and lots of exposure. The campaign is to raise awareness and sanitation supplies for the Navajo Nation. It was launched in September, and so far, it has been really well received. Our message is simple, give us music and we will try to give people water.
We are trying to do something to help the Navajo Nation. We hope to that people will come up with a song that inspires people to do something.
F. Can people apply from outside the US?
L. Yes! We are asking for entries and applications from all over the world. We don’t even mind if the song is in another language, as long as it comes with an explanation of the message and inspires people to do something and comes from the heart.
People can find all the guidelines on how to enter on the JB Dondolo site.
F. Are all your projects focused mainly on providing water?
L. We provide many services for those who need them but lately water has come to the forefront. It has, for now, become our focus. It is a basic human need and to think that in 2020 there are people all over the world without access to clean water is just unimaginable.
F. How can people become involved with your organization or specific projects or campaigns?
L. Well, if people want to get involved, they can go to the website or send an email. They can also call us directly and there are links on the site for people to donate.
No donation is too small and we are grateful to everyone who can help.
We are also open to people who might want to volunteer on any of our campaigns, we are always in need of volunteers as there is so much to do.
Anything anyone thinks they can do to help we are open to.