NEW YORK, New York — During her career as an international supermodel, Georgie Badiel-Liberty has walked the runways for Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and other top fashion designers. However, a walk from her childhood in Burkina Faso is what she remembers most. When Georgie Badiel-Liberty grew up in Burkina Faso, she walked with her grandmother for hours to fetch water for the family. Georgie Badiel-Liberty won the Miss Africa beauty pageant in 2004. Now, she uses her modeling fame so that other women and girls in her home country do not face the same struggles for clean water. In 2015, she founded the Georgie Badiel Foundation. The Foundation is a nonprofit that has built and restored wells throughout the country. Through its work, it has provided water to more than 300,000 people. The Borgen Project spoke with the 32-year-old model and humanitarian about her background, the importance of clean water and what inspires her.
Georgie Badiel-Liberty’s Background
The Borgen Project (TBP): How has your childhood in Burkina Faso influenced the work you do today with the Georgie Badiel Foundation?
Georgie Badiel-Liberty: As a young girl, I used to walk for three hours to fetch water with my grandmother. I thought that it was unfair because water is just so basic. In my village, only the girls were allowed to go get water, not the guys. I grew up between five brothers so to me it was kind of unfair to only have the girls walking to get water while the boys sleep!
TBP: How did you get into modeling and the high fashion world?
Georgie Badiel-Liberty: At the age of 14 years old, my father — I’m from a big family of 10 brothers and sisters — told me he would not be able to afford my education. That is when I knew I would have to find a way to fight for myself. One great thing God blessed me with is height! Someone told me, “You’re tall and you’re skinny, you can be a model. You can be like Naomi Campbell.” Of course, I’m like, that sounds great to me as long as I can pay for my school.
TBP: When did you start thinking about using your success to help the people from your hometown?
Georgie Badiel-Liberty: At some point, I felt that I was blessed, I had great success, but something was missing inside of me. I did not know what it was, but I knew that something was missing until I went to go visit my sister who was almost nine months pregnant. My sister had to wake up between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. to get water. That is when I knew I had to make a difference in the water crisis because when I was a child I had to do it, and now my sister, she has to do it and her children have to do it. Someone has to come in and break the cycle.
The Foundation’s Work
TBP: What is the main goal and mission of the Georgie Badiel Foundation?
Georgie Badiel-Liberty: The Georgie Badiel Foundation builds and restores wells. Building a well costs so much money, and my country, Burkina Faso, had more than 9,000 broken wells. To restore one costs $1,000. When I started the organization, I would go to some villages. I would see that they had a well but the well was broken. When I asked the women “Where do you go get water?” They said, “We walk three hours away from here. We don’t know how to fix it. We don’t know how to restore it. If we had the knowledge, we wouldn’t have to walk for hours away from our village to get water.”
That is when I understood that the system was completely broken. All of these wells were built by big organizations, by the government and by goodwill people. But, unfortunately, no one thought of giving the basic knowledge to these women or to the community of how to maintain or restore the wells. That is when I knew we had to put an educational program into what we do because if we want to break the cycle, it will be through education. Because building the well is easy, but putting in the effort to educate the people is the hardest thing. So, we teach women basic engineering so they learn how to restore and fix their wells to completely break the cycle of poverty.
TBP: Why are you teaching women, specifically, how to manage and restore these wells?
Georgie Badiel-Liberty: In Burkina Faso, the water issue is the women’s problem. In a family, the men will rely on women to bring clean water. We work to empower these women to restore and maintain their own wells. When we actually started doing that, men saw the importance of learning basic engineering. So now, they are asking, “Can you teach us too?” So, I’m like, “Well, these women who you underestimate will teach you.”
So far, we have been hiring women to work for us in their communities and the communities also hire them for small things. We give them the knowledge, then we hire them, and the community hires them and other villages hire them too. The great thing about giving knowledge to women is they will share that knowledge with the husband, with the kids. The knowledge will be given to all communities. We have an amazing team of engineers who work for the organization and 100% of the people we hire on the ground are from Burkina Faso. We create jobs for the people out there.
TBP: What would you tell readers about one person’s ability to impact change and make a difference as you have?
Georgie Badiel-Liberty: I strongly believe that everyone can change their community. Just look around you, see what is not right. Once you identify what is not right, that is when you make the change because nobody else will change it for you. Giving clean water to someone is basically giving them life, giving them health, giving them education, giving them sustainable economic power, giving them the opportunity to be a human being.
Planning for the Future
TBP: What are your future plans for yourself and your organization?
Georgie Badiel-Liberty: We are starting a collaboration with the Ministry of Water in Burkina Faso so that we both can have a plan to bring water to the whole country. We cannot talk about ending poverty without mentioning the need for clean water. If we want to really change the world, we must start from that. We want to bring clean water to 10 million people in Burkina Faso.
Since 2015, the Georgie Badiel Foundation has transformed communities across Burkina Faso with the belief that the chance of a better future starts with clean and accessible drinking water. So far, the Foundation has made a significant impact with 116 wells restored, 21 wells built, 118 women empowered and 300,000 people accessing clean and safe drinking water. Water access can significantly improve a country’s economic growth and aid in poverty reduction. With this in mind, the Georgie Badiel Foundation continues to uphold water access as a right and not a privilege.
– Laney Pope
Photo: Courtesy of Georgie Badiel-Liberty