Valerie Jenkinson has had a foot in many different fields, from education to food to organizational management. For the last 18 years, however, Valerie has found her home in the water and wastewater industry—both as a professional and a volunteer. Her journey began at age 27 when she started her own research company in Vancouver. Before long, she was recruited by the British Columbia Water and Waste Association to help them work on a research project. One path led to another, from befriending industry leaders to buying what became the largest training company in Canada for water and wastewater operations.
She is now the CEO of World Water and Wastewater Solutions Limited (WWWS), an organization in Canada that specializes in climate change mitigation, operations assessments, and operator training. After the 2017 hurricanes wreaked havoc on water utilities in the Caribbean islands, Valerie’s work with WWWS put her on a new path: charity. She was eventually able to gather donations and send three volunteer operators to Dominica to help DOWASCO, the water and wastewater utility for the country. They worked alongside the utility’s local operators to restore service to the country’s wastewater treatment plant and helped bring water to three villages. “The people in this industry are the most generous and giving of any industry I’ve ever worked in,” Valerie comments. In just two years, Valerie was able to turn this one-time mission into a full charity known as Operators Without Borders.
As the Founder and Chair, Valerie is hopeful about the charity’s expansion. OWB has grown to over 80 members and volunteers since its establishment in 2018. And because not every year brings natural disasters, the charity’s specialization has broadened as well. With a growing number of qualified volunteers ready to help, OWB started facilitating free trainings that have helped more people become certified water and wastewater operators as well as hone their technical skills. There are a number of different types of training provided by the volunteers to utilities in developing countries. There is an Incident Command Systems (ICS) workshop (Level 100-400) for managing the recovery efforts for areas ravaged by natural disasters. In the last two years, OWB has certified over 300 individuals in the Caribbean and has provided ICS training to assist in the Ukrainian war situation. In addition, OWB offers over 70 technical, safety, and laboratory courses. “It’s life-changing when you see the difference we can make with the skills we have,” states Valerie. The developing country training began in the Caribbean, but OWB has trainings planned in Africa (Nairobi, Kenya) in November 2022 and Asia (most likely in Malaysia or the Philippines) in the near future as well.
Operators Without Borders has become renowned and respected in the water and wastewater sector all over the world. In fact, the Water Environment Federation just named them a Charity of Choice. OWB also works closely with WPI and is extremely grateful for the organization’s continued support over the years. WPI’s donations have enabled OWB to send volunteers to Dominica and Abaco, and they have sponsored the charity’s trainings in developing countries. “There are many NGOs working in the provision of water systems in developing nations or providing emergency water at the initial stages of disaster recovery. OWB’s mandate, working with utilities and providing certified volunteer operators to rebuild or train, is unique,” says Valerie. She is enthused about OWB’s future projects. “The benefits to both the utilities we help and the volunteers who deploy cannot be overestimated,” she states, and goes on to say that all OWB’s volunteers are very gratified by their work and wish to do more in the future.
If you or anyone you know is interested in getting involved with OWB, the easiest way is by going to www.operatorswithoutborders.org and filling out the form to become either a volunteer or a member. Donations to help defray airfares and accommodation costs are most welcome and can also be made through the website.