Silke Knebel

Development Director

Location: Sebastapol, CA

"The day-to-day challenges and risks that seem large now will one day lead you on a path to even greater experiences."

In 2000, I was uncertain where my life would lead or if it would change forever; I had just embarked on what people say is “the toughest job you’ll ever love”—the Peace Corps.

My Peace Corps experience allowed me to understand the importance of working for an international organizations that is helping to solve one of today’s most important global issues: the lack of safe drinking water. My daily challenge of not living with clean drinking water and having to fetch and filter all rainwater and creek water for more than two years allowed me to understand the real life situation for many people worldwide. Not only was safe drinking water an issue, but economic development opportunities were limited, especially in rural locations.

During my time in the Peace Corps., I lived in Santa Mission, a remote Amerindian village in Guyana, South America. I learned from the women how to bake bread in the sand using hot coals from a fire and how to weave baskets out of indigenous straw. It was the close relationships I developed with these women that led to the construction of a new $1.3 MM Craft Center. The 1,600-square-foot Center housed the first running water bathroom system in the village. It also had solar-powered lighting and solar-generated computers for the women to work at night. The Center led to economic opportunities for the people and long-term growth for the village. It also created a strong sense of community pride as we had to overcome many challenges.

During construction, the only tractor we had access to broke down. Without it, the task of carrying 19 tons of materials from the sandbank to the construction site would have been hugely laborious for a few unlucky people. We encouraged the community to participate in a “volunteer day” to show their support. To my surprise, it worked. Over 200 villagers and children and teachers from the school appeared, each carrying a brick and wearing a smile as they slowly walked up the steep sandy incline to the construction site.

I was asked during the Center’s opening ceremony, “How did you manage 200 people when you had no experience as a general contractor? Where did you get the funding for the Center? How did you carry 50 bags of cement, 3,000 palm leaves, 16 steel rods, 5,200 concrete blocks, 2000BM of wood and 3.5 tons of stone into the jungle?”

As I said to them, “It was hard, but the day-to-day challenges and risks that seem large now will one day lead you on a path to even greater experiences.” And that’s exactly what happened. I am now working for one of the most innovative non-profits in the San Francisco Bay Area, Blue Planet Network. I cannot think of a better way to spend my life than working for an organization that increases the impact of safe drinking water programs for people worldwide.