Give water the freedom to flow

Water is our greatest shared identity. That’s as stated by the Voice of Water, played by Li An Phoa, during the Embassy of Water conference. “Who hasn’t used water this morning?” Phoa ran eighteen thousand miles from the water source, along the rivers to the sea. Her mission is a world with drinkable rivers. The conference is, above all, a call to everyone to join the movement towards drinkable rivers.

Type Update
Published on 22 November 2022
Part of Embassy of Water
Give water the freedom to flow
Part of Embassy of Water

‘Every drop, every tributary matters. Water is everywhere. There are river basins all over the world. Even in the Sahara. You can find that beautiful pattern everywhere. If we start thinking about how we wash, not just our body but our house and all our production processes, we can already start taking steps.’

It’s the small things that make a big difference

“Drinking rivers are not just an environmental vision. It is about taking water as a basis and integrating it into the existing things.” Phoa represents water in discussions about water-friendly housing with various partners from the water and construction world.

“If we can drink from the river, it means that everything that happens on the land is also healthy. Everything around a river shows that. A healthy salmon swims through the river; a beautiful dragonfly flies by. It is in all those capillaries, and it is precisely the small things that make a big difference.”

Phoa proposes to include the drinkable river as a social compass in all our choices, thinking, and conversations. “Even in all our intentions and our feelings. If we all contribute and convince people to join, it will also be attractive, concrete and tangible.” 

“Every drop, every tributary matters. Water is everywhere. There are river basins all over the world. Even in the Sahara. You can find that beautiful pattern everywhere. If we start thinking about how we wash, not just our body but our house and all our production processes, we can already start taking steps. Even if you look at all the materials we use.”


“We have sky-high ambitions but often a small budget. We have to be creative with that budget. For example, without money, I wanted to create a movement (Drinkable Rivers, ed.). It’s only this year – and I’ve been at it for over a decade – that I’ve received the money. It’s in my bank account. Now I suddenly have to think about how to deal with that.” 

The Voice of Water meanders from one subject to the next. During the conference, she will speak up if she thinks it is necessary. Her message is mainly: “if you see projects that you think are worthwhile, give them a kick-start”.

Designer Chiara Treglia designed the ‘Voice of Water toolkit’ to give voice to the Voice of Water within construction projects and to project developers. The toolkit consists of six steps, a check-in and a check-out. Treglia: “I have tried to design something that does not completely disrupt the existing way of working. I wanted to give, in a simple way, water’s special sparkle a place in the whole process.”

Voice of Water toolkit

During her studies at Design Academy Eindhoven, Treglia discovered that many designs focus on people. “We design to meet all our needs. Doing things this way has brought us the most beautiful innovations for thirty years.” She came into a kind of personal crisis. Design is supposed to save the world, but what about all the other elements in our ecosystem?

“I got to know life-centred design. In addition, there is still recognition of our needs and wishes. What matters most is the realisation that we are only one small element in an ecosystem. We must ensure that we balance all elements in that ecosystem.” When Anouk van der Poll, curator Embassy of Water, asked her to design something for the Voice van Water, she came up with a life-centred design toolkit. 

During the conference, attendees will get a small preview of how the toolkit works. On a post-it, they draw a pyramid containing their personal needs and a pyramid of work needs. They then talk about this with the person sitting next to them in a short conversation. “Really a quick way to get to know someone,” was the response. “I didn’t know my neighbour at all. Our priorities are quite different. Through this conversation, you quickly learn to understand each other better.” The Voice of Water expresses the need for “The freedom to flow.”

From waste to taste

Peter Scheer, director of SEMilla Sanitation, also shared his story during the conference. Scheer has been involved with the Embassy since 2019. In 2019, he set up a shack in front of the Embassy where people were allowed to urinate and drink a cup of tea. Which used the same water. Scheer is a pioneer in the reuse of sanitary wastewater, the recovery of nutrients and the creation of a closed water cycle. “But above all, I am a doer, and you can’t do that alone.”

“You have to use shock to make people aware that things have to change. That is my vision.” 

Scheer talks about the Semilla seed. “That’s all you need to make new life. You have water, your own compost, that seed, and then you get life. You eat half of your production and make seed from the other half.” Scheer’s message: “You have to build trust, and you have to do it together.” For example, Scheer is working with Nijhuis Industries on a shift in mindset: from waste to taste.


Designer Rocco Verdult graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven in 2008. His graduation project was making temporary meeting places. The Embassy of Water involved him in the story of restoring the water system. “How can you talk about this problem in the pub?” To integrate ‘regenerative water’ into normal conversation, Verdult used Playmobil. 

“Playmobil is easy to work with. There is a lot to choose from, provided you select it well. Together with Anouk and her team, we have come up with the ten stories.” The stories were depicted in the Designhuis during DDW22. Like the story about the skippy balls that a municipality in Gelderland handed out to the farmers. A skippy ball placed in a ditch has the effect that the water remains in the ditches during a downpour. “And the water isn’t then washed away to the sea. I would also like to show this to several farmers here in Brabant.” 

According to the Voice of Water, space is needed in the public space for these kinds of stories. “So that you can further expand your own power. That is also what water wants to tell us.” People with questions, ideas, projects or concepts can report to the Embassy of Water.

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