Water Matters

The latest on our work and those supporting it

The Lucky Ones

Together, we are creating a world where 14-year-old students will no longer believe they are “lucky” if they have access to safe water or if their well keeps working. They’ll know it as something they can count on.

Until 2016, Carolyne Munyasi, a 14-year-old student at Lugusi Primary School, had no idea what it meant to have clean water at her school. She and her 750 classmates would have to walk past a broken well at her school to an unsafe water source over a kilometer away. These walks for dirty water took time away from studies, often resulting in stomach illnesses and absences.

That year, our supporters funded work towards a rehabilitation of the school water well, and the implementation of a holistic health and sanitation program. When safe water flowed from the new school water project everyone at the school was thrilled.

“This source will be of great help to the school and community at large,” head teacher Shem Maumo said.

We knew this could be true. This is what water does. But, we knew that the day the water project was installed was just the beginning, and the school deserved, and the well needed, ongoing support and service.

A hand-pump, like any moving, mechanical device, needs maintenance or it will break down.

The hand-pump wouldn’t magically keep working. None do.

The hand-pump that Carolyne and her classmates used was no exception. But, as we continued to support and help the school maintain their pump, we found that it needed maintenance and repair far too often.

Feeling Lucky? Broken pumps are so normal in Western Kenya that students like Carolyne think it’s luck that keeps them working. Our community of generous supporters are proving to her that clean water can be counted on.

By collecting and analyzing the data on this well and others in the region, we discovered that a small part in our hand-pumps in Kenya was prematurely failing. We began to see a trend across our entire program.

We found that frequent repairs were needed due to the breakdown of a poor quality rubber u-seal that is a standard part in all wells across the continent. They were failing so often that some of our wells required costly service visits four times in a year.

What we uncovered was a significant quality control issue within the nationally approved, standard hand-pump itself that was most likely affecting all wells in the entire region.

We immediately went to work with our local teams towards a solution. We found a better part. A slightly more expensive but reliable, plastic u-seal was available (but not often used) in local markets. We upgraded these unreliable u-seals in all 271 of our wells and reports of premature well failure immediately stopped.

During one of our recent revisits, we met Carolyne and her classmates again. Carolyne shared, “I have enough time to carry out my studies now, especially during this time as I prepare for my final exams later this year. I am among the lucky ones compared to the candidates of the past years. They were always out sick and less time was used for their studies.”

“Among the lucky ones.”

Together, we are creating a world where 14-year-old students will no longer believe they are “lucky” if they have access to safe water or if their well keeps working. They’ll know it as something they can count on.

It took time and a lot of questions to arrive at the solution. And there was an immediate cost. However, this investment has already saved hundreds of personnel hours and thousands of dollars in fuel and repair vehicle maintenance. Most importantly, it has helped restore community confidence in hand-pumps – and kept the economics of safe water flowing into the lives of those who rely on it.

Your generosity is world-changing. Check out our 2018 Impact Report to learn more about the lives being transformed through your support of clean water.


The 10 Year Challenge

The Water Project has worked with communities who do not have access to reliable water for more than 10 years now. The “10 year challenge” meme provided the opportunity to reflect on all the things that have changed and on things we have accomplished since the start of The Water Project.

However, the thing that stood out to me was what didn’t change. We helped install a new well at Eshienga Primary School in western Kenya in 2009. The students came out to celebrate their new water point on the day construction was complete. They were thrilled that they no longer had to carry water to school each day just to have something to drink.

All of the kids in the picture no longer attend the school. They moved on to the nearby secondary school and now an entirely new cohort of students attend Eshienga Primary. One thing that hasn’t changed is the well. It still provides water to the students 10 years later.

This is a picture from our most recent visit in November.

Not only is water still flowing, it is safe for drinking. Our water quality tests conducted during the visit showed that there are no contaminants. Furthermore, the student health club formed at the time of the well’s completion is still active with 40 members and there is more than $50 in funds set aside to pay for repairs.

We know all of this because of our ongoing monitoring program. We visit our projects, past and present, multiple times throughout the year to ensure that water is still flowing. This information is published on our website for every project over the past decade.

Over the past decade, The Water Project has increasingly worked with a conviction that a project is only beginning once the construction of a well is complete. It seems pretty obvious to say that wells, like any mechanical device, malfunction over time.

As we monitored our projects and the breakdowns became immediately apparent. Regular visits to a well show just how often it happens. Monitoring alone is not enough, we believe in sharing the status of each project in real time.

In 2011, we learned that some of the original parts installed in the well at Eshienga Primary were substandard. We reported what we learned at the time and dispatched our teams to repair the issue.

A year after the maintenance work was done, we published a report from one of our regular monitoring visits. Our teams observed that the well was still providing safe water because that problem was addressed.

We continue to monitor the point and remain available for support. In 2015, we launched a new phone app-based monitoring system (mWater) that allowed us to publish to our website information about each water point immediately after it is visited by our teams. Anyone can go to our website and see the functionality status of every water point.

People can see that, like the case of Eshienga Primary, breakdowns happen and we are using monitoring to track when it happens and ensure that the problem is resolved. For example, here is how the well at Eshienga Primary has performed since 2015, when we began capturing data in a centralized database via cell phone with mWater:

Issues arose, they were reported, and we were able to respond in a timely manner to ensure that water continues to flow. Breakdowns are not unique to this school. We make a promise to every community that we will monitor and support each one of our projects.

We hope to celebrate the 10 year challenge every year as more projects turn 10 years-old. We also see it as a challenge to ourselves to ensure that water flows for more than a decade after a project is complete.


Did you know that 1 out of 3 people do not have access to a safe toilet?

Improvised latrine in Uganda.

Some 4.5 billion people today either do not have a toilet or use one that does not safely manage human waste. Of that total, there are 892 million people who still practice open defecation. This is a big problem. Diseases like cholera are spread through contact with human feces. In fact, the city of Boston created one of the first modern sewage systems in the 1870s after suffering significant deadly outbreaks of cholera. Cities in the U.S. and around the world adopted a similar solution to the problem over the ensuing decades.

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The Value of Relationship: Trust – Part 5 of 5

Part 5: Trust

This is all a learning process, but we are not hiding our challenges. Sweeping any failure under the rug simply doesn’t make sense. That cuts out the legs of the shared table where we all sit. The goal is never installation. It is always reliability. Failure is only ever an interim step toward a truly reliable water point.

Meeting with a school administrator at a recently completed water project.

We could keep this information private, but being open is crucial to ensuring that we are actually living up to our claims. It is the transparency of both successes and challenges through which we discover and create experts at the table willing to contribute to the problem-solving process and to the rest of the water sector.

We’re so thankful for a community of supporters, our donors, who share these same values and are up for the challenge of real impact, over quick solutions. This is one of the values that our supporters bring to the table. They enable all of the above by recognizing and investing in the value of the more cumbersome path of a relationship through partnership.

Trust is crucial to making this work. We truly flourish when supporters trust that the information we are sharing is legitimate and hard-won. Communities trust that we are going to follow up on our promise to ensure that water points will continue to provide safe water, even when they break down.

Building relationships is hard work. We are committed to achieving reliable access to safe water, not just one-off solutions.

We wish there was an easy solution. But it’s messy and requires a lot of candid communication between everyone involved.

We’ve been learning this for 11 years. And we build on this foundation every day.

We know this: without strong relationships, the momentary gains in “people served” will vanish into the graveyard of broken promises and dry wells.

So we depend on one another, the experts, at the table across and beside us, from Kenya, to Concord, to California as the voices who inform and invest in the best water solutions and the systems to ensure they will remain reliable every day.

The Water Project does not build wells. We build relationships. And water flows.

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