Water Matters

The latest on our work and those supporting it

Breaking “The Water Curse” One Spring at a Time

Before protection, Imbwaga Spring was believed to be cursed water. It was a small, muddy pool of water open to contamination from animals and people in the village of Bumira, Kenya. The 210 people who depend on this spring knew the water was unsafe to drink, but they could not afford to treat it. It was too expensive to use firewood for boiling the water, and other technologies like WaterGuard were financially out of the question. So many people were constantly sick from the spring water that the local health center had a waiting list for water-related disease treatments.

Still, community members had no choice but to drink it.

A woman fetches water at unprotected Imbwaga Spring

Imbwaga Spring’s contamination extended beyond the water’s edge, however. When we went to conduct our hygiene and sanitation training with community members at Imbwaga Spring while it was under construction, we noticed 2 women with small children aged 3 -5 months sitting 100 meters away from the training site. When the facilitator beckoned them to join the rest of the team, the 2 women shouted at the top of their voices, “We cannot come here at the spring, our children will be infected!”

“The water curse” infected the air around the spring, and it was thought that the area was particularly unsafe when the sun was absent. This included nighttime, cloudy days, and when the spring sat in the shade. The sun, people had heard, chased away the curse.

Foreground: Facilitator Amos leads a dental hygiene session during training; Background: 2 women with their children refused to come closer to the spring’s shade during training due to “the water curse”

The facilitator probed them about what kind of infection and they responded that their water had been discharging a bad infection called in the local language “Muyaka”. The community members believed that since the spring was unprotected, it had always discharged bad air in the form of infections and when a baby was infected, they believed no amount of treatment could cure the infection. In most cases, the child would pass on within a few hours.

The signs and symptoms included diarrhea, fever, and vomiting – some of the most common symptoms of waterborne diseases such as giardia, cholera, and typhoid, contracted not through the air but by consuming the water.

Since the curse was believed to be heightened at night, no one would approach the spring until after sunrise, no matter the cost of waking up without water. During the construction period, our artisan would wake up early and go to the spring to do some curing of the cement before he returned to his host family to take breakfast each day. On the second day when he came back from the spring, his host inquired where he came from and he stated, “From curing the spring.”

The host cautioned the artisan against going to the spring early in the morning as the curse would befall the family that was hosting him. The unskilled laborers who assisted the artisan and who lived in Bumira, on the other hand, would not come to the spring before the sun rose each day.

Community members confidently celebrate protected Imbwaga Spring, breaking “the water curse”

But on the final day of construction when the spring was completed, everyone confidently came to the spring and they started celebrating while singing that the Lord had done a great thing by sending the curse away when the spring was covered, for they believed the curse had also been buried forever. The occasion was full of pomp and circumstance, including singing and dancing.

The joy within this community was overwhelming; to them, they were celebrating freedom from diseases and from “the water curse”.

Thumbs up and smiles at the spring

“Truly, the protection of Imbwaga Spring is really a good omen in this community,” said Karen Maruti, the lead Field Officer for this project. Community members agreed.

“To me, it’s an answered prayer because women in this community feared coming down to the spring for fear of being affected by the water curse. If we had no water for making breakfast, we had to wait till the sun rose as it is believed the sun’s rays kill the curse. At times when the sun did not rise, we would stay hungry,” reflected a primary school student from the community, Maurine.

“Thanks for protecting our spring. I can now come down at any time without fear. Life will be sweet as I can finish my chores on time and go play with my friends or read,” she said.

Children play in the water at protected Imbwaga Spring

To see more photos and read about Bumira Community and the Imbwaga Spring project, click here.

 

AIC Mbau Secondary School is thriving, thanks to its rainwater tank

Two years ago, AIC Mbau Secondary School in Southeast Kenya was struggling to raise the money needed to ensure its students had access to water every day. Today, it is spending its resources trying to expand school programs because it no longer has to worry about water.

In the past, the school administration at the school did what they could to alleviate the water crisis for their students. They raised money to purchase a plastic water tank, but since it is so small it could not support the more than 182 students at the school – especially during the dry season. At best, the tank lasted 2 weeks before running dry.

It forced students to turn to the seasonal Tyaa River for water.

People fetch water at the Tyaa River

The water point is shared by the community members and livestock who often pass through the river in search of drinking water after grazing in the field. This led students to miss class time and exposed the students to drinking contaminated water.

But that is a problem of the past. More than a year ago we partnered with the school to construct a 104,000-liter rainwater harvesting tank. Students do not have to go to fetch water from the scoop holes anymore. They can get it directly from the tank!

“The water tank project has enabled us to have unlimited access to clean water while in school – something which had never happened before as there were numerous water challenges,” said 13-year-old student Esther.

Students at their tank shortly after it was constructed

“The availability of clean water in school has created a conducive learning environment for the school and everyone is happy.”

The school community is no longer buying water from boozers and local vendors as the water tank has been providing for all water needs ranging from cooking, cleaning, and watering trees.

“The problem of [a] water shortage within our school has been completely solved by the implementation of this water tank which has been providing us with enough water for the last year,” said Deputy Principal John Mbuto.

“Money which was initially spent on buying water is now being saved and will be channeled towards academic-related activities such as the construction of new classes and equipping of the library and laboratory.”

Fetching water from the tank a year later

The school laboratory now enjoys a constant supply of water which is aiding in conducting experiments and cleaning of lab apparatus.

A handwashing culture has developed among students after the hygiene and sanitation training and also the availability of unlimited water, which is aiding in the washing of hands before meals and after visiting latrines.

 

How a retired police officer led to the drilling of a new well for Transmitter, Sierra Leone

The options for water for the 430 people who live near 14 Port Loko Road in Transmitter, Sierra Leone were not good. The local water point was open to contamination, leaving people at risk of contracting waterborne diseases. The nearest clean water point took more than 30 minutes to reach meaning that people had to spend about an hour and a half just to get water each day. The final option was packaged water that is not regulated and is too expensive for people like Pa Chester Mansaray, a retired police officer and community leader, to adfford.

Washing clothes in the open water source

“Currently, I am unemployed and cannot sustain paying for it,” he said.

“So, I resort to drinking water from the swamp source and this exposes me to cholera or diarrhea.”

Pa Chester took it upon himself to solve this problem. He wrote a letter to us describing the challenges that he and his neighbors face. But he didn’t stop there. He made a series of follow-up calls and visits to our office to make his case for a well in his community.

Pa Chester didn’t give up.

Pa Chester Mansaray

Our baseline survey team went in and agreed with Pa Chester that this community needed a new well. He kept his hopes high until he finally noticed that the drill team was moving in to drill a new well. He was filled with strong emotions on that day. Pa Chester was thrilled that he was about to have a well in a community that for decades has been without safe drinking water. But he also grieved because the night before he had lost his son due to a snake bite. Despite this tragedy, he still was the first community member to greet the drill team upon their arrival.

Pa Chester played the lead roll in providing community support for the drill team. Any staff that came here during this project went back to our office with good words about Pa Chester’s hospitality.

Installing the pump for the new well

When the well was done and it was time for the dedication, Pa Chester again took charge of ensuring that everyone would be in attendance. His preparation was demonstrated by the provision of a whole musical set for the dedication ceremony. This was all set up even before the arrival of the team.

Pa Chester organized music to attract people to the dedication of the community’s new well. An older woman, Ya Kadiatu, sat at her veranda close to the well and sang traditional songs in a melodious voice. Her songs attracted more people and the singing soon intensified.

Community members celebrate their new well

People were dancing and celebrating when our teams arrived. Everybody around the tap wanted to have their share of the fun. Children were splashing the water and people were filling up their cups to drink from their new well. After the fun time, selected community people came up to deliver short speeches in appreciation of the project.

Pa Chester was the first speaker and his speech was full of thanks and appreciation for the project. According to him, this community has been run on bad drinking water for many years, until now. He particularly glorified the spirit of charity by the donors and the hard work of the organization’s staff that helped make this well a reality.

 

Sweet (Potato) Rewards: How 1 Woman and 1 Spring are Changing Their Community

Meet Bilha Matolo.

Bilha Matolo radiates joy in front of protected Matolo Spring

Today, Bilha is radiant because of the changes she has both driven as a leader and witnessed in her community since the protection of Matolo Spring in her village of Luyeshe, Kenya. Bilha is the elected Secretary of her community’s water committee that looks after the spring, which was transformed from an open, algae-ridden puddle to a flowing source of clean water year-round in 2018.

“The changes that have occurred since last year are many,” Bilha reflected.

“The first is having clean and safe water for all of my people. This was something we did not have before the spring was protected, and this is the major change we have.”

But the transformation has been about much more than just the spring.

“My fellow women are seen busy in their farms producing food for they now have time which was once lost in taking care of sick children. Also, a lot of time was wasted at the unprotected spring. Since the project was completed, all of these troubles are unheard of.”

In its unprotected state, water from Matolo Spring had to be scooped from one container and poured into another, or an entire container had to be submerged below the surface while it filled. It was a lengthy process that would also stir up mud from the bottom of the spring, dirtying the water the more people fetched it.

Bilha collects water from unprotected Matolo Spring in 2018

“We used to have noise every now and then from women fighting over getting clean water, for if you came after someone else, then you would get dirty water. This is no more for we have clean and safe water which you can access anytime,” Bilha attested.

Bilha has not rested a second since the completion of Matolo Spring. Since she now spends less time waiting in line and collecting water, she has been able to direct more of her energy toward her farm, which she has turned into a demonstration plot. Bilha now organizes her neighbors, including the community’s children, and teaches them how to plant drought-resistant crops such as sweet potatoes. She emphasizes intercropping as an efficient use of land and water resources, and nurtures her crops using water from the spring now that there is no concern about over-using it.

Bilha’s demonstration plot highlights intercropped plants fed by spring water

The sweet potatoes, she explains, have many benefits since every part of the plant is edible and offers different nutritional values. She is proud to see other women back at work on their farms, too, instead of standing in line at the spring or at the hospital with their children. Little by little, they are beginning to tackle the malnutrition their children have faced for so long while also earning a little income by selling their surplus. Bilha has even helped pay for several children to attend school through her earnings.

With every spring protection and water project, there is the potential for life-changing outcomes like those happening right now for Bilha. It just takes the clean water to get them flowing.

To read more about Bilha’s story and the Matolo Spring protection project, click here.

Bilha gets a fresh drink from Matolo Spring soon after its completion