Water Matters

The latest on our work and those supporting it

How a commitment to reliable water turned around Mukunyuku RC Primary School

In the past, Mukunyuku RC Primary School was an undesirable posting for teachers in Western Kenya. In 2017, Kennedy Wesonga was posted to the school as the new head teacher. He was not happy with the assignment. Mr. Wesonga wondered why his promotion from deputy head teacher to head teacher was to a school like Mukunyuku.

Students arrived at the school each morning carrying both a water container and textbooks. The water was meant to be used for cooking and cleaning. If students needed more water, they went to an unreliable hand-dug well shared by the school and surrounding households. If there was water, the students pulled it out through a hatch using a bucket and rope system.

“Our well does not give us sufficient water to drink. We use the water pupils bring,” said Mr. Wesonga when we first met him in 2018.

In the year 2018, he saw a rain tank being constructed at Namalasire Primary School. He decided to pursue the same for his school. We constructed a 50,000-liter rain tank at the school, as well as a pair of triple-door ventilation improved pit (VIP) latrines for the students.

“The construction of the rain harvesting tank has really given me mileage in the community. Every head teacher now wants the same project to be implemented in their schools!” exclaimed Mr. Wesonga after the construction was complete.

Students celebrate at the rain tank after it was completed

Mr. Wesonga promised that the school would never face a water challenge again. True to his word, the school has never lacked water in the tank since September 2018. That is due in part to his strict management of the water in the tank. Whenever the water level in the tank gets to 15,000 liters, he restricts its use for drinking only and supplements the school’s water needs with the shallow well to collect water for washing and cleaning. He would make phone calls to the watchman and make visits to the school during weekends and when the school was not in session to check on the tank. Mr. Wesonga also managed to create an understanding and enabling environment with the community so they respected him enough not to interfere with the water in the tank.

“I am very happy because before the construction of the tank, we used to go to the well or nearest river to draw water from there, but now ever since the tank was constructed we no longer go out to look for water,” shared Scaton, a student we met during a recent visit to the school.

A visit to the school saw a lot of appreciation from the teachers and the students. It is true that the project has impacted them positively as evidenced by the additional number of students that have joined the school and pupils’ good performance in last year’s primary school examinations. It is now easier to learn in this school because there is no more struggling for water since it is right inside the school’s compound, students told us.

“I am so happy that the school enrolment increased and that the performance in the 2019 examination improved very much. I attribute the change to the project. If it had not come to Mukunyuku RC Primary then we would remain the way we were,” said Mr. Wesonga.

Mr. Wesonga was posted to another school at the beginning of 2020. As a part of his transition, he made it a priority for the next head teacher to properly care for the school’s water source. Mrs. Edna Khakasa Weswa was surprised that such projects existed and she has promised to keep alive the vision for 365 days of safe and clean water for the school.

Mrs. Weswa (middle) and Mr. Wesonga (far right) with our staff.

Our hope is that she achieves it. Mrs. Weswa is already taking steps to improve the tank. She intends to fence the project so that it is not interfered with by outsiders. We worked with her to install a new manhole cover so that she can more easily manage the tank and prevent people from using it outside of school hours. She will also introduce additional leaky tins to promote handwashing and construct additional latrines since the population at the school has increased.

“It is a fact that the water tank will remain forever,” said a determined Mrs. Weswa.

The impact of the rain tank on the school is apparent to the community, too. We met a student named Auma who said that she changed schools to attend Mukunyuku RC Primary because of the fact that it has a reliable water source and it performed well in the 2019 exams. She and the other students are a part of the change happening at the school thanks to the ability to access water at any time. Parents want to send their children here and teachers like Mrs. Weswa are happy to be posted to the school.

 

Women of WaSH: Who We Are

On this year’s International Women’s Day, we celebrate and salute all of the girls, women, and allies who are working to reach gender equity through access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH). Globally, we know that the water crisis disproportionately affects women and girls. Girls under the age of 15 are twice as likely as boys to be the family member responsible for fetching water. The time they spend fetching water takes them out of school, away from their other pursuits, and often prevents them from living up to their full potential.

When half of the population has to focus on fetching water above all else, we all lose out on the contributions these girls and women might make if they had the time or energy.

Women and girls are also put at risk when they lack access to safe and sufficient sanitation facilities. They are made vulnerable when walking long distances to isolated toilets or open defecation sites, and they face additional risks from these sites’ poor hygiene. Women and girls experiencing menstruation, pregnancy, or raising children require particular hygiene needs that a lack of water only exacerbates.

Women’s issues are everyone’s issues, and women’s rights are human rights. Access to safe and reliable water, sanitation, and hygiene is no exception.

So who are the women of WasH?

They are our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, friends, and neighbors.

They are our bosses, leaders, colleagues, community organizers, and elected officials.

They are scientists, engineers, students, teachers, readers, and writers.

They are makers, doers, believers, dreamers, and champions.

They are me, you, or someone you know.

They are half of the population, and they will be seen and heard.

They are ready to make gender equity – and every right associated with it – a reality.

Are you?

To join us in the challenge to make equal access to water, sanitation, and hygiene a reality, click here.

 

No more stress during the dry season

At a time like this in previous years, Masaani community members would be stressed out due to water scarcity as a result of the lingering drought. In this region of Southeastern Kenya, dry spells are increasingly common due to the effect of climate change on the region.

However, in the past year, such concerns have never come to a head thanks to the sand dam and hand-dug shallow well systems they constructed over the past 3 years.

Their water sources have been providing plenty of clean water to the residents throughout the year. The water is fresh and very sweet for drinking, say community members.

We worked with the Kiluta Sand Dam Self-Help Group over 3 years to complete 3 sand dam and hand-dug well projects. For more than a decade, the dedicated members of this group have worked to collectively improve their lives. When we started working with them, people in this community traveled more than 3 miles to get water each day – a journey that took up to 5 hours between the walk and the time it took to get water.

“My mother would send me and my younger siblings to fetch water for bathing and washing my uniforms after school. The distance was too long and we would get really exhausted. At times, we would hide and not bathe or wash our uniforms,” said 7-year-old Mwendi.

Getting water at the scoop hole

Now, that is a problem of the past. The time expended in pursuit of water is now channeled to other, income-generating activities such as farming and businesses. For Mwendi, it means more time to be with her friends.

“Now that the distance has reduced and I enjoy fetching water, I also have time to play after school, do my homework, and catch up with my friends,” she said.

Mwendi drinks water from the well

Easy access to clean water has helped to transform this community. The availability of water has sustained a green and serene environment. Community members now engage in farming vegetables such as kale, spinach, tomatoes, green peppers, and coriander, which was a rare practice before.

“These days I perform my house chores very fast and I can also manage to farm and sell some products from my farm. Thanks to this project, I can sustain a living and meet most of my needs through the money I earn,” said Veronica Musaa.

Gardens thrive near the dam

On the day of our visit, our field staff met Kwame Martin and his brother Baraka Martin, watering their father’s vegetables which had been planted adjacent to the dam source. The 2 boys were very excited about the chore.

The availability of water has also resulted in improved hygiene and sanitation in their homesteads because the community members now bathe daily, have tippy taps erected outside their latrines for handwashing, and have nicely constructed latrine structures.

“I am very happy about this project because it has made my life easier,” said Mrs. Musaa.

 

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.