Water Matters

The latest on our work and those supporting it

The Golden Well: Thriving through drought

By Lillian Kendi

In 2019, the early rainy season failed in Southeast Kenya – leaving communities across the region struggling to access water. Here, we highlight a community that had access to water throughout the year despite the drought. The Water Project is committed to partnering with communities to enact solutions to the water crisis that are resilient in the face of climate change.

Amid the dry seasons all roads in Nyeki ndune Village, Kenya lead to the Yanda Malisyo river. The calm and remote village is renowned for its golden well – ‘the well that never dries,’ as the inhabitants refer to it.

Over the years, the community members hailing from this area have walked long distances to access water. The nearest water sources were some water kiosks drawing water from pipeline channels which were strategically placed to serve the community members.

However, they were unreliable. They would often dry up during the dry seasons, prompting the community members to walk for more than 10 kilometers to fetch water.

“We used to struggle a lot to fetch water. I would spend a whole day searching for water,” Dorcas Mueni Elijah remembers.

The struggles encountered in search of water would evoke negative emotions she said.

“Getting a mere 20-liter jerrycan of water by mid-day was often considered a real streak of good luck,” she continued.

Fast forward to today, Dorcas and her five children, 3 girls and 2 boys, are enjoying a surplus supply of clean water from the shallow well that was constructed along their river bed.

Dorcas’ children playing with water at the river bed

They particularly enjoy the convenience of water adjacent to their home.

“At times, I see my children playing at the river bed and I feel very happy that this ‘once rare substance’ is now their essence of joy. I feel like they are relishing in the freedom I worked so hard to attain,” Dorcas said.

She confirms to have gained remarkable independence as a woman, as she can rear her own cattle and chicken because she has the time to do so at her disposal.

“I am very happy because I no longer have to struggle to fetch water,” she said.

The shallow well along this river bed is a source of bliss for a lot of people here – especially during the dry season. When other water sources run dry, this well continued to provide water. Some 3000 people from 500 households in Ndungune, Nyaani, Misuuni, Makueni and Nyekindune villages depend on it.

“We are healthier than before. Hygiene and sanitation standards around here are very high, we shower at any time of the day and our clothes are washed daily. Our children are no longer sent out of school to get water because they have adequate supply of water to carry to school,” said Jennifer Kamene Ithea.

“There were very many complaints about diseases, but that’s now a long-gone because the water we drink is clean.”

Dorcas with two of her children

Jennifer is a member of Nyeki Ndune Horticultural Self Help Group along with Dorcas. They and other group members worked together to make this project possible.

For more than a month the self-help group members provided the physical labor to construct a sand dam in the river bed and the adjacent hand-dug well.

During the rainy season when the river is full of water, the sand dam retains sand as the water runs down the river. The sand builds up to the top of the dam and retains water during the dry season. The water evaporates slowly because it is held in the sand. And the dam is built in a way so that it does not disrupt the flow of water downriver and harm communities also situated along the river. The adjacent hand-dug well provides access to the water in the dam, making it easier for people to fetch water throughout the day.

Jennifer, who resides closest to the water point, elaborated more on the significance of the water point in their community claiming that the well is the main source of water for the entire sublocation.

“The well is always busy throughout the day and night, from 4:00 am to midnight. A series of rows of people with their jerrycans are always found here fetching water,” she said.

“This well never dries up. No matter how dry the area gets, this well has been known to stand out.”

Locals prefer the water because it is fresh, the environment is safe, the well is easily accessible, and it requires little effort to draw water from the water source. The sand along the river bed also provides ease for the locals to transport their wheelbarrows and carts to fetch water. Additionally, they no longer have to trek for long distances with their cattle to get water.

Jennifer and local children at the well

“Before this project was implemented here, the river channel was very bare and deep. It was actually very impassable. The water table was also very low. Now, farming is easily achievable. All the locals living along the shores of this river have fertile farms all year round. In addition to the provision of water, residents are drawn to this area to purchase food,” Jennifer said.

Through the availability of water from the project, Jennifer says she managed to plant fruits, vegetables and food crops which have boosted her income generation.

She has 10 different varieties of mango trees in her farm, which have thrived as a result of the water from the well. Every season she earns KES 20,000 ($200) or more from the sale of mangoes. She is a huge supplier of mangoes in the area. As we were conversing, she received several orders from different customers. Additionally, sweet potatoes, cowpeas, and green peas also thrive very well in the area attracting vendors from diverse markets.

Jennifer holding mangoes from her farm

Jennifer envisions a rich and developed village. A land of food, water, and good health.

“I have educated my children and now my firstborn has his own motorcycle business. The other two children are still in school. I enjoy my environment more; my grandson loves to play with water and it makes me feel so fulfilled. I never knew that one day I would be the provider of my family but through this project, I am very many miles away from where I used to be,” Jennifer says.

She is very happy about the project and the peace it radiates in their lives. The lives of Dorcas, Jennifer, and thousands of others in this community have been changed through one well and one dam.


Sierra Leone: Water everyday, and drilling wells in wells

Making sure there isn’t an end date on impact. Innovation comes from knowing and continually facing the truth of challenges. In Sierra Leone, we drill wells inside of wells to increase water yield.

Imagine if your water company considered your family to have water simply because pipes were installed in your home years ago. Or, imagine if they showed up during a week of rain, saw water flowing from your gutters, and considered your house as having access to water every day. You’d never accept this.

Should we expect the people living in the communities where we work will accept this?

Setting a goal of verifiable water every day is a high standard. It’s easier to drill a well, see that it’s working once installed, take some photos and count it as a success. But, solving the water crisis means 100% uptime of all water projects. In Sierra Leone, we aren’t just visiting communities a few times a year; we’re in communities all of the time. Through this work, we discovered that some of the wells run dry, but only during a few months each year. As a result, some communities where you’ve made investments in clean water had to turn to alternative, often unsafe, water sources in order to meet their water needs during these months.

Once you know exactly what is happening, you cannot simply move on to the next water point.

Mr. Amadu Tholley deserves clean water 12 months out of the year. He’s a member of New London Community in Sierra Leone, and his community received safe water a few years ago. His community is one where we’ve seen seasonal dryness, caused by the water table dropping in the entire region.

Mr. Tholley loves his community water source.

“The water in this community is very nice to drink,” he said. “There are other wells but this one is different. It taste like spring water, please help us fix the problem of the well drying! I cannot afford to miss it.”

Powered by your support and driven by our shared responsibility to Mr. Tholley and those from other communities experiencing the same, seasonal issues, we went to work towards a permanent solution.

The innovative imagination and technical expertise of our team led to the development of a completely new way of making existing wells deep enough to access water every day of the year. Using a custom-created hand auger and bit, teams drill down approximately 20 feet beyond the base of a shallow hand-dug well. This “well within a well” is then cased and transformed into a borehole, thus extending the depth, improving the yield and reliability of the water point. This technique has now been integrated into every new rehabilitation project we undertake.

Our concentrated and focused network of water wells within Port Loko District – and their daily reliability – have transformed the region. To date, over 150 projects have been completed (and are actively maintained) in Northwestern Port Loko. Water projects remain at or near 100% functionality due to dedicated quality implementation, effective customized hygiene, sanitation, and maintenance training, and are sustained through reliable monitoring, evaluation, and resolution relationships.

Your support is going further, doing more and providing lasting solutions for communities in Sierra Leone.

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 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.