At Metah Spring, Dreams of Clean Water Run in the Family

Please note, all photos in this report were taken before social distancing recommendations went into effect.

Pause. Think. When is the next time you will get clean water?

Perhaps a cold drink from the sink, the refrigerator, or the water cooler – will it be within the next hour? For many, accessing clean water is a lengthier process. In the case of the 320 people who depend on water from Metah Spring in Mukangu, Kenya, their wait for clean water has been multi-generational.

Now, Mukangu community has access to clean, safe, and reliable water thanks to the recent protection of Metah Spring. This is the story of the pioneering family who has never given up on their dreams of clean water, and how they intend to see their protected spring last for many generations to come.

Rebecca Metah and Field Officer Karen Maruti stand on either side of the discharge pipe along with other community members celebrating the protected spring.

This spring was named Metah after the late mother of Mr. Aggrey Lusimba, Mama Metah. Mama Metah was the spring’s landowner before her passing placed it in Mr. Lusimba’s ownership. Metah Spring’s is named in memory of the woman who pioneered to ensure that her family and community would one day gain access to clean and safe drinking water.

“Though she died before seeing her dream come true, but truly wherever she is, she is singing and thanking God that she realized her dream,” said one community member.

Mr. Aggrey Lusimba

Mr. Lusimba recalled how Mama Metah would walk miles and miles, office to office, seeking help to have clean water in her community. This was prompted by the attack she had of typhoid that nearly cost her her life. She had to be hospitalized at the County Referral Hospital of Kakamega for treatment and spent close to Ksh 12,000 ($120). This was a lot of money that would have otherwise used for undertaking other productive activities.

At one point, Aggrey recalled, Mama Metah made everyone laugh when she stated she was going to write a proposal of spring protection to Kenya’s president. She believed it was the government’s role to ensure that its people accessed clean and safe drinking water and would stop at nothing to see her spring protected.

As the proud son of Mama Metah, Mr. Lusimba is a leader in his own right. In addition to being the spring’s landowner, he is a respected village elder and the community pastor. He is “a man who commands respect and has a voice in this community,” others noted of him.

Training held at Mr. Lusimba’s homestead. Facilitator Karen Maruti, standing, leads the session. Mr. Lusimba is seated 3 seats counterclockwise from Karen, wearing a baseball hat.

Mr. Lusimba was sure to give assistance in any way he could during the spring’s protection. It was Mr. Lusimba who first greeted the artisan in his home with a tea cup on the first day of site work. He also provided a room and meals for the artisan throughout the construction process. Community members prepared locally available materials and came to help the artisan with the physical labor at the spring by Mr. Lusimba’s request. When it came time for training, Mr. Lusimba mobilized community members to attend the training and even hosted it at his homestead.

Mr. Lusimba’s grandaughter is the next proud generation of the Metah name.

Rebecca Metah stands proudly with the spring (still under construction at the time) that shares her namesake, her grandmother.

“My name is Rebecca Metah, and I was named after my grandmother. She was called Metah. She was the pioneer of safe and clean drinking water in this community. She went to be with the Lord, and may her soul rest in peace. She walked from office to office, seeking help regarding the protection of our spring. From the Chief’s office to the District Commissioner’s office, and yet all her efforts were futile. She walked with a 1-page proposal that was done by my elder brother, Kusimba.”

Rebecca Metah, Field Officer Karen Maruti, and another community member join hands in unity over the spring’s successful protection

“Today, in my life, is the greatest day as I took over her name, and I also inherited her passion for safe, clean water in this community. I had planned that once I start working, I will use my salary to improve our spring. Thanks to your team and all of you who have worked tirelessly to ensure that we have safe, clean drinking water,” concluded a very proud and determined Metah.

Kids get a fresh drink at protected Metah Spring.

Read more about the Metah Spring Protection Project.

Promoting healthy behaviors in Sierra Leone’s markets

e A vendor wears a face mask we provided.

Before the first case of COVID-19 arrived in Sierra Leone, our teams mobilized to train the communities that use wells we support on the virus and how to prevent its spread. After reaching each water point community, we moved on to other critical areas in communities.

One crucial area is the markets where people go to sell and buy goods. There are more than 3,500 vendors at the seven major markets where we work. They are on the front line of the pandemic. The vendors are at a much higher risk than most people, but they also are potential ambassadors to promote healthy behaviors that will help prevent COVID-19 from spreading further in the country.

Staff sanitizes chairs between vendor training at the Rotifunk market.

So, we are traveling to each of the markets to hold training with each of the vendors. The first place we visited was the Rotifunk market.

Staff held a meeting to the sensitization with key leaders. In attendance at the meeting were representatives from the Rotifunk Market Traders Association, the Port Loko District Council, the Local Council for Kaffu Bullom Chiefdom (specifically Rotifunk area), the Local Chief for Rotifunk Market area, the Bike Riders Association, the Lungi Youth Association, and the Welfare Society for the Disabled.

Community leaders construct tippy tap handwashing stations.

The attendees at that meeting learned about COVID-19 and the necessary steps to prevent its spread. They also participated in the construction of tippy tap handwashing stations. The activity accomplished two things: it reminded the attendees how to make tippy taps and helped make the tippy taps to set up throughout the Rotifunk market area. Also, we distributed face masks to all 16 people in attendance. Finally, we collected feedback on our plan for sensitizing market vendors, distributing masks, and setting up handwashing stations at the market.

We agreed to hold a 4-day training from May 13 to May 16 at Rotifunk Market. Five volunteers worked alongside our teams for the four days of training and supported the mask distribution at Rotifunk Market. More than 600 market sellers participated in small-group sessions where they heard about the importance of wearing facemasks, physical distancing, and washing their hands with soap.

The market vendor training at the Rotifunk market.

Some 670 facemasks were distributed at the event to support the message that vendors wear them while at work. The vendors are also going to monitor the 20 handwashing stations installed throughout the market to ensure that they have soap and water and that people are using them. The vendors appeared open to the messages we shared and agreed to adopt healthy behaviors that will help prevent the spread of COVID 19 – especially handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing.

We also experienced some challenges—most notably, children. For most families, children go out to get water and buy things from the market. We encountered many children during our time at the Rotifunk market, and it made social distancing difficult. Also, the children were not wearing masks. We advised the local leaders and officials that older children should be wearing masks and recommended that the market take steps to reduce children who are there. One possible solution is to set an age minimum so that small children are not wandering about the marketplace.

Staff setting up a handwashing station at the market.

Our team arranged a follow-up meeting with the executive of the market sellers to find a solution to the problem and check in on whether vendors are following the lessons they learned. We will also send staff to do unannounced checks on the market to see if the handwashing stations have soap and water. Our team can also monitor whether vendors are wearing masks and if the market is taking steps to promote social distancing.

In the course of the 4-day training, we noticed an increase in handwashing at the market. That was due to the availability of the handwashing stations and the lessons from the sensitization training. We hope that this will continue to improve in the coming weeks. We do all of this work with the hope that vendors can continue to sell their goods while they and their customers remain healthy.

A market vendor uses a handwashing station.

This is how COVID-19 is impacting families in Kenya

In this extraordinary time, we continue to partner with communities across Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. We are checking in to see how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting people and their families.

The Water Project is considered an essential organization due to our longstanding work on hygiene and sanitation. We expanded our work in response to the pandemic, and we are working in coordination with the Kenyan government. Our teams are sensitizing communities on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We also continue to monitor and support each of our water points.

Join us on the frontlines in every community we serve in the fight against COVID-19.

In southeast Kenya, we recently conducted a series of interviews. Fortunately, these communities do not have to worry about getting water thanks to the sand dam and hand-dug wells constructed through The Water Project. But the spread of COVID-19 and the response in Kenya is creating new challenges for people in the region. The first question we asked was how COVID-19 has impacted a person’s family.

Here are a few of their responses:

Bernard Wambua, 40

Bernard Wambua

“I have been working as a painter before the onset of this disease in our country. As a casual laborer, I would be called by clients to work on different projects frequently. There was a constant flow of cash, but now, things have changed totally as there are no jobs. Schools were closed and now we have to stay at home with our children, and it’s expensive. We have to work extra hard on the farm in order to get food to feed the family. The harvests are good, but we are unable to sell the food products at the market because they were also closed in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus…We have been getting food from our farm as we have had very bountiful harvests during this period. The only challenge faced has been attaining the supplementary items which need to be bought from the market, such as wheat flour, sugar, and salt, among others. Availability of water from the sand dam project has also enabled us to establish a vegetable garden in our compound where we have planted kale, spinach, and tomatoes.”

Lydia Paul, 70

Lydia Paul

“My income levels have been affected very much. A daughter of mine who has been offering financial support was sacked because the business she worked for closed, and she is no longer able to support me like it has been the case before. My grandchildren are no longer going to school because schools are closed, and I am no longer able to engage in my business of selling firewood because of the government directives banning movement and visiting public places…I had a bumper harvest in the previous rainy season because of the good farm terracing training offered to us by the area field officer. I was able to harvest maize, cowpeas, and green grams, which are helping cut food costs in these times. My challenge has been getting other food items such as vegetables because markets are closed and also the shop items because of my low-income status currently.”

Mary Kitheka, 61

“All my working children were sacked and others, their companies closed, sending them home with no pay. This has brought a lot of financial challenges at home. In the past rainy season, I had a small harvest. There is none left because of the increased consumption at home. The situation is bad because market days are suspended, and I cannot even sell livestock and get money for upkeep.”

Mutunga Mutisya, 51

Mutunga Mutisya

“Everything changed since the onset of coronavirus in Kenya. Our lifestyles have changed, and the time limit set in the country is very tight, especially for some of us who are casual laborers. Initially, we would go to look for casual jobs in other towns, but such movements are impossible now. As a result, this has made our life hard because there is no flow of income. Markets in the area have remained closed, and this has impacted us negatively because we are unable to sell our farm products. My family has to survive on food harvested from the farm because there’s no money to buy food from retail shops. Children are not attending school, and this makes them susceptible to adopting bad behaviors as it’s difficult to monitor their movement throughout the day…We had good harvests thanks to the heavy rains experienced in the previous rainy season. In addition, the water from the sand dam has been helpful in watering our crops. Food from the farms is available. However, buying supplementary cereals and foodstuffs from the shops and markets has been difficult during this time because we do not have money for that.”

Jane Maitha, 56

“All my children who were working and supporting me from other towns are currently at home and jobless, which has affected us. I used to have a small shop here at Nzalae market, but I had to use all of my savings and capital on food purchases at home. That led to the closure of the shop since I used up all of my operating capital and stock…Now that I am no longer working and earning money from my business at the local market, I depend entirely on my small farm produce to feed my children who are at home. I had made a good harvest in the previous rainy season, which is helping me sustain my family.”

COVID-19 brings many challenges, but reliable water is not one

The spread of COVID-19 in Kenya has brought new challenges to 70-year-old Wathi Muisyo.

“My family has been affected greatly by Coronavirus. Kenyan citizens were advised to stay at home due to the virus,” she told us recently.

Wathi Muisyo, 70, at home

“All the market days were closed down; as a result, we are unable to sell our farm products. Financial income at this time is difficult, thus making the purchase of supplementary foodstuffs from the shops impossible. Fortunately, this year we have had bountiful harvests, so we have sufficient food to eat at home, thanks to the rains received. I am praying for this virus to end.”

Wathi is a member of the Ukava wa Kithoni Self-Help Group that constructed a sand dam and well for their Kithoni community last year.

She used to worry about how to fetch water each day. Before the project, the nearest water source was the Kwa Makiti River located more than a mile from the village. Its water table is shallow and dries up as soon as the rains stop. She and other community members then had to walk to River Kikuo, which is nearly 3 miles from their village – a journey that took about an hour to walk each way.

Things are different now.

“Getting water from the water source has been easy for my family and me because we have a sand dam and shallow well project, which is a stone’s throw away from my home. In just a few strokes, the jerrycans are full of water. The water is readily available for us, and we can fetch it at any time of the day,” she told us.

Wathi and her family are feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her 5 grandchildren live with her right now because the schools are closed. Their parents (her children) work in Nairobi and are not allowed to leave the city due to travel restrictions.

“I am very worried about them as the situation there is very hard,” Wathi said, referring to her children.

“They cannot go to work, and we are also unable to send food to them. The remittances that they would send to us are no longer possible because they are not working.”

Wathi and her grandchildren

An unprecedented effort in Kenya has helped reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the country. But the restrictions on businesses and the national daily curfew are creating a series of new challenges for people in the country.

“Before this virus, we would work by selling farm products to buy any household necessities or packed foodstuffs such as rice, sugar, and salt. Now, we have to survive on the little that we have because we have no financial income to replenish them once they run out,” she said.

“We have harvested a lot of food such as maize, cowpeas, pigeon peas, and beans from our farms because the previous rainy season was adequate, and we thank God for that. We have enough food on our farms to feed our families.”

At a time of uncertainty, we continue to support communities so that they can at least count on one thing – access to a safe, reliable water source.

“Having a sand dam project at this time has been very beneficial, and we express our gratitude to The Water Project for their support. Getting water is easy and is not time-consuming at all,” Wathi said.

Wathi washes her hands at home.