Smiles are only the beginning

The most amazing this about this photograph is that it doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what will happen in this place.

Yet, so often, we get caught up in images like these. Don’t get me wrong, there is every reason to. The first drops of clean, safe water for a school bring dramatic and immediate changes.  In an instant, children – often young girls – are freed from the daily burden of carrying water from a far away stream or infested pond. Water is used for washing and cleaning, restoring dignity and pride. Crops are irrigated and parched plants begin to show new signs of life as the fear of hunger subsides. Stomach aches fade and soccer games take on a new found energy. Childhood resumes.

But it’s the unseen that is truly remarkable. When you step back for a moment, another image emerges.

When I gaze into these faces, I see the future. I see young men and women engaged in learning. I see healthy, rested minds hard at work. I see this young girl, Purity, with time to dream about what she’ll be when she grows up. I see a market stand opening, packed with vegetables and crafts – products of fertile fields and productive hands. I see a leader, Steve, inspired by what someone did for him, yearning to help his own neighbor escape poverty.

I’ll admit though, I still get caught up in the moment. Water flowing, children splashing, and everyone cheering the opening of a new well will do that. In our narrowly focused world, we’re so used to goals and accomplishments. We love to celebrate what is “finished.” But if we stop there, we’ll miss the fullness of what is happening.

So let’s not forget that today is day one. The hard work of the next steps begin now. Hope is only beginning to bear fruit.

Then, when we celebrate with a community or a school like this one, we can celebrate things that we’ll likely never see – future events that we’ll certainly not have a hand in. We can celebrate Purity’s graduation from high school. Or Steve’s successful new enterprise, fresh out of university. We can cheer as a new school is constructed or as the local church fulfills its mission and raises nearby villages from poverty. We can celebrate things we cannot even imagine.

That’s what it means to join in their story. That’s what it means to hope for Steve and with Purity, and all their friends at the Care Compassion Orphanage.

When water comes… everything changes. These smiles are only the beginning.

What do you see?

Changamwe urban sanitation project taking shape!

I’ve been spending quite a lot of time with a men’s support group in Changamwe recently, an informal urban
settlement on the main Nairobi road out of Mombasa.

David and Herbert, members of Changamwe Men's Support Group at the proposed site

They have developed a proposal for a sanitation block in their community, involving three or four flush toilets and
a shower. The idea is that people will pay per use of the facility, and through this the group can raise funds for
another similar project in the future as well as provide support for AIDs affected families in the community.
The site is small, around 5m by 3m, but ideally located to the main road, and right next to the municipal water line
and the sewerage network. The group are also keen to include a community space in the project, to allow them to facilitate HIV awareness events and hold Voluntary Community Testing (VCT) evenings.
As well as support from TWP, the group are also working closely with Women Fighting AIDs in Kenya (WOFAK), a well established respected NGO with substantial experience of working in slum settlements in Kenya.
At this point we’re in the discussion stage, and are committed to facilitating the design process and workshop sessions. When we have some coherent plans and a decent proposal, we’re also very keen on the idea of funding the construction process, and as such entering into the world of urban water and sanitation. At the same time, TWP is talking to WOFAK about on – going support, and about ensuring that the group have the capacity to handle their income and maintain the facility in the long run.
Good, exciting, progress. Watch this space!

Sand dams and other miracles

In some areas of Kenya – like where I live in Coast Province, finding clean water is almost impossible. With little rain and salty groundwater, people travel for miles with jerry cans to find fresh springs or river beds where they can dig for water.

For us, the question is often not “Do we want to help?”, but rather “Can we work out a way to help?”. And by implication, do we have the partners who can work in such challenging conditions? As you may be aware from earlier posts, part of my work this year is about partner development. I’m currently on the hunt for organisations that The Water Project can partner with in the future. This is a tricky assignment for me, and three months in to my year here, I’m realising that it is a slow process. It’s important we take the time to hear the inside story and make sure we do due diligence. We need to make sure we are giving our donors genuine value for money, as well as serving communities in the best and most sustainable manner possible.

To date, the partners we have are ‘well’ focused (excuse the pun!), in that they base their implementations on boreholes or hand dug wells, but as I’ve mentioned, this approach is not always appropriate. As such, another focus of this year is to try and diversify the approaches we fund. Each development situation, each community, is different and  it’s vital that we (and our partners) are able to think creatively when tackling WASH issues.


Addressing urban WASH issues in Informal Urban Settlements

Yesterday I visited an Informal Urban Settlement in Mombasa, in an area called Likoni. Informal Urban Settlements, or slums, are areas characterised by poor housing and squalor, where the population lack official land tenure rights. Globally, more than 1 billion people live in slums, a figure that is rising all the time as people move to cities in search of employment.  Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) issues are typically very challenging, as people lack access to clean water, and waste disposal (either of human excrement or household rubbish) is haphazard and unregulated.

Yesterday I visited Khasim, (more…)