This project is a part of our shared program with Africa Sand Dam Foundation. Our team is pleased to directly share the below report (edited for clarity, as needed).
Welcome to the Community
Kyeni kya Karuri Self-Help Group was formed way back in 1978 with the main objective to tackle food insecurity and water shortage in the area through soil conservation. At the time of formation, there was a major famine in the area that caused the loss of livestock. Livestock being a main source of income for the community, the loss of this valuable asset dented the income potential of the community.
Members are from different areas; some are from here in Waita, while others are from Kyeni kya Karuri.
In the first years, the group was supported by World Neighbors to build one sand dam which has been a source of solace and relief to the community. The sand dam was finished in 1983. The community had been able to get water from the dam, but during the 1997 El Nino rains, poor structural design of the sand dam caused the wall to collapse. This propelled Waita Community into another cycle of misery and pain due to water shortage.
After 1997, the community was again forced to walk for over eight kilometers to find water, wasting five hours each day. Now, the closest water point to some families is a borehole three kilometers away. Water from the borehole is sold at five shillings per 20-liter jerrycan, and many members of the community are not able to afford it. The availability of water at the borehole is also not reliable, with water only being available twice or thrice in a week. The rest of the days, the community relies on scoop holes dug in the riverbed, which are usually overcrowded with both livestock and humans.
During the drier months, community members dig these holes deeper to reach water. Sometimes, these can be dangerous for small children who accompany their older siblings and mothers. And the deeper the hole, the harder and more time consuming it is to fetch water.
Once delivered back home, this water is dumped into larger storage containers ranging from 200 to 400 liters. These are split up between the latrine, kitchen, and sitting room.
While Kyeni kya Karuri has united around the building of a sand dam and hand-dug well system, this system was built in Kyeni kya Karuri and is not near the families living in Waita. Without a safe source of water near Waita, "waterborne incidences have been reported. Every year families spent money to treat such diseases in the local dispensary. We are determined to reduce such cases be creating more water points for the community," said Kyeni Kya Karuri's chairman, Mr. Jackson Musyimi.
Over 75% of the families living in Waita have a pit latrine. These are not deep enough, and the majority are walled with mud. Since a handful of community members still don't have their own facilities, they endanger the rest of the community by reliving themselves out in the open.
Nor do these Waita households have a dedicated spot for personal hygiene. There is nowhere to bathe in private. Less than half have helpful tools like dish racks and clotheslines to dry belongings safely off the ground.
The community has the wrong perception that hygiene and sanitation is just for the well-to-do, or that it's the role of the government to help them.
Plans: Hygiene and Sanitation Training
The group will meet for two days for an extensive training on hygiene and sanitation. After visiting these Waita households in person, our trainer has decided to start with the basics on the spread of disease and how to prevent it.
Hand-washing will be highlighted as one of the most effective ways to prevent disease, and locals will be taught how to build their own hand-washing station. The construction and use of latrines will also be strongly encouraged, and the group will agree on a plan to implement what they learned.
Plans: Sand Dam
We worked with the community to determine the best location for their next sand dam; it was simple to agree that Waita Community was priority for their next project. This new dam will bring more water to the other half of the self-help group and their families. It will raise the water table and transform the land, making it fertile for farming. With the ongoing installation of a hand-dug well (click here to view that project), water from this sand dam will be safely used for drinking.
Personal Story: Meeting the Women
(Editor's Note: The following story is shared with minimal editing, and was composed by our wonderful Kenyan staff member, Joe Kioko.)
It's a privilege to have been raised and taken care of by both parents. It's surprising how the basic things we take for granted like a comfortable home, having at least three meals, and taking a shower can be a luxury to someone else. During a recent field visit, I encountered a story which terribly moved me to tears. It's a story of resilience and struggle for survival. It's a story that forever changed my attitude and reminded me to be grateful each day for the little things.
On this particular day we had traveled to check on the progress of a few new projects in Mwingi. We had scheduled to meet the group before 9am.You must love the morning scent that comes your way in the rural areas. These are areas with no traffic, no pollution, no busy hoots from vehicle, no bumping into people in a hurry. It's an atmosphere of freedom, serene environments with hymns from birds, mooing of cows, bleating of sheep. The thing I love most is the warm, friendly smiles that you come across from the people. The people even without knowing you, respect you and show great attention to your presence. It's an atmosphere where culture is still intact, traditions for the elderly greeting you with resolute firmness and the young gladly greeting them back by bowing. I just love the experience!
Since my visit was early in the morning, I got to learn one particular thing about this community. There is a severe common challenge. The number of donkeys I met laden with at least four 20-liter jerrycans all heading in the same direction tell you that water is scarce in the area. On this particular day, I met over 20 donkeys all being directed by women of diverse ages. Mostly, it's the middle-aged women who are making this important trip.
I was particularly attracted to one unique woman, who was different from the rest. She was about the age of my grandmother, around 70-80 years old. She looked frail and tired. She was in deep thought as she frailly pushed herself to catch up with the fast donkeys. I pitied her and wished to carry her with our vehicle to wherever she was going. But there seemed like there was something more than met the eye. I decided to talk to her, and though I thought I had good words to encourage her my next few minutes with her left me speechless and deeply grieved. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked her a question that sounded rather silly: ''How many trips have you made today?''
"This is my fourth trip this morning. I woke up at 3am to try and beat the big queues," she exclaimed. Really at three!?, I thought. Where was I then? I must have been in slumber land, in the comfort of a bed not sure or even aware that there was a 70-year-old lady making her first trip to the water point, the first among many.
I got curious and asked her how many trips she intended to make that day. She told me that each week she has to make at least 18 trips total, six trips for at least three days a week. But the question on my mind is why all these trips, and what is the water being used for?
"I have a granddaughter whose parents passed on six years ago. She is in form three, and ever since the loss of her parents I have been the custodian and provider for her needs. She has to look for school fees. The school didn't want to hear that the girl is an orphan, and they demanded school fees. I want the best for her, so I looked for a way to keep her in school. I approached the school administration and volunteered to fetch water each week, and each trip I make would be charged and accounted for as school fees. As I listen to her, tears have already filled my eyes.
"She tells me she wants to be an engineer to look for ways to to help the community through water projects. I am doing my part to see that her dreams come to pass," she tells me with a a smile lighting up her wrinkled face. At that point, I wanted to hug her and tell her that God cares for her and will continue to give her strength. But at this point I am empty, empty for words and at the same time angry... Angry with life. Why is life this unfair at times? I am angry about the systems that govern the country. In recent times, the government could not account for one billion shillings, a figure that was used to fatten a few individuals' pockets. What's wrong with our world?
I patted her on the shoulder as she continued with her journey, a selfless journey that will one day bear fruit. A journey of hope and determination. All I could offer this woman was a prayer that the Lord would keep her strong and healthy for her to see her granddaughter go through school and achieve her dreams.
As I write this story, raw emotions again fill me. It's not a fictional story I tell to get the attention and ask for funds for support. It's not a story I tell to fulfill the requirements of reporting, but it's a story I tell to celebrate the sheer determination of this lady. She is not alone, but she is an emblem of hope for many other women in this part of the world who go through same predicaments. I wrote this to remind all readers, when you go home tonight after a long busy day, while you are in the shower while the cool drops of water from the shower hit your tired body, after taking your hot beverage of tea or coffee or after your favorite soda, after a great meal with your family and before you tuck yourself in for bed, please just remember to say thank you for all that.