July, 2020: Through Their Eyes: COVID-19 Chronicles with Serilah Nyawanga
This post is part of a new series by The Water Project meant to highlight the perspectives and experiences of the people we serve and how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting them. We invite you to read more of their stories here.
"53-year-old Serilah looks tired and worn out," stated Training Officer Jacquey Kangu with concern while reflecting on her recent interview of Serilah Nyawanga.
Serilah Nyawanga stands outside her homestead to greet us.
Serilah lives in the village of Shikhombero in Western Kenya, where our team recently visited to conduct a COVID-19 prevention training (read more about it below!) and monitor their protected water source, Atondola Spring. Shortly after, we returned to check in on the community, offer a COVID-19 refresher training, and ask how the pandemic is affecting their lives.
Serilah (right) stands with her children at home during the pandemic.
Serilah agreed to meet with us while observing all COVID-19 precautions and showed us how her daily life has changed since the virus came to Kenya earlier this year.
"This is a lady we met during spring protection and training who was vibrant and happy, but a few months after the pandemic, she looks different. She misses her husband, who can no longer visit, but of much more concern is that she is just a farmer and her husband used to supplement the income by taking care of the family. Now that he is not working, there is no financial assistance, so she has had to seek alternative ways to take care of the family."
"Yes, it is evident that COVID-19's impact has really changed not only Serilah but the entire community of Shikhombero," Jacquey said.
Serilah reaches for the soap at her home handwashing station.
"We are living under fear and worry. Life has really hardened due to the tough economic situation," said Serilah. At the time of Serilah's interview, the capital city Nairobi was still under lockdown. Her husband, who usually works there and sends money home, could neither leave nor work due to the lockdown.
Handwashing at home
"My son left for Homa Bay County for manual work just a few weeks ago. My prayer is that he keeps safe and does not contract the virus since we (Kenya) have positive cases there. My school-going children are home with me, which is not supposed to be so...I have a fear for my children that they are losing study time when they are home."
Serilah shows her mask before putting it on.
The one thing that has remained constant for Serilah throughout the pandemic is her access to clean and safe water from Atondola Spring.
"We are using safe and clean water. Imagine washing hands with dirty water, or using dirty water! I would be very worried since COVID-19 [is not kind] to dirty [hands]."
"Nowadays I have to observe hygiene like washing hands with soap and cleaning the containers before fetching water. I never used to do these before the pandemic; I am keener on hygiene to keep the virus away."
Serilah puts on her mask.
"Matters of hygiene and sanitation and mask-making training has really been helpful. [We are now] washing hands thoroughly with soap and water as many times as possible, keeping away from social places like funerals, and wearing face masks whenever we leave our homes."
Serilah actively participates in the COVID-19 refresher training we held in Shikhombero on the day of her interview.
Training Officer Jacquey confirmed that "the community is so grateful for the clean water since it helps them to carry out hygiene and sanitation. The community members who attended the [COVID-19] training seemed to be knowledgeable about matters concerning COVID-19 since all of them came wearing face masks."
Our team continues to monitor Atondola Spring to ensure that Serilah and every community member in Shikhombero maintain their vital connection to good hygiene and sanitation during the pandemic: clean water.
May, 2020: COVID-19 Prevention Training Update at Shikhombero Community, Atondola Spring
Our teams are working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Join us in our fight against the virus while maintaining access to clean, reliable water.
Team Leader Emmah heads the training
We are carrying out awareness and prevention trainings on the virus in every community we serve. Very often, our teams are the first (and only) to bring news and information of the virus to rural communities like Shikhombero, Kenya.
Trainer Betty in action
We trained more than 10 people on the symptoms, transmission routes, and prevention of COVID-19. Due to public gathering concerns, we worked with trusted community leaders to gather a select group of community members who would then relay the information learned to the rest of their family and friends.
Everyone must observe social distancing at training
We covered essential hygiene lessons:
- Demonstrations on how to build a simple handwashing station
- Proper handwashing technique
- The importance of using soap and clean water for handwashing
- Cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces including at the water point.
Betty leads handwashing demonstration
We covered COVID-19-specific guidance in line with national and international standards:
- Information on the symptoms and transmission routes of COVID-19
- What social distancing is and how to practice it
- How to cough into an elbow
- Alternative ways to greet people without handshakes, fist bumps, etc.
- How to make and properly wear a facemask.
"Really scrub your palms," says Betty
During training, we installed a new handwashing station with soap near the community’s water point. Due to the rampant spread of misinformation about COVID-19, we also dedicated time to a question and answer session to help debunk rumors about the disease and provide extra information where needed.
A woman demonstrates handwashing
We continue to stay in touch with this community as the pandemic progresses. We want to ensure their water point remains functional and their community stays informed about the virus.
A boy scrubs his fingernails while handwashing
Water access, sanitation, and hygiene are at the crux of disease prevention. You can directly support our work on the frontlines of COVID-19 prevention in all of the communities we serve while maintaining their access to safe, clean, and reliable water.
February, 2020: Shikhombero Community, Atondola Spring Project Complete!
Shikhombero Community now has access to clean water! Atondola Spring has been transformed into a flowing source of water thanks to your donation. We protected the spring, constructed 5 sanitation platforms for different households in the community, and we trained the community on improved sanitation and hygiene practices.
Community members together with field officers celebrate the completion of Atondola Spring
Community members provided all locally available construction materials, including bricks, wheelbarrows of clean sand, stones, and fencing poles. Accommodations and meals were provided for the artisan, too.
Women and men lent their strength to the artisan to help him with manual labor. The spring area was excavated to create space for setting the foundation of thick plastic tarp, wire mesh, and concrete. After the base had been set, both wing walls and the headwall were set in place using brickwork. The discharge pipe was fixed low in place through the headwall to direct the water from the reservoir to the drawing area.
Field Officer Laodia confirms headwall measurements during construction
As the wing walls and headwall were curing, the stairs were set and ceramic tiles were fixed directly below the discharge pipe. This protects the concrete from the erosive force of the falling water and beautifies the spring. The process of plastering the headwall and wing walls on both sides reinforces the brickwork and prevents water from the reservoir from seeping through the walls and allows pressure to build in the collection box to push water up through the discharge pipe.
The source area was filled up with clean stones and sand and covered with a thick plastic tarp to prevent potential sources of contamination. Then soil was layered on top of the tarp so that community members could transplant grass to prevent erosion. Finally, the collection area was fenced in.
Artisan works on stone pitching
The only setback during the entire construction process was the weather. Being the rainy season, the artisan had to do much of his work in the morning to give enough time for the cement to dry before the afternoon rains set in each day. The rains also made travel on the muddy roads challenging for our team to get in and out of the village, so they sometimes had to wait until the sun had been out for several hours in the morning to partially dry out the roads before they could pass.
Eventually, however, thanks to the patience, hard work, and dedication of everyone involved, the work came to a close at Atondola Spring. It took about 2 weeks of patience for the concrete to dry. As soon as it was ready, people got the okay from our field officers to begin fetching clean water. We met them there to celebrate this momentous occasion.
Field Officer Laodia officially hands over Atondola Spring to community members
The handing over ceremony was full of joy, happiness, and thanksgiving. The community members gathered around the spring while dancing, singing, and praising God and our team for their helping hand in protecting the water for the community. (To see and hear the celebration, check out the video on the Photos tab of this project page!)
Singing and dancing to celebrate flowing water at newly completed Atondola Spring
"Thank you so much and may the Lord God bless you, the organization. You are the best group that has shown patience and good heart. You have helped us so much [and] we have nothing to give but God will give you the desires of your heart," said a joyous Julieta Kayalwa, a farmer in the community.
Fetching water from the protected spring
All 5 sanitation platforms have been installed. The new proud new sanitation platform owners, nominated by their neighbors, were James Amboso, Pius Mmboyi, Henry Ingenya, Gladys Mmboyi, and Julieta Kayalwa. These 5 community members and their families are happy about this milestone of having a private latrine of their own and are optimistic that people will no longer leave waste outdoors. We are continuing to encourage families to finish building walls and roofs over their new latrine floors.
New owner of a sanitation platform
Community member Pius Mmboyi, who would be elected Chair of the water user committee, helped organize the training in coordination with our team. Together we found the community’s preferred date for training while considering other events in the community calendar such as the agricultural season and expected gatherings.
18 people attended training, including community health workers and the community ward representative present, too. The turn out was a bit low for the community compared to the number of spring users since many people could not come away from the harvesting season on their farms to break for the training. Those who came said they were trying to balance their time on the farm and at the training to ensure that they have both food for the stomach as well as food for the brain.
Participant demonstrates toothbrushing after Trainer Elvin, right, demonstrated the proper technique
It was so sunny on the morning of training that we decided to conduct the event at Mama Serilah's home instead of at the spring to afford some shade. We were most welcomed by Mama Serilah and the environment was so conducive for learning. Later we went to the spring site to do the site management portion of training.
We covered several topics including leadership and governance; operation and maintenance of the spring; healthcare; family planning; immunizations; and the prevention and spread of disease. We also discussed water treatment methods, personal care like handwashing, environmental hygiene, hygiene promotion, and many other things. All of the participants were interested in each topic as shown by the way they asked the instructors questions and participated fully.
A participant presents her group's brainstorm on leadership next to Trainer Betty (left)
In the leadership and governance portion of the day, participants split into groups to brainstorm the different traits that some leaders display. There was a good discussion on the need for a leader to be a person who is ready and willing to serve others and take responsibility and authority on behalf of others. The groups then discussed the different character traits of particular animals such as hyenas, lions, and monkeys, among others. Each group made a presentation on their ideas about the animals' traits before electing the leadership positions for their water user committee. This entire process helped the group elect their leaders wisely based on thorough evaluations of the characteristics for the people they had in mind for each position.
Laodia leads the handwashing session with a volunteer demonstrator
The handwashing session was the most special part of training. Our facilitators were impressed to hear community members report that they already tried to wash their hands in the morning when they woke up and before every meal. The trainer encouraged them to regularly wash their hands with soap to kill disease-causing germs after every activity such as after visiting the toilet, before breastfeeding, and eating any food. The 10 handwashing steps challenged most of the participants since they had not been following any technical steps before, but after some time they enjoyed the process and did it practically and perfectly by themselves.
Thumbs up for clean water readily available
In our discussion on income-generating activities, community members promised to come up with a group project that will enable them to generate income toward sustainability of the spring project should any small funds be necessary for future repairs. They proposed to rear chickens at their homesteads, sell them when they mature, and use the proceeds as savings for future needs of the spring and also to empower themselves financially.
"I am happy to be here today to learn more about hygiene and how I can be healthy and live longer. I will share the information with others to promote hygiene," said Ernest Inganu, a farmer who attended the training.
Thank you for making all of this possible!