August, 2020: Through Their Eyes: COVID-19 Chronicles with Joshua Kusimba Lumbasi
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.
"This corona pandemic has come abruptly, but this water has really helped us," a point Joshua Kusimba Lumbasi wanted to emphasize during our recent visit with him.
Joshua Kusimba Lumbasi washes his hands with soap and water from Kusimba Spring using the handwashing station he set up outside his home.
As the landowner and chair of Kusimba Spring's water user committee, Joshua is quick to attest to how much flowing water at the spring has already helped community members adhere to the health and sanitation recommendations that have come hand-in-hand with the COVID-19 pandemic. Married and a father of 3, Joshua also knows the importance of having clean water at home for all of their drinking, cooking, and cleaning needs.
Video Part 1: Water - Joshua shares how the protection of Kusimba Spring has enabled his community to follow health and sanitation recommendations to help prevent COVID-19.
Our team recently visited Mahira to conduct a COVID-19 prevention training (read more about it below!) and monitor their water point. 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.
It was during this most recent visit that Joshua shared his story of how the coronavirus has impacted her his life.
Training Officer Mary Afandi met Joshua outside his home to conduct the interview. Both Mary and Joshua observed social distancing and other precautions throughout the visit to ensure their health and safety. Their questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Video Part 2: Training Reflection - Joshua reflects on what his community found most valuable from our team's COVID-19 sensitization training and how community members have put into practice what they learned.
What is one thing that has changed in your community since the protection of Kusimba Spring?
"There has been an improvement in hygiene standards of the people. People carry out laundry of their clothing and bathe regularly."
How has having a clean water point helped you through the pandemic so far?
"The availability of clean water has helped me to clean my hands together with my family. It has also helped us to maintain sanitation by cleaning the house and other surfaces around the home."
Joshua at home with his wife to his left and 2 of their children on either end.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Kenya, has fetching water changed for you because of restrictions, new rules, or your concerns about the virus?
"Yes, it has really changed. I now wear a mask when going to fetch water. I also don't find crowds in the spring unlike before. I have to wash the pipe with soap before fetching the water."
Joshua fetches water from Kusimba Spring while other community members observe social distancing while waiting in line and all wear their masks.
How has COVID-19 impacted your family?
"COVID-19 has negatively affected my family. The laying off of workers has been a major setback in my life. I lost my job and we just survive on the little farm produce we get. All my 3 children are at home. Their academic life has been impacted adversely to the extent they have lost hope for schooling. They are constantly asking when I will resume working and when the pandemic will end."
Mrs. Kusimba fetches water at the spring.
What other challenges are you experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
"As a farmer, I miss taking my vegetables, yams, and maize to market because they don't want crowds at the market and this has lowered my morale. I also fear walking in public areas, hence staying at home all day has become boring. The reduced income rates make me strain as I struggle to meet my family's basic needs."
Joshua shows his yam farm.
What hygiene and sanitation steps have you and your community taken to stop the spread of the virus?
"As a community, we put on masks when going in public and we are observing social distancing. We have also installed handwashing stations in our homesteads and reduced the number of visitors visiting us."
Squinting into the sun, Joshua shows his mask after putting it on without touching his face - just like he learned at training.
When asked where he receives information about COVID-19, Joshua listed the radio, television, newspaper, and our team's sensitization training.
What has been the most valuable part of the COVID-19 sensitization training you received from our team?
"The mask-making technique is the most helpful skill that I gained from the training."
July, 2020: COVID-19 Prevention Training Update at Mahira Community, Kusimba 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.
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 Mahira, Kenya.
We trained more than 13 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.
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.
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.
During training, we installed a new handwashing station with soap near the community’s water point, along with a sign with reminders of what we covered.
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.
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.
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.
June, 2020: Mahira Community, Kusimba Spring Project Complete!
Please note, all photos in this report were taken before social distancing recommendations went into effect.
Mahira Community now has access to clean water! Kusimba 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.
"I am happy because I am now taking clean and safe water. It is easier now to fetch water from the spring. No more queueing at the spring. The water will be used to water the crops and supply water to the fish ponds, thus supporting fish farming," said 22-year-old student Sandra Lumbasi.
Children were just as excited as the adults about the new water point.
"I will take only a few seconds to fetch water. The water is safe for consumption, so my health status will greatly improve...The water is reliable, safe, and of good condition," said teenager Lillian.
Preparing for Spring Protection
Community members worked together to source and carry all locally available construction materials to the spring. These included bricks, sand, stones, and fencing poles. Some people also chiseled away at large stones to break them down into gravel. Because people have to carry most items by hand, the materials collection process can take anywhere from a few weeks to months.
When everything was prepared, we sent a lorry to the community to deliver the rest of the construction materials including the cement, plastic tarps, and hardware. Then, our artisan and field officers deployed to the spring to begin work. While the field officers traveled to and from the site each day throughout the construction process, the artisan remained in the community. To accommodate him, individual households provided meals and a place to sleep each night.
The last step before construction commenced was taking a water sample from the unprotected spring. We sent the sample to a government laboratory for testing to identify the kinds of contaminants in the water before its protection. These often include fertilizers and pesticides from farms, animal and human feces, and any number of harmful bacteria. We then shared the test results with the community to identify extra steps they could take to help ensure the spring’s water remains clean and safe after protection.
From Open Source to Protected Spring: A Step-by-Step Process
At last, it was time to dig in at the spring! Women and men lent their strength to the artisan each day to help with the manual labor. First, we cleared and excavated the spring area. We dug a drainage channel below the spring and several surface runoff diversion channels above and around the spring. These help to divert the environmental contaminants identified in the pre-construction water quality test.
To ensure community members could still fetch water throughout the construction process, we also dug temporary diversion channels from the spring’s eye around the construction site. This allowed water to flow without severely disrupting community members’ water needs or construction work.
Excavation created space for setting the spring’s foundation made of thick plastic tarp, wire mesh, concrete, and waterproof cement. After setting the base, we started brickwork to build the headwall, wing walls, and the stairs.
Laying the spring's foundation
Next, we began one of the most crucial steps of spring protection to ensure a fully functional water point: setting the discharge pipe. The discharge pipe has to be set low enough in place in the headwall so that the water level inside never rises above the spring’s eye, yet high enough to leave 18-20 inches between the pipe and the spring floor to allow room for the average jerrycan (a 20-liter container) to sit beneath the pipe without making contact.
If the discharge pipe were placed too high above the spring’s eye, too much backpressure could force the flow to emerge elsewhere. Too low, and community members would not be able to easily access the water. We embedded the pipe using clay (or mortar when the clay is in short supply) and placed it at a slight incline to ensure water flows in the right direction.
In coordination with brickwork, we pitched medium to large stones on both sides of the spring’s drainage channel. We then cemented and plastered each stone group into place, forming the rub walls. These help to discourage people and animals from trying to stand on that area, which could cause soil erosion and thus a clogged drainage area.
Cement and plasterwork on the stairs and rub walls
With brickwork and stone pitching completed, we turned to cement and plaster both sides of the headwall and wing walls. This reinforces the brickwork and prevents water in the reservoir from seeping through the walls. In turn, this builds enough pressure in the reservoir box to push water out through the discharge pipe.
Plastering the headwall
As the headwall and wing walls were curing, we cemented and plastered the stairs and installed 4 tiles beneath the discharge pipes. The tiles protect the concrete from the erosive force of the falling water, beautify the spring, and facilitate easy cleaning of the spring floor.
With the tiles in place, we transitioned to the final stages of construction - backfilling the reservoir box. First, we cleared the collection box of any debris that may have fallen in since its construction such as dead leaves or other items. Then we redirected the temporary diversion channels back into the reservoir box, channeling water into this area for the first time. We closed off all of the other exits to start forcing the water through the discharge pipe only.
Backfilling with large stones
With much help from the community, we filled up the reservoir area with the clean and large stones they gathered, arranging them in layers like a well-fitting puzzle. We covered the stones with a thick plastic tarp to minimize potential sources of contamination from aboveground, followed by a layer of soil. We piled enough soil on top to create a slight mound to compensate for the backfill’s future settlement.
Community members transplanted grass onto the backfilled soil to help prevent erosion. Finally, the collection area was fenced in to discourage any person or animal from walking on it since compaction can lead to disturbances in the backfill layers and potentially compromise water quality.
Protected Kusimba Spring
The entire construction process took about 2 weeks of work and patience to allow the cement and plaster to finish curing. As soon as it was ready, people got the okay from our field officers to begin fetching water. We met them there to celebrate this momentous occasion. Happiness, thanksgiving, and appreciation were the order of the day flowing in all directions.
Community members celebrate the completed spring
All 5 sanitation platforms have been completed and handed over to their new owners. These 5 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.
Posing with a new sanitation platform
We are continuing to encourage families to finish building walls and roofs over their new latrine floors, and for other families to replicate the design after having helped construct these examples.
A man poses with a new sanitation platform
Community member and spring landowner Alice Kusimba 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. Together we decided 2 days of training would be better than 1 to cover all of the material. When the day arrived, Facilitators Mary Afandi and Samuel Simidi deployed to the site.
Training in session with Facilitator Mary Afandi (right)
16 people attended training, including the local village health volunteer. The training took place at the spring site where the participants used stones as seats. The venue was comfortable for the group due to its size, which let people spread out and find their seat of choice. The attendance was not as expected, however, because it was planting season at the time. This saw most of the community members busy at work on their farms.
We covered several topics including community participation in the project; leadership and governance; personal and environmental hygiene; water handling and treatment; operation and maintenance of the spring and sanitation platforms; dental hygiene; the 10 steps of handwashing, and how to make and use a tippy tap and leaky tin. During the leadership and governance session, we held an election for the leaders of the newly formed water user committee.
Mary teaches the 10 steps of handwashing by example
We also brainstormed income-generating activities that can be used to start both a community savings account for any future minor repairs to the spring, as well as a cooperative lending group to enable members to develop their own small businesses.
At the time of training, there were just 7 cases of COVID-19 in Kenya and none in the region where Mahira is located, but news of the virus was spreading. This was by far the most memorable topic covered. The participants were taught to wash their hands with soap and clean running water whenever possible, and to only use sanitizer as a secondary source. In addition, they were advised to avoid crowded places and close physical contact with others. Finally, "They were reminded that their health is their personal responsibility," added Trainer Mary.
"Sanitizer is second-best to soap."
Since this training, we have developed trainings exclusively on COVID-19 prevention and awareness - see for yourself what we've been up to as we continue to fight COVID-19 on the frontlines in all of the communities we serve.
Nutrition was another special topic. In this session, the trainers explained how to eat a balanced diet using locally available food materials to diversify the common staples such as maize and beans.
"From now henceforth I will endeavor to maintain personal hygiene. I will also pay attention to my nutrition by using locally available food materials," said 52-year-old farmer Robai Makokha after completing training.
When an issue arises concerning the water project, the water user committee is equipped with the necessary skills to rectify the problem and ensure the water point works appropriately. However, if the issue is beyond their capabilities, they can contact our team of field officers to assist them. In addition, we will continue to offer them unmatchable support as a part of our ongoing monitoring and maintenance program.
Thank you for making all of this possible!