Monthly Archives: May 2012

All Good Things Must Come to an End…

I am writing this blog at The Bounty Hotel in Nairobi. After crack-of-the-dawn-back-to-back days and many hours in one type of vehicle or another, Lucas and I can finally say we did it! Despite the harrowing car woes and the countless obstacles in the field, we were able to visit 37 of our wells, meet with the people in Kaumba (about 3 hours from Nairobi, 12 hours from Wamba) regarding The Kaumba Project, and still managed to accomplish many other things along the way. Although I am eager to come home and share my stories with all of you in person, writing this post is bittersweet. Though three weeks seem like a long time, it feels like it was just a few long days of amazing experiences. If departing from Wamba was hard enough on Wednesday, leaving the Samburu people yesterday left me emotional and wanting to spend more time with these incredible people.

After being stranded on the road for several hours on Wednesday, Wambugu assured me that the car would be running smoothly the next day. Turns out he was correct! We all woke up before or around 5 AM and we were in the car and on the road within the hour. We had a mission to visit two more wells and another project before heading to Nairobi during the early afternoon.

Our first stop was Kiltimany, a village near Archer’s Post at the edge of the Samburu National Reserve. There, Drew Berrymore (a World Food Programme Ambassador Against Hunger) funded the drilling and equipping of a solar-powered borehole. This borehole is truly one of a kind (I think this is one of three pilot projects, this being the only one in a rural area) – next to the tank and borehole is a machine that is an electronic system set up by the Danish company Grundfos Lifelink.


This machine basically controls the flow of water from the tank. Each community member has a plastic key encasing a computer chip. Each key has a serial number and they can use their phones and the M-Pesa system in Kenya (a mobile-phone based money transfer service) to put money on this key. When they want water, they place the key in the machine and it triggers the pumping of water from the tank to the long hose. There is another slot on the other side of the machine that allows them to check what their balance is. The fee is very nominal, 2 KES (a quarter of a cent) to fill a 20 liter jug, but has turned out to be a great way for the community to come up with a fund for repairs and spare parts. It was pretty great to see this project and Wambugu was amazed that you could use the M-Pesa system to bring water to people! (The first time I heard about the M-Pesa number I was astounded by this invention which is very widespread in Kenya- basically you go to one of the machines and you put the money in and put in the phone number that you want the money to go to. The money will stay “in your phone” until you go to an M-Pesa machine to withdraw that money).

After spending a couple of hours traveling and visiting that site, we were on our way to visit the two remaining wells in Archer’s Post.  If ever I questioned God’s timing during my trip, these last two visits put me in my place. If the car hadn’t given us so many problems these past few days, we probably would not have come to these wells at this time of the day. When we arrived, we found both of these wells overflowing with people who had brought many jerry cans to fill early on in the day. It truly was the perfect way to end this portion of my trip. At Laresoro Well, which was drilled this past August (D5W8) and funded by Forever 21, spirits were high, water was flowing, people were helping one another, donkeys were happily drinking water… it was a beautiful sight!

For Nolmungi Lobuk, the biggest way that this well has changed her life is the fact she does not have to go far distances to find water. The other women attested how this well has cut their time in search of water from 6 hours to 20 minutes. No matter how many times I have heard this, I do not and cannot be desensitized to just the magnitude of this difference.  They no longer have to spend their time sitting in the baking sun scooping soil in hopes of getting a small pool of dirty water to bring back to their families. They no longer are debilitated with waterborne diseases such as diarrhea every day.  They can now properly bathe and wash themselves. They now have time to look after their animals and properly cook and care for their children! They can finally do the things that all mothers aspire to achieve- raise their children to be healthy and clean human beings that now have the time and ability to go to school and pursue an education in hopes of a better life. As we were leaving, Lucas spotted one of the women who had just arrived at the well and he identified her as one of the women who was present when he and Kariuki did the hydrological survey. She could not believe that this place could ever have water. She told Lucas yesterday that this must have had to be some kind of miracle and she is still astounded by this well and incredibly grateful to The Samburu Project and the donor.

Our last visit was Lolparaui Well, also from this past well drill (D5W7) and funded by Pittsburgh Children’s Foundation. Lucas had no problem of finding someone at this well who was willing to answer our questions. In fact, Monica Leikaru (the lady bending down) was eager to share countless stories of how this well has changed her life and everyone in her community.  I could tell by Luca’s expression that many of these incidents was something he had never heard before which made the impact that much greater for all of us present.

Monica began by saying thank you to The Samburu Project for bringing this well. They are very happy because they used to have to go many kilometers to find water which took the entire day.  Highlighting the dangers of finding water before, Monica recalled when they were gathering water from a deep hand dug well. One day, one of the ladies from her community actually fell down the well and she broke her spinal cord. To this day she is disabled because of that fall. Before this well, many women would come to the riverbed to find water from these shallow wells and because it took a long time for each woman to painstakingly scoop the water and fill their 20 liter jerry can, not everyone had a chance while it was still light out. As a result, many of the women would have to come out at night and they would bring their boys with them because wild animals also took water from these holes and there was oftentimes conflict between the animals and the people. But now that they have this well, the women are very happy and incredibly relieved.

She ended by blessing us and telling Lucas that she would pray for us (the people that brought this well), that God may help us to have more money so that we can help other people.

Since there were many women and children present by the time we were leaving, I asked Lucas if they could all gather around the well so I could take one last picture. After I was done, Lucas asked if I wanted to join them and he did not have to ask me twice! I truly cannot think of a better way to end my inaugural tour of our wells.

When I first told Lucas that I was sad to leave Wamba and the Samburu people, he simply answered, “it’s because you are family now.”  I have so much to share about my new family here in Kenya so stay tuned for more posts!

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The Long and Worthwhile Journey to Sere Olipi

Hello!

I am writing to you from the same room that I wrote the previous blog this morning, which means things didn’t go quite as planned today. Man, this trip is definitely keeping Lucas and me on our toes!

We had hoped that the car would be ready early this morning and take us to all our wells with time to spare to travel and spend the night in another town. But alas, even with Wanbago’s magic hands the car would not start for the better part of the morning. Finally around 10:30 AM we were on our way to Sere Olipi, about an hours away from Archer’s Post where we have drilled 3 wells. Things were going smoothly but then about half an hour into the journey, we had to pull over because the engine was overheating and you could see smoke coming from the gears. Even I know that is not a good sign! Wambugu worked tirelessly and tackled every problem that the car threw his way (engine overheating, batteries not charging, oil was leaking, etc.) with brilliance and skill but it was no easy feat. After countless times of pushing the car to get it to work, Lucas instructed me to hop in the driver’s seat and take control while he and Wambugu pushed one last time to get this car to run. Lucas knows I’ve never driven stick, so either he had a lot of faith that I could follow his instructions (push the clutch and then apply some pressure on the gas pedal and once you feel momentum push the clutch again and change the gears before hitting the gas once more) or he was desperate. I think it was probably the latter. Anyways, after a few rocky attempts, the car finally started running!!! By this time it was 2 PM. I must admit that I was getting discouraged at just how late it was getting but Lucas was determined to visit these wells and I appreciate his perseverance and resolve.

We arrived at Sere Olipi and after getting some oil for the car we were off to visit Sere Olipi Primary School. This was actually the last well that was drilled during this past well drill and had initially given us grief much like the car.

On Sunday, October 16 after days of drilling, the well was declared dry.  The drilling team drilled to 71.5 meters and there was no water.  In our five years of drilling, this is only the second time this has occurred.  With 39 wells drilled, statistically, we have had incredible success.  Unfortunately, our hydrogeologist, Joseph Kariuki, who has a sixth sense about water viability throughout the land, cannot be accurate 100% of the time.

A dry well is devastating to the community as the thought of clean water brings so much hope and for many communities something they never thought possible.  In fact, until this well drill, the community of Sere Olipi had never seen a handpump.

Committing to making good on the well at Sere Olipi Primary School, we convinced the well driller to keep his rig in Samburu for a few additional days while Kariuki surveyed locations for a possible new site.  The following Monday, Kariuki found a viable site just 60 meters from the dry well.  With that, the drilling team was mobilized and drilling away.  On Thursday October 27 the well drilling team hit water at 55 meters. Thus we were able to drill another successful well just 60 meters from the dry hole.  Incredible teamwork among our hydrogeolgist, well drilling contractor and team on the ground made this possible.

Though we had received updates from Lucas and Juma and had seen pictures of school children gathering water at this well, I was eager to see this well for myself… after a few challenging days in the field, I wanted and perhaps needed to see this well which had encountered the “dark side of well drilling” as Ajay puts it.

We arrived at the well to find an older girl and younger school boy at the well. They had brought three big jerry cans with them and in no time they filled two of them while we were with them. Though I have been warned not to drink the water in Kenya unless it is bottled from a number of different people, after being out in the sun for so long, I was incredibly temped by this cold, beautiful water.

Realizing that these children would not be able to answer most of our questions, we headed back to town in search of the Head Master of the primary school, Fred Papaa Lemeleny. On our way to the school, we actually ran into him! He had heard we were in town and had gone out looking for us. Afraid that if we turned off the car it wouldn’t start again, we had him jump into the car and turned out car into a temporary office.

Even before I could ask any questions he immediately said thanks and conveyed his appreciation for the good work that we had done. Because of this well and the easy access to clean, safe drinking water, children are now performing much better in school and many more are passing each year.

He informed me that before this well, adults and children used to walk 5 kilometers or 3 hours each way to find water. Like all of the other communities we have interviewed, the water that they brought home originated from shallow hand dug holes which meant that the water was dirty and contaminated. Children and teachers would get very ill from water-borne disease which prevented them from really excelling in their studies or jobs.

The well is now 1 kilometer from the school which is about a 20 to 30 minute walk. Now that they have a safe water source that is clean and nearby, teachers now have time to thoroughly cover the syllabus. They no longer have to worry about getting water before and after school and instead can use this time to look over their lessons and be prepared for next day’s class. This has led to far better and effective performance on the part of the teachers. Likewise, students use this saved time to focus on their studies.

I think back on my elementary school days and despite all the fun projects and care-free days, I remember spending a long time memorizing the multiplication table and diligently working on homework every night. Moreover, I’ve always attributed my success in school to my parent’s continual support but Fred made me realize that a large part of why I was able to do well in school was because I had amazing teachers who probably spent many hours coming up with the curriculum and devising ways to best teach it to my class. Each well visit opens my eyes to just how water truly is a catalyst for so many opportunities. With water, people become educated. And education is the key to their future.

Not only are students doing better in their studies but more children are now able to go to school. Whereas before there was only 350 students enrolled at the primary school, since the well was placed in this community, there are 480 students!!! Almost 40% of the students are girls. I hope with each well visit this number only continues to rise as more families will be able to send their children to school.

As you can probably tell from the past few blogs, this last leg of my trip has not been easy on any of us. Challenges and hurdles, mainly to do with the car, keep piling up and at times it seems like we will never be able to do what we set out to do. However, seeing Sere Olipi Primary School Well and how it has changed the future of so many school children despite the rocky beginning, renews my hope and faith that nothing can prevent us from continuing our work and impacting lives for the better.

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Cars, Crocodiles, and Children

If I’ve learned anything from this trip, it has to be patience and flexibility. Hoping to visit 6 wells yesterday, 3  in Wamba and 3 in Archer’s Post, our hopes were dashed when the car still wouldn’t run for the better part of the day. When we finally left Wamba, it was close to 4 PM. However, to prevent being stranded in the middle of the road somewhere between Wamba town and Archer’s Post, we brought along with us our trusty mechanic, Wambugu. This guy is truly a wizard with the engine. Taking a look under the hood, I can see that this is not an easy piece of machinery to fix but he is able to identify all the problems and tackle them calmly and composed.

As I write this blog at 7:30 AM on Thursday morning, Wanbago is actually at it again fixing the car. We are hoping to visit 5 wells, 2 other projects, and stay the night at Nanyuki. Ambitious yes but there’s no other option!

We arrived at Archer’s Post a little after 5:30 PM yesterday and after we dropped of my luggage in my room, we headed straight to the Supalek Well. Since it was getting late in the evening, Lucas called Maria, the chairwoman of the well and asked whether it would be convenient for us to come by. When we arrived at her village, Maria (the woman in orange in the pictures below) was standing at the bush fence along with some children waiting for our arrival. She immediately approached us and after giving Lucas a warm handshake, she took my hand and drew me in for a very close embrace as she expressed her hospitality and her thanks. I was immediately drawn to her by her soothing voice, quiet strength, and her gentleness and kindness.

She walked with us to where the well was drilled this past August and I was surprised that even at six in the evening, there was still a steady flow of people coming and taking water from this well. She told me that this well is used by 10 villages in the area and her particular village has about 40 members.  The well is mainly used by the women in these communities who take the water and use it primarily for feeding their livestock and families.

Before they had this well, Maria described how they would have to walk about 1 kilometer to the river bed. Though the distance may not seem so great, she went on to say that in order to find water, they would have to dig shallow holes into the sand and the water they could find would be murky and dirty. As for the rainy season, these river beds are full of water after a downpour like the one two days ago. This was actually the first riverbed that I saw during my time here that actually had a flowing body of water. As I came closer to the edge (still on higher ground) to take a better picture of the river, Lucas warned me “Don’t get eaten by a crocodile!” I laughed at first and then turned around to see that he was completely serious.

Maria explained to me that there are many many crocodiles that live in the riverbed throughout the year. Before this well, when they were forced to draw water either from the flowing river during the rainy season or hand dug holes during the better part of the year, women and children were very vulnerable to crocodile attacks. It was not uncommon to hear of livestock or children who had to fetch water on behalf of the family  to have been confronted by one of these powerful creatures. In fact, one of the goats from her community was killed only two days ago. (From that point on, I was careful to stay very far away from the edge.)  Maria revealed that most people unfortunately died from the bite(s) –she knew of 20 people that died from a crocodile incident and only 10 that survived the attack. Those 10 survivors however have many problems- some do not have hands, others walk with a limp, and still others are bind. I had heard about the dangers of wildlife during my other well visits but this was the first well where conflicts with wild animals seemed to be a regular danger when fetching water. Lucas filled me in that this a big reason why we drilled the well in this area.

Now that they have a safe, clean water source, women are able to engage in other things, such as making jewelry, gathering firewood, caring for children, and tending after tourists! I found out that there are many travelers that pass through Archer’s Post, especially during the summer time. Now that they have more times on their hands and are no longer debilitated with water-borne diseases all day, women can now spend more time on their beadwork and jewelry to sell to these tourists. I was encouraged to hear that instead of each community for themselves, these ten villages work together as one big community and they share the profits amongst each other. During the high season, they can make a total of 5,000-15,000 KES ($62.5 – $187.5) each day! With water they can not only spread their culture but also make a living.

As for the children, they are now able to go to school. In fact, in her community, they were able to start a preschool where toddlers as young as two years old now attend. From her village of 40 people, most of children (about 20 or so) now attend school whether it be nursery, primary or secondary. When asked what was the ratio of girls to boys, Maria said that most of the school children are girls, mainly because there are more girls than boys in this village. It was great to hear how these girls now have the opportunity to pursue an education!

While we were still on the topic of school children, I told Maria that this well was funded entirely by school children back in the States! These students from Woodside Elementary School worked tirelessly in their fundraising efforts and even held a walk-a-thon to raise enough money to drill this well. We asked if she had anything she wanted to say to these children and she began by saying how much they appreciate the well because of the benefits clean water brings. She encourages the Woodside students to continue their efforts because she can testify personally the good things that they have done for this community. She hopes that one day there can be wells all around Archer’s Post to help everyone who still doesn’t have access to clean water. She ended by saying thank you on behalf of herself and the community and she hopes that one day these children can help her and her people again.  Hearing about the work that these students put in and seeing the fruits of their labor reminds me that we are never too young or small to make a big difference in this world!

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Margwe Well: Transforming Water Into So Much More

After a few bumpy days in the field and little internet connection, I am back! The car is finally back in town, thanks to the hard work and persistence of Juma, but alas, it still is causing us grief along the way. Today, on our way back from Lenguaska 1 Well, the car broke down and after two different parties tried their luck under the hood, Juma and I had to catch a ride on a very crowded bus/matatu back to town while Paul stayed to guard the car. Three hours later, they are still working on fixing the car and I am praying that they will be able to fix up the car so that it will be able to get Lucas, Juma and I safely (and not stranded) to all the places we have still yet to visit. Tomorrow we are heading to Archer’s Post, an area a couple of hours away by car where we have drilled six of our wells. Later on this week using public transportation (our car would most definitely not survive), we will pass through Nairobi on our way to Kaumba where we hope to meet with the community who is waiting in great anticipation for a borehole which Mwende Lefler has worked very diligently these past two years to fund.

Despite all the frustrations that comes with this territory, there is always a silver lining. I choose to believe that timing truly is divine. After visiting a few wells yesterday that had been affected by the recent flood that swept through the region about two and a half weeks ago, we went to see Margwe Community. And boy did my attitude and spirit quickly change. Even now, when I think about my experience at Margwe Well, I forget all of the frustrations from earlier today.

Last Tuesday, Iddi Letiatiya, the chairman of the community, came to the office for a meeting with Lucas and I. Having yet to visit this well, Lucas informed me that the Margwe community is the role model of how a community should take care of their well. They have taken great measures to protect the well and educate the community on how to maintain it. In fact, Paul, the person in charge of well maintenance and fixing repairs for all 40 of our wells, is from this same community! I can see by the hours Paul puts into the job and the desire he has to quickly repair each well that he has a great appreciation for these wells and tries to impart this sense of pride and ownership to all of the communities. Based on my experience with Paul I already had a good feeling about this community.

As a result of them truly taking responsibility of this well, their initiative to start their own farm, and the fact that this well has the second most amount of water in the aquifer out of all our wells (first being Millimani), Lucas and Reuben, our agricultural consultant, chose to enhance this well with a generator and drip irrigation system that was funded so generously through a grant from the M. Night Shyamalan Foundation.

After Lucas described the phases to this agricultural initiative and his expectations from the community, it was Iddi’s turn to speak. He began by saying thank you very much and said that before The Samburu Project began its work in this area, there was nothing- there was no water and consequently no life in this community. Before the well, his people had to walk many kilometers to find areas that had water. When they finally arrived at those areas they would have to dig hand dug wells that were at least 12 feet down. This was a three man job and was very dangerous- there was one man at the bottom of the hole scooping the water and handing it to the second man who was on his shoulders and this second man would then hand the water to the third person who would be able to reach the surface. Iddi recalls an incidence where livestock was crowding around the hole and one cow ended up pushing another cow into the hole which badly hurt one of Iddi’s friend that was still in the hole.  Iddi says that he does not have the words to thank The Samburu Project for giving them the well. Because of the well, they are seeing so many benefits- with water they are able to undertake big projects that they could never have fathomed before.

He went on to say that he was very happy and grateful to The Samburu Project for the agricultural project. Iddi said that the Samburu people never knew that food could grow out of earth. The thought of growing something and then eating those plants was very foreign to them because they are traditionally pastoralists. But The Samburu Project came in and taught them about farming and showed them that they have an alternative food source. They have really benefited from this knowledge of farming. Last season was the first time this community planted; they were elated because they had a harvest! Though this harvest did not yield much due to the drought, they are hopeful that with the drip irrigation system, the yield will be very high in the upcoming years. They are looking forward to the day when the drip irrigation will be completed.

Recognizing that all parties want to complete this project as soon as possible, Iddi promised to go back to the community and mobilize them to finish the project within three weeks time.

Which brings me back to yesterday’s visit.  As I alluded to before, I was getting a bit discouraged by the problems I was seeing due to the recent flooding. Before visiting the farm, Juma drove us to see the well first. It was beautiful- there was natural bush fencing around the well, livestock were kept out, and the well was pumping water with such ease that the children barely had to pump the handle. Instead of interviewing one of the children, I had the pleasure to finally direct my questions at Paul who had been present in many of my well visits and had heard me ask these questions countless times before. He said that women either walked far distances to get water or they would dig deep into the river bed which is about 15 to 20 minutes away. But as Iddi had told me before, the latter choice was very dangerous and the water was incredibly dirty either way. Now that they have this well, 2,000 people use this well and Paul attests that there is always someone at the well from 6AM to 6PM every day.

An example of how this community has really gone through great lengths to prevent any type of damage to this well is their solution to the challenge of elephants! During the drought season, elephants come to this area because they can smell the water and want to have a drink as well. Instead of just letting the elephant trample through the bush and destroy the well, the community dug a trench underneath the fence and a small hole outside of the fence where the excess water from the well flows to. This gives the elephants a place to drink the water without having to go through the fencing and into the well area.

Already in a better mood, we walked from the well to where the farm was, about 600 meters away, and I saw just how much progress they had made with digging the trenches for the pipes. The trench is at least one feet deep and about six inches wide and it looks so uniform! There are still some parts that need to be dug but for the most part it looks great and is almost ready for the laying of the pipes.

As we walked through the gate to where the water tanks were, I was greeted by a group of women singing and dancing. Juma explained that they were welcoming me into this community and saying thank you for all the work that we have done for this community; because of this well they are relieved of the burden of finding water and are able to do many other projects. I just stood in awe watching these women move and sing. I had seen pictures of this from Kristen before but to witness it firsthand was just incredible. It made me truly admire the Samburu culture that much more. After about a minute of just watching, Juma encouraged me to join and there I was in the middle clapping and moving along with them. I will never forget that experience.

Afterwards we left the women at the tanks and Iddi and other men from the community showed me around the farm. Most of what they are growing now are beans which are rain-fed crops. Unfortunately, this upcoming harvest will not be very good because despite the flooding a few weeks ago, there has been little rain for most of the year. They are hoping that with the drip irrigation, their next harvest will be very plentiful.  They currently are growing kale, tomatoes, spinach, and sorghum but are hoping to plant fruit trees and maize once this drip irrigation system is done. The farm has been extended to 5 acres!!! It is an incredible piece of land and I could see just how much time, effort and love they put into this farm.

The visit ended with the women giving me a beautiful bracelet which Iddi kindly put on my wrist. You could tell that both parties were moved by the other. As we got back into the car, Juma said that he could see the change in my mood and could tell that I was genuinely touched by this community.

On our way back to town, we gave one of the elders from Margwe community a lift. When I asked him what he thought about us hiring Pau, he said that he was very grateful for The Samburu Project for giving this opportunity to one of their own community member. He was so thankful for all that The Samburu Project has done and continues to do that he said he would even give Kristen and me a parcel of land here. You know, I may take him up on that offer! Wamba is incredibly breathtaking and I can’t bear to leave this place that I have grown so fond of in such a short period of time.

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Water as a Foundation to Development

We say that phrase a lot in the Santa Monica HQ. “Water as a Foundation to Development.” But when you stop and really ponder that statement, do you really attribute your education, your business, and your livelihood to water? While I am sure all of us are grateful to have access to water fr our daily use, it is very easy to forget that water impacts almost every facet of our life. To the Samburu people, that realization is not lost or taken for granted.

“This Well Gave Birth to This Nursery”

We arrived at Lbaa lo Ltepes 1/Remot 2 Well on Tuesday afternoon to find several Samburu mamas using the well. They told us that they used spend the entire day (from very early in the morning till the evening) searching for water. Now, they are literally minutes away from the well. One of the ladies laughed as she said that if you are in the middle of cooking and realize you do not have enough water, you could put a pot on the stove with some oil and spices, run to the well to get water, and return to the pot being ready to add the water and other ingredients.

They use the water for drinking, eating, and washing. They have a rule in the community that the only animals that can drink from this well are the baby livestock. They enforce this rule in order to protect the well from contamination and ensuring that it will not be overused. With the time saved, women can now engage in many different jobs –they go to the market to trade livestock and buy food, look after the animals and children, and tend to various domestic duties.

When asked how this well has changed their daily life, Yapais Lesamana said the following statement: “This well gave birth to this nursery.” Because of this well, the community was able to form their own nursery which is attended by 110 small children! That number is staggering to me. I try and place myself in  the shoes of their parents- how grateful they must be now to have the opportunity to provide their children with an education. These boys and girls no longer have to stay at home all day, hungrily waiting for their mothers to come back from a long days search of water to take care of them. They already have a better future.

When asked how the well has personally changed her life, Yapais said that she can now save the energy she used to expend in search of water. Instead of spending the entire day looking for water, Yapais is now the cook for the new nursery. You can tell the joy that she derives from serving these small children and the pride she takes in this nursery.

Yapais led us to where the nursery is. I don’t know what I was expecting- a small room? A concrete slab? I guess at least something that resembles a permanent structure. When she finally stopped walking, I realized what she meant when she said that the biggest problem facing the community now is the lack of structure for the nursery. I was shocked to see that there really was nothing really resembling a building.  Their current kitchen is simply a small hearth on the ground with some rocks and firewood. They are in the process of constructing a kitchen out of tall tall branches and sticks.

Earlier this year, they had cleared a circular near two trees and began to put up big branches and sticks that would serve as the walls to the nursery classroom. However, this past rainy season, the rain forcefully knocked everything down, leaving a big pile of branches.

For now, all 110 students meet under this big tree and have to sit on the floor. Though they still have a long way to go to building a safe, permanent structure for the nursery, everyone is grateful for the opportunity to send their children to school and all the parents do whatever they can do to help build the school including pulling all the weeds that grow under the tree so that the students have a firm, dry place to sit.

While it is very easy to become saddened and disheartened by the condition of this school, Yapai and Lucas reminded me that without this well they wouldn’t even have the opportunity to send their children to nursery. One of the things I take away from this eye-opening visit is just how highly regarded education is around the world and the great lengths people will take to ensure that their kids will be educated. I doubt these children complain about having to sit on the ground; rather they are probably excited at the chance to even be in this environment learning new things and engaging their minds. I think about when my elementary school was undergoing construction and we were forced to stay in trailer classrooms for one or two months- how much complaining and grumbling there was among the students! Until we see what others have to go through to get a basic education, we will never be able to appreciate our teachers, our facilities and our school systems. Sure, the classroom size in public schools have increased to more than 30 students to 1 teacher, but imagine having only 1 teacher for 100 kids? Again, at least for me, it is all about perspective.

“This Well Led to our Brick Making Business”

Friday Morning, Lucas and I headed to Treetop Well. While we were still five minutes away from the well, Mary, the chairwoman of the well committee and women’s group, was waiting for us under a tree, having been alerted by Paul  that we would be visiting. Lucas and Mary quickly began to update one another and I could tell by the tones in their voices that they not only liked but also respected one another greatly.

Mary immediately took us to see one way in which the water has been used to generate income in this community- brick making! She led us under a tree where there must have been 500-600 bricks there and close by. These bricks are no joke- I didn’t dare try and pick one up, they look heavy!

Normally what happens is that the women’s group is contracted by an individual, school, or government agency to build the bricks for the foundation of a new building. Since it costs a relatively good amount of initial capital to buy the cement (1000 KES or $12.5 for a bag of cement that yields 25 bricks) and it is too costly for the community to afford it, they agree to provide the dirt, water and labor for the job and in return the person who contracted the work will supply the cement. Mary said that they make around 50,000 KES or $625 every six months off of this brick making business! Also great news is the fact that the number of contracts have been increasing in the past couple of years due to the expansion of the local government offices. While this bodes well for the Treetop community, Mary revealed that they could be making 30 more shillings per brick (50 shillings versus 20 shillings) if they could buy and supply the cement themselves. They are also currently hiring/renting the machines used to make the bricks at 300 shillings per day.

You might wonder why this community couldn’t allocate some of their profits towards buying  sufficient supply of cement to serve as the initial capital they need for full ownership of this business. The reason is actually quite an honorable one and really shows the priorities of this community: they have been allocating a huge portion of the profits from this business to pay for a young boy’s secondary education. This particular boy comes from a very poor family in this community but he was very bright and the best in his class. In Kenya, primary education is paid for by the government and is free for the students. However, any student that wishes to pursue secondary or university level education must pay school fees. Recognizing the potential this student had, Mary and the rest of the women’s group decided to sponsor him and pay for his secondary school fees and support him for all four years; there are three terms per school year and at 20,000 shillings per term, the total comes out to be 240,000 shillings or $4,000. As you can imagine, this is a huge expense for this community and could otherwise be used to buy cement and other necessary items. However, their resolve to support this boy through his secondary education shows the commitment they have to the youth in this community. Their hope and dreams truly are placed on these students who have the brains and ability to make it through to higher education. Many of the well communities see Lucas as a type of role model- they aspire to see their youth pursue a college degree like Lucas and then come back and make a difference in their community. This decision as to how to use their profits really speaks volume as to what is important to people- they do not make bricks for the sake of having money and becoming wealthier; rather they are committed to this business in order to invest in the future of their community. In this way, this well has brought much more than water to this community- it has allowed them to slowly break the cycle of poverty and has given them what we all search for, hope.


(Just for clarification, this isn’t the boy they are paying to go to secondary school. He was just my new friend that kept on staying close to me during the visit 🙂 ).

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The Samburu Project and ACTED: distinguishing an eye of a cow from an eye of a buffalo

On Wednesday, Lucas, Paul and I meant business as we traveled to 8 wells!

After the second well, I was already beginning to feel a little fatigued from the sun and the traveling (which Lucas was quick to pick up on) but when we spotted the third well, any tiredness or lethargy I may have been feeling up to that point dissipated. As we pulled up to Lbaa Onyokie 1 Well (D3W9), Lucas revealed that this was one of the wells where all the hardware (pipes, rods, rubbers, hand pump) were removed by another organization called ACTED at the end of last year.

Early in January of this year, Kristen received an alarming report from Lucas and Juma that two of our wells had been meddled with a couple weeks prior. These people, who were not Samburu, came on a Thursday which is the big market day in Samburu East District. Everybody from all the communities go either to town or the livestock market –it takes them 2 to 3 hours to travel one way from their homes to the market! Now that women no longer have to spend their entire day looking for water, they now have time and energy to go to the market and trade their livestock or sell their beadwork in order to earn money to buy food or other necessary items for their family.  As a result, there are no adults at the well during midday Thursday (which is why Lucas and I are working in the office right now!).  These people came and took all of the hardware and left the well broken and completely unusable. There were a few children nearby that spotted the big blue car and witnessed the incident. When the community found out later that afternoon what had happened, they frantically sent someone to inform Lucas or Paul about the dire situation. This same thing happened to a second one of our wells, Lbaa lo Ltepes 2 (D4W5) and they too immediately went to find Lucas.

After some investigation, Lucas found out that these people were from the organization called ACTED. ACTED had recently expanded their operations to Samburu and had been surveying the area. They must have come across several of our wells but when they stopped by these two particular wells, they found Lbaa Onyokie 1 not pumping at the optimal rate and Lbaa lo Ltepes 2 not pumping water at all.  At that time, Paul had been working on the former well and was finishing up the repairs.  As for the latter well, Paul had visited this community a week prior to the breakage and therefore had no reason to believe that there would be an issue before next month’s visit. Again, it takes a few days for news of a problem to reach Lucas or Paul since these communities do not have cell phones and it takes them at least half a day to come into town and have a meeting. Because of the difficulty in communication, Lucas believes that the well was inoperative for about a week. However, once Paul learnt of the problem he began mobilizing a team to go out there and fix the issue. Therefore, whereas Lucas and Paul were fully aware of the situation and were working hard to remedy the problem, the ACTED team probably saw two wells that had been abandoned and in need of being “rescued”.  Unfortunately they did no such thing. The wells were left disassembled and inoperable for several months. Moreover as far as I know, ACTED did not communicate with the well community and let them know what their goals were or their timeline for “fixing” this well. Imagine how the communities must have felt to have this precious resource given to them only to be taken away for an indefinite time. Regrettably, ACTED’s actions did not benefit the community- instead it left the community without water and made them distrust outsiders.

Lucas worked tirelessly to get to the bottom of this and after a series of meetings with the ACTED personnel was able to get them to return the parts and flush out the well of any contaminates that may have fallen through during those months that the well was left exposed. Before my visit, both the wells were in working condition again and Lucas had personally visited the sites to see for himself.

Which brings us back to our visit yesterday.

Unlike anything I have seen so far in my visits, this well is encircled by chain link fencing at least six feet tall and there was a padlocked gate in the front that was locked, preventing anyone from entering into the well area. On the one hand, the gate was very impressive and is probably what Kristen envisions for every well.  As part of our agreement with the well committee during the mobilization phase, the community is responsible for putting up a fence around the well in order to protect it from any destruction or contamination. In particular, the fence serves to keep the livestock from trampling on the slab foundation and potentially contaminating the well. One of the challenges that communities face when putting up the well is that regardless of whether it is chain fencing (preferred but expensive for the community) or bush fencing (branches, and thorny bushes), the fence often gets stolen by people passing through the area or swept away in a flood during the rainy season and needs to be replaced on a regular basis.

Below are some examples of the fencing around our wells:

Needless to say, this fence at Lbaa Onyokie 1 Well is a superb fence. The brick red metal gate in the front extends slightly higher than the fence and in theory should keep the livestock out while allowing easy entrance for people wishing to use the well. What shocked me however, was the fact that it was locked when we came, thereby preventing ANYONE from entering into the well area. Though Lucas has been in frequent communication with this community, this was the first time that he saw the gate and fence and he too was taken aback and disturbed that it was locked. He immediately had one of the boys that was looking at me inquisitively to summon the elders in the community and to get the key to unlock the gate.

Soon after, Mr. Lentoijoni (the far left in the picture below) joined us and was very gracious to tell the story again for my benefit. He informed us that the gate and padlock was given to them by ACTED in order to prevent the well from being vandalized again by outsiders. At this point, even Mr. Lentoijoni could recognize the frustration in my voice and I had Lucas clarify several times- did ACTED provide this gate to the community to prevent people such as themselves to tamper with the well? The answer was yes. The community had a meeting and agreed to keep the fence up and have the gate locked at night because they did not want it to be vandalized by outsiders; they were not worried about it being tampered by other Samburu communities, only by foreigners.  As for the day time, the gate is usually kept unlocked. Mr. Loikurani, one of the men from the community (the one wearing the hat in the picture), is in charge of keeping the key and he sits next to the well during the day keeping an eye on it. When he has to be away from the well during the day, he locks up the gate. When we arrived, Mr. Loikurani had gone back to his home for lunch and that was why it was locked. However, everyone in the community knows that Mr. Loikurani has possession of the key and if the gate is locked when they want to use it, they know where to find him.

They will not let anyone that is not Samburu do anything to this well. If I had not come with Lucas, they would not have allowed me to change anything about the well and would have kept a very close eye on me. Mr. Lentoijoni was adamant in saying that they would not let anyone but Paul, Reuben or Juma come and do anything to this well from now on

Another elder named Mr. Lemedoro who was carrying a very cute baby conveyed his sentiments by telling a Samburu proverb: “Now we have really differentiated an eye of a cow and an eye of a buffalo.” Lucas explained to me that cows are very valued in this community. More than just a source of food and income for these people, cows represent hope for a better future. Buffalos on the other hand are deadly- they roam around and destroy everything in their way. In a similar way, the community likens us to a cow and have associated ACTED with the destruction that buffalos bring about.

Mr. Lentoijoni ended by expressing his personal appreciation and gratefulness to The Samburu Project because according to him, without The Samburu Project, this well probably would not have been fixed. He views us as dear friends and appreciates our regular visits. As were about to leave, all the elders began saying a blessing for us and praying over us; Lucas told me that they were blessing our work and asking God to go before us. Words can’t begin to describe how moved and touched I was by this gesture.

Now that the situation is behind us, I truly hope that, for the sake of the community and also for the sake of their standing with the Samburu people, ACTED will write a formal apology to the both communities and the district. Though I am glad that the community will not let something like this happen again, it pains me to see their distrust in people outside of their community which came as a result of this unfortunate event.

Ultimately it was not The Samburu Project that was harmed but rather the community. Though the gate and padlock is a nice gesture on behalf of ACTED, what the community needs is for ACTED to admit their wrongdoings, show remorse for making this community suffer for several months, and to ask forgiveness. No matter how big the organization or how much power it may have, at the end of the day every non-profit organization should be accountable to the people and work to serve them to the best of their ability.

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“The Dark Side of Well Drilling”

Hello!

So normally I try and blog each day mainly because I want to capture what is fresh in my mind and best convey those feelings, convictions, and pictures with you immediately! Yesterday we encountered some “technical difficulties”… which leads me to the title of this blog, “The Dark Side of Well Drilling.”

I didn’t come up with this phrase though I have already recognized the truth and accuracy of this statement. Actually, it was Ajay from Pass Africa Ltd., one our well drillers that said this to me. While we were still in Nairobi, we had asked Ajay if he could promise us a timeline for the next well drill. He responded by saying “Stephanie, you must understand that there is a dark side to well drilling.” He went on to say that there are many unexpected challenges that you will inevitably face as you go out into the field, challenges that you had not anticipated but that can really halt progress and make your work difficult. As he was saying this I simply smiled and nodded, wondering to myself how much of this was actually true and how much was he way of covering his behind as a business man.

Turns out, at least with my experience so far, that Ajay was indeed imparting a lot of truth onto me. We had hoped that by the time I arrived in Nairobi that our car (almost as old as me which in car years is ancient!) would be fixed and ready to endure an arduous three weeks on the road. Juma Lekaruaki, our Project Accountant here in Kenya, bless his heart, has worked tirelessly this past week pushing the auto repair guys to quickly finish fixing the car. While we hope to get the car back in Wamba and ready for business by Friday, even this exercise has taught me to never take anything for granted.

Lucas grinned yesterday and said that out of all the visitors that has come to view the projects, I am the first one that does not have a car available to me. To me, it only makes the difficulties and uncertainties of working in the field much more of a reality to me which I view strangely enough as a blessing. I had hoped that this trip would open my eyes to both the achievements and the hardships of our work and therefore I truly am grateful for these difficulties. That being said, Lucas is pulling favors left and right in order to secure a motorbike for us- we have gone to most of the closer wells that are within 30 minutes walking distance (saving a few closer ones in case we end up having to walk) and now are going to wells that are about 2 hours walking distance from town. I know that it would be impossible for us to have access to this bike if it was not for Lucas’s respected name in town and for the honorable work that he is doing for his community.

But back to why I could not blog yesterday. Because the motorbike was not available until the early afternoon, Lucas and I spent the first part of the day in the office, meeting with the chairperson of Margwe Well (one of the communities where we are completing a large-scale agricultural initative) and doing other reporting. After our meeting with Iddi, I headed back to Juma’s office and plugged in my computer for the first time since leaving my room. But no power. I turned on the switch back and forth a few times, adjusted my battery and tried again! Still no power. Soon after, Lucas came by and I asked him if he had power and he went around the building, switching the outlets on and off and much to our chagrin, no power. Me in my naivety thought, ok no problem! I will just wait until I get back to the room to plug my computer (at this point it was running at around 38% battery life which is a little low for my personal taste). I had the mentality that like in the United States, there can be a power outage in one building or one area but the rest of the town is still electrified! If Lucas knew my thoughts, he would have corrected me right then and there.

When we returned to my room, I switched the light switch on a few times and my heart fell as I realized that there was no power here either. At this point, all the work that I needed to do (tagging the pictures, typing up reports and uploading them, blogging) could only be done on my computer. I was at a standstill. When I asked Lucas how long power outages last here in Wamba, the said normally they are without power for one or two days though there has been a week where they had on power. Wow. The reality of where I was really hit me at that moment. I realized that just like Ajay said, the plan I had laid out for my next few days would have to be scrapped almost entirely.

And the challenges keep on revealing themselves to me! There have been numerous times when Kristen and I are in the office and we are trying to get a hold of Lucas or Juma for our weekly meeting but much to our dismay, the phone either appears to be off or we hear the operator say “Sorry. The network is busy.” But is it really that hard for the guys to make one phone call? I found out my second night in Nairobi that the answer is a resounding yes. Our weekly phone call with Kristen lasted only a few minutes as the reception kept on cutting out. When we got to Wamba late Thursday night, I immediately tried calling my family to let the know I was alright and just to hear their voice. But the network was down again. And it stayed down or busy for another day or so. You would think that I would at least be able to get a hold of Lucas via the phone since we are in close vicinity to one another… I think our texts are received maybe 20% of the times by the other person and oftentimes it comes a few hours after it was initially sent. Thankfully my internet modem has yet to fail me but the problems with electricity and phone has really opened my eyes to some of the difficulties that the guys face when working here on the ground and when they try to get in touch with us.

We were finally able to get the motorbike around 2 PM yesterday and we were determined to visit as many wells as possible. However after we finished visiting the second well (more well stories in the next blog!), Lucas pulled me aside and said that we would not be able to visit another well. He pointed to where Wamba town was in the far distance and said that there were signs of oncoming rain and that if we didn’t head back soon, he would not be able to ensure my safety as it was going to get dark soon. I immediately hopped on the back of the motorbike.

These experiences have helped me to see what I take for granted back at home- a warm bed at night, my expectation that when I call someone they will answer or call back shortly, a seemingly unlimited supply of power, and so on and so on. My respect and appreciation for Lucas, Juma, and Paul has been steadily increasing each day as I see just how they bear all these difficulties and move past them, determined to not let the challenges throw a wrench in the work that they do and the impact they are making.

While we didn’t go to as many wells as we would have liked, it will all work out in the end. As they say, there is also a rainbow after the rain.

I just received a text from Lucas – he was able to get the motorbike for the entire day! Off to visit more wells and hear how water truly is a catalyst for development here in Samburu.

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The Dangers & Beauty of the Land

This trip has been the first of many new experiences for me. Who would have pictured me, a girl who can’t even ride a bicycle and who fell off a horse while holding onto someone in front of me, on the back of a motorbike without a helmet? It only shows just how quickly I have come to faith in Lucas… from the moment I saw him in the airport after panicking for a few minutes when I couldn’t see a familiar face to now, I have come to really trust Lucas with my well being. I truly am blessed to be working with people both here on the ground and back home in the states that I consider to be more than co-workers… they are my extended family.

When I told Lucas that this was the first time I’ve ever ridden a motorbike, he reassured me that I was in excellent hands and he was not lying! Driving any type of vehicle in Wamba is no easy feat… the roads are very rocky (literally there are rocks everywhere) and there are many ravines and holes that keep you on your toes. I am amazed at how Lucas can read the land and can spot a small valley/crevice from far away.

I can’t think of a better way to experience the beauty of Wamba than to ride on a motorbike. At 40 kmph, you are kept cool by the wind and can enjoy all that nature has to offer as you whiz on by. Even though I’ve seen countless pictures of the land, none of the pictures really captured how striking the trees are. As we motorbiked along, Lucas pointed out all the acacia trees to me and told me that they were cherished by the Samburu people. During the rainy seasons, the branches are filled with green leaves which provide relief from the unrelenting sun. More importantly though, during the dry season the acacia tree bears some kind of fruit that is enjoyed by the goats; during this dry season which lasts from January through March, the land is parched and there is no pastures to graze on. The only thing keeping the livestock and the livelihood of the Samburu people alive are these fruits. Thus, if you were found to have cut down an acacia tree, the elder chair in the community would come to your household and demand that you pay a fine and also hand over a goat which is one of the biggest source of income for a family. In other words, it is considered to be an extremely serious offense. To me, these trees leave me breathless and in awe of our creator.

Paul, our extremely talented well maintenance guy, led the way on his motorbike and brought us to the very first well that The Samburu Project ever drilled, Lendadapoi Well (D1W1). There we ran into Lmerongo Lenamarker who is a dear friend of Lucas’s. I could tell how comfortable the two of them were by the tone of their voices and the frequent laughter. When I asked who uses the well most, Lmerongo answered lightheartedly though very seriously,  “The women because the well belongs to them.”  I was astounded at how this community really took ownership of their well and made improvements to best suit their needs. Not only is there a very formidable bush fence around the well made out of large sticks and branches but the community has hand constructed a pipe to put over the well opening that channels the water from the well to a watering trough a few meters away. Lmerongo said that more than 2,000 goats, 500 calves and 200 camels drink from this trough EVERY DAY. That is incredible.

We heard from Walter a few days ago that “Water is Life” but what does that mean? For the Lendadapoi community, before this well, men and women would have to walk their animals very far distances to find green pastures and less than half of the baby goats/camels/calves would survive the drought. Now that they have this well, not only is the water very clean which means they spend less money deworming their livestock, but each household makes a lot more money because all of the baby animals survive! For the Samburu people, their livestock = their livelihood so water = life to their animals = life (not just survival, but the ability to adequately meet your family’s needs) to the Samburu people. When we asked what are some of the major issues faced by the community, Lmerongo smiled and said “We don’t have any problems- the only problem was water and now we don’t have any problem. Well, the only problem is lack of green pastures but I doubt you have control over that.” What a way to start my day!

As we continued driving from well to well, I began to feel one with the earth and got very comfortable on the motorbike. Enough so that I began finding myself drifting off much to my dismay. And then there was one big jolt and I instinctively tightened my grip on Lucas as I realized how dangerous it would have been if I feel off. (Mom and dad, don’t worry I promise I won’t do that again!) Which brings to my next story which only serves to highlight the importance of having a nearby clean water source to the community. At Lorian/Glolgoltim Well we had the pleasure of talking to Mrs. Lepuiyapui Makaka and Joyce Leseela. When asked how far they used to go to fetch water, Mrs. Lepuiyapui pointed to a distant mountain and said they would have to go behind that mountain to find water. The trip there and back took 8 hours every day! Even worse than the time spent looking for this water was the fact that there was a high chance of running into wild animals such as elephants and buffalo. At this point Joyce spoke up and told a personal testimony of this danger: one time she and her friend went behind the mountain in order to get water for their families. As they were sitting by the water source a big poisonous snake quietly came up and bit the friend on the back of her foot. Because they were so far away from their homes, they were unable to get her friend help in time and she passed away.

I had known that these far water sources, which were often shallow hand dugs, were dangerous to the people because it was the source of many water-borne diseases but this story made me realize that walking these far distances actually led to deaths. The impact and importance of these wells suddenly was elevated a hundred fold. When these people say that “Water is life” they aren’t exaggerating.

I am learning so much about our work, our impact, and about this land. I am looking forward to whatever tomorrow may bring!

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Good morning and Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful moms! I want to do a special shout out to my amazing mom who has showed me the meaning of sacrificial love and devotion. Mom, I miss you and am sad I can’t share this day with you but if anything, traveling to Kenya by myself has taught me to appreciate both you and dad infinitely more and I can’t wait to come home and embrace you.

I thought that it being Mother’s Day and all, it would appropriate to write about the women in Samburu. Granted, most of the people we talk to at the wells have been men so far but I have encountered many beautiful Samburu mamas and have learned so much from them already.

Let’s start off with Jennifer, Lucas’s younger sister, who has been cooking for me since I got into Wamba. To say that the food is scrumptious would be an understatement. I must say, I was a little nervous about eating African food for three weeks because of my weak stomach and because I’ve really never had African food. However, my first bite into the goat & potato stew on Thursday night erased away all of my trepidation. Oddly enough, it reminded me of one of my family’s favorite dishes, ox tail stew, which made me feel right at home.

For breakfast I have had a egg omelets with tomato and amazing pancakes that taste like a hybrid of crepes & green onion pancakes without the green onions. Writing about it makes me crave another, good thing I have one more left! For lunchtime and dinnertime (they always bring me so much that my lunch time meal is enough for dinner and a small snack) Jennifer has whipped up some goat soup (similar to the stew) and some kind of vegetable dish. In addition, Jennifer has been really kind to boil water for me every morning since I was warned not to drink the tap water here (though the well water looks so refreshing!). Today, she made me chai tea. To be honest, I never liked chai tea but while we were in the Wildabeest camp, I took a sip of Lucas’ tea, to which he added milk and sugar, and it is AMAZING! It remind me of Hong Kong milk tea, or for  people that like boba, the milk tea that is in boba drinks. It is absolutely delicious.

As Lucas and I went around to five wells yesterday, we heard the same story over and over again: it is the women who used to walk up to 10 km each day in search of water for their family. It is the women who would have to endure this burden and those that were pregnant at the time would have miscarriages due to the distance they had to walk and the load they were forced to carry. While the entire community benefits from having a well nearby, it is the women who benefit tremendously. Women now have time to pursue economic endeavors like go to town to sell their beads and jewelry, trade livestock, and start their own garden. While all of these are profound changes and should not be overlooked, the following answer to the question “What do people do during the time saved (of not having to go far distances to fetch water)?” really moved me. At Lentanai/Ntepes Well, one of the elders said that now women can have quality time with their husband and with their children; before, women would have to leave very early in the morning (around 6 AM) in search of water and would return in the afternoon (around 3 PM), exhausted from the long journey. Now, women have time to bond with their family and really be present. To me, having been raised by a mother who dedicated her life for the well being of her children and sacrificed so much to raise us, I know the importance of this change; not only must it mean a lot to the mother to be able to play a more active role in maintaining her household but I can only imagine the positive impact it has on the children.

After we talked to the elder man from Lentani/Ntepes Well, we walked over to a nearby tree where some of the women were resting, waiting for us. There, I had the chance to hear how a well close to their home has transformed their lives. Ellen Lenamarker said that before it was difficult for the elder women to find enough water for their survival; instead they would languish in their homes. We talked with them for a while and before we left, Ellen pulled out a beautiful bracelet and presented it to me as a gift. These women have very little yet they are so generous; they went on to say, that they had just learned that morning I was coming and if they had known before then, they would have brought more gifts. Their willingness to share their possessions with me really touched and moved me. To say it was a bit of a struggle to fit the bracelet on my hand would definitely be accurate. At first glance I thought that was no way I could fit my big hand into such a small opening but after a lot of twisting and pushing, Ellen and I were able to get it past my palm and it is sitting very snuggly on my wrist. Lucas said he will show me how to take it off with soap and water though I am afraid if I take it off, I may never be able to put it on again!

Lastly, I have noticed just how strong the Samburu women are, both physically and mentally. When we were sitting on a fallen tree branch talking to the elder man, a few women walked past us including one who was carrying an enormous load around her head. Lucas also noticed her and after talking to her for a short while found out that she was carrying charcoal to sell in town (as an energy source).

I asked him just how heavy he thought that load was and asked if it was heavier than the heavy luggage I had brought to Kenya (which at the time of arrival was about 50 pounds). Lucas said it was probably double that weight which meant the woman was carrying around 100 pounds on her back!!! I can’t even begin to imagine how heavy that might be. It must take a lot of mental and physical strength to be able to carry this load for a few miles; the thought of carrying that makes me wince at the inevitable strain. It’s things like this that really puts everything into perspective. By this time, I had been carrying my backpack which probably weighed around 10 pounds around for a few hours and I had finally set it next to me. After realizing just how heavy her load was, I was resolved never to complain about how heavy my bag was. Though Lucas has been doing everything in his power to make sure I do not have to walk long distances in the sun, I will not complain if we have to walk even farther distances than what we walked yesterday. If these women can do it for every day of their life, I can put aside all my comfort and do it for three weeks.

So far during my time here in Wamba, I have witnessed women who will dedicate their lives to better the Samburu community at large, who will cook for complete strangers, and who will do whatever it takes to sustain their families. To me, these women are the epitome of strength and devotion. To all the mothers around the world who will do anything to make this world a better place for their children!

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First Day in the Field!

I am truly grateful for Lucas for allowing me to get some rest and save my energy yesterday; as I have soon realized, Lucas knows best when it comes to all things Samburu related here!

Our day started around 8:30 as we stopped by the office before visiting the wells. I apologize for being slow to upload pictures of where I am staying and our office but here is a picture of beautiful Wamba. I keep on telling Lucas how beautiful the area is and he agrees wholeheartedly, not taking for granted the beauty of this land.

The first well that we visited was Upper Margwe Well (D5W1) funded by Ryan’s Well Foundation. Even when we were still quite a distance away from the well, we were approached by Priscilla Lenkonyokie. You might recognize her from the Face of Water: An Exhibition of Photography. She is the lady in the signature image! As we came closer, Lucas immediately noticed that she was beginning to tear up and cry. He later told me that she always cries when she sees him- not only was she close to Lucas’ late mom but she was one of the first women that Kristen met when she began working with the Samburu people and I know that Priscilla is very grateful to both Lucas and Kristen for all they have done to better her life and the lives of everyone in her community. We then gave her a Face of Water shirt and also an 8″x10″ of the signature image and you could tell that she was even more moved; by this time, even I could tell she was crying.  She kept on expressing how grateful she was and wanted me to pass her regards to Kristen. I know that both Priscilla and Kristen have soft spots for each other- the last time Kristen came in August, there are pictures of both of them crying as they embraced one another.

We approached the well together and there many children, a few men and a couple of women gathered around. Lucas immediately asked who among the men spoke English and Walter spoke up. Walter, who I later found out is Priscilla’s grandson, would be my interviewee. Where possible Lucas tries to find Samburu people that can speak English so that I can directly communicate with them and get the full story rather than going through him to translate. Walter’s English was incredible; I know it was not easy for him to understand me especially with my American accent but soon the two of us were communicating very well with only a little help from Lucas who was never far off.  Walter told me later on that he went through primary and secondary school and would have loved to go onto higher education but could not afford to pay the tuition.

Walter told me that before this well, women and children would have to go 3-4 kilometers away to find water. The water they did find came from shallow hand dug wells that were contaminated either by animal feces or from people bathing in these small watering holes. In addition, the women would have to wait for the water to gather so that there was a substantial amount to take home; using a cup they would painstakingly fill up their jerry cans and then head home. This would take on average 4 hours each day! Some of other well communities we interviewed today said that women used to walk 7-10 kilometers away, behind the hill or mountain in the far distance. In Walter’s community, the well is only 2-3 minutes away from their homes! Seriously, that is mind blowing.

When I asked how the well has changed daily life, Walter reminded me that before, they would get water from a contaminated waterhole that was not good for consumption. Before the well, cholera, dysentery and  other water-borne diseases were very prevalent and was the number one source of illness. Now that they have safe clean drinking water, there are very few cases of water-borne diseases; now, the most common health problem is malaria.

With water, many households in the community now grow small kitchen gardens. They take the water from the well to water their vegetables. There is actually a small community farm right next to the well where they grow kale, tomatoes, beans, watermelon, maiz, and sugar cane. The water that is wasted from the well flows straight into the garden! Before, it would be very expensive to buy these vegetables. The households could only afford to eat maize. Now, these crops help to balance their diet and give them better nutrition.

With water, men are able to make bricks which they can use to make houses or to sell to make a small profit. Walter himself is involved in brick making along with ten other youths and said that he normally sells the bricks for 10 KES (less than 15 cents) and can make 1,400 bricks per week. Whatever money they make they use to buy livestock and pay school fees.

Lastly but very importantly, with water, people and homesteads are clean. This is something that was repeated over and over again each time we visited a well. They are able to bathe themselves and wash their homestead on a regular basis but they are also able to keep their utensils clean. I can tell by the way they talk about this change in their life just how great they value cleanliness. And it reminded me of how I take for granted the ability to take a shower or wash my clothes and how I grumble when I don’t want to clean my dishes.

After I was finished asking Walter a bunch of questions, Lucas had one final question to ask (thankfully we were able to capture this on camera because his response was incredible). Lucas asked this simple question: “If one day The Samburu Project decided to take this well away from you, what would happen?” Walter began by saying that people would suffer a lot. He reiterated that people used to travel 3-4 km across a mountain to get water and not only was that water contaminated but the mountains were very dangerous as there were many wild animals; conflicts would break out between the animals and people, leaving the latter badly injured. Now that there is a well, the time to fetch water has been drastically reduced allowing women to take on small jobs and sustain their families. Again, households are now a lot cleaner; without the well, there would be very little water and the water would be dirty.

When Lucas asked again, “Well what would you do if we wanted to take the well away?” Walter replied without hesitating: “Water is life. We won’t let you take life away from people.” That response left me speechless. It is one thing to write “Give Water. Give Life” on our website and collateral material; it is another to hear a Samburu confirm that. If ever I had any doubts about my career direction, this interview with Walter  wiped them all away and I left that community feeling incredibly inspired and grateful to them for opening their lives to us.

More stories from the other wells tomorrow! For now, I am finishing up my delicious dinner (reminds me strangely of my mom’s food which should indicate just how yummy the food is) and will crawl into my bed hut with Hunger Games in hand!

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