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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