Tag Archives: community development

How a year flies by.

I recently returned from New York where I visited The Art Show, an annual art event that has been a big part of my life for the past twenty years!  It was this same time, one year ago I left the art world (or so I thought) to become the Executive Director of The Samburu Project.  I handed out brochures to art world friends and everyone wished me luck.  I came back to LA and dove straight into TSP’s Walk for Water.  I can’t believe how fast that year flew by.  It’s been action-packed!

Visiting The Art Show a year later, my colleagues and collector friends all wanted to know how it was going and asked me to tell them about Kenya.  In short, it’s going great!  I’ve had plenty of challenges learning about the non profit sector (that’s what the non profit people say – “sector”), meeting the TSP donors, trying to learn all the names of the Kenyan villages like Lendadapoi and Lokunlyani, learning all about well drilling, well parts, water systems, water jargon, WASH terminology and the like.  I’ve had to learn a zillion new names of donors, volunteers, interns, vendors, in between learning how to write a grant and deal with the world’s slowest internet in the world’s tiniest office.  I couldn’t have made it through without Kiki who’s been there by my side through it all and the many angels that have been guiding me when I needed some guidance.

A year flies by when you are learning a new job.  If you followed this blog and/or our social media at all you’d know a little bit of what’s been going on around this water cooler.  What you might not know is there have been a lot of people who have helped steer TSP through this transition year. I am grateful for a wonderful board and staff in California and Kenya, and friends, donors and supporters, volunteers who I have met along the way. 

After the 2016 walk we re-branded the organization, launched a new website, procured funding for 9 more wells and repaired a few that needed some TLC.  I traveled to Kenya twice, visited 53 wells and met lots of Kenyans. Whew!

Now it’s time for the Walk for Water again.  Last year we raised $55,000 at the walk.  We did this by growing the event from our original Hermosa walk and 1 satellite walk in Stamford to an event that included 8 additional satellite walks from San Francisco to Atlanta to New York City – so many friends joined the TSP team!  We are all working very hard to make sure the 2017 walk is even better and bigger.  I think we can get there with your help.  This year we have 13 total walks, including one that is scheduled for Nairobi in July. That will be a first!

I’ve taken a lot of my art world friends and colleagues on this journey with me.  I’ve also met a lot of new friends in the US and Kenya who believe in our common humanity and that access to clean water is a human right.  I want to thank you all for supporting the mission of The Samburu Project and let you know that you are all very important to the success of our small but mighty organization.

It’s Spring, we just celebrated Earth Day, let’s all get out in this beautiful world, wherever you are and join me on Sunday, April 30 to Walk for Water.  If you can’t walk, please consider making a donation. All donations make a big impact in Samburu.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.



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“If you want to get somewhere fast, go alone. If you want to go the distance, take a team.” –Ancient African Proverb (or so I was told)

Some of you might remember from earlier posts that when I was in Samburu last year  I enjoyed the hospitality and accommodation of the Sarova Shaba Lodge.  It is a lovely spot, slightly inside the Samburu National Park along the Ewaso Ngiro River where elephants and other wildlife often come to drink at sunrise and sunset.  While there, I met a number of lovely people who greeted me with open arms when I arrived back again this summer.


Moses Mathenge and me with Lodge Manager, Josphat Ndegwa


Moses Lekomet, and his beautiful smile.

When I had a problem with a flight last year, Moses Mathenge  introduced me to Carol Ndegwa from AirKenya.  Carol helped me with my flight problem, was a lovely dinner companion at Shaba and has come to be a good friend to The Samburu Project. AirKenya is now the official airline sponsor of The Samburu Project due to her efforts.

Going on safari to Samburu is probably a 2 or 3 day excursion for most visitors.  I don’t think many guests have the opportunity to stay for more than a week as I have.  This truly has given me an opportunity to get to know Josphat Ngali, “Chicken George,” Moses Lekomet and the other lovely staff at Sarova Shaba.  They have made my time in Samburu seem like home and have truly become friends to me, Lucas, Eric and everyone associated with TSP.




After a particularly long day at dinner regaled Josephat with the story of our day, traveling several hours through the deep bush to discover that a HUGE tree had fallen on the well.  We all stared at it in amazement before we could even get out of the car. There were still a few people milling about and lots of donkeys drinking from the trough.  It was quite a shock!



I went on and on about how the community would ever be able to get that tree removed, never anticipating Josphat would, without hesitation, offer to send a man with a chain saw to cut away the tree.  TSP and the people at the Lerug well were blessed twice!  Once that the tree did not damage the pump and secondly, that our friends at Sarova Shaba Lodge offered themselves to assist with this problem.  We could not have cleared this tree without the generous spirit of our friends at Sarova Shaba Lodge.

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Once again, I was overcome with the impact that this tiny organization is having by really uniting people in so many ways, every day.  For me, that is the true meaning of globalization. While I was in Kenya I was told “if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go the distance, go with a team.”  I’m so happy and gratified that the good people at Sarova Shaba are on the TSP team and we are on theirs. Ashe Oleng to everyone there.

Bonus Footage: Click here to meet the one and only “Chicken George” of Sarova Shaba Lodge.


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MEET IRIS SCHNEIDER, Journalist and former Los Angeles Times photographer



Mpaayon Loboitangu and Iris

I met Iris when she attended the 2015 Splash Bash. She was quite impressed with the work we are doing in Samburu and later approached me about the possibility of visiting Kenya on an upcoming trip.  We kept the conversation going over several months until earlier this spring we put the wheels in motion to travel to Samburu together this summer.  Iris has wanted to do a story on African women for a very long time.  Naturally,  I am thrilled that through TSP her life long dream came true.  (Personally, I was thrilled to have her on our team. I don’t often travel with a journalist.) Together we shared some amazing experiences in Kenya. Here is just a taste.


Iris stayed with me for a week in Samburu, visiting village after village, talking to hundreds of women about their lives, what it is like to be born into the Samburu tribe, their culture, their rituals, their beliefs and their dreams for themselves and their children. We both received quite an education.


Fertility is a point of much pride for the Samburu people. It is quite common for women to forego formal education and marry as young as possible so as to start bearing children. A common conversation starter is, “how many children do you have?” When speaking to women at the Lolgerdad well community, we asked if they had any desire or need to learn to read.  At first they said they could never attend school because it was too late, they couldn’t sit in a classroom with their own children.  When then asked, if they would want to learn if they had a special class, just for them, they resoundingly said, YES!  Mpaayon immediately told us, “I would at least like to know how to write my name.”  That simple request started a name writing session that lasted for quite some time. Turned out that everyone wanted to know how to write their name. We found a willing teacher in the crowd by the name of Rose Paula.  She helped us translate and the name writing began!


Mpaayon Loboitangu writing her name for the first time with assistance from Rose Paula and Jackie.

We’ve heard that Rose has continued her classes with the women of the Lolgerdad village. They’ve borrowed the chalkboard from the local school and are practicing their new skills that way.  They are holding classes three times a week.  TSP has plans to expand their thirst for knowledge when we launch the Samburu Sisters program later this year. 


Iris spent the day, from sun-up to sun-down with the ladies of the Ntilal well community. They generously invited her into their huts. She collected firewood with the women there, witnessed the slaughter of a goat and yes – walked for water with them. Stay tuned for future articles about her time in Samburu and a possible book later in the year. 

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Greetings from the Lekiji Well Community

As some of you might remember, last October I spent 5 days with members of the Lekiji Well community as their well was being drilled.  It was a long process. Day after day, we all watched the drill bit go round and round, adding more rods as the borehole got deeper and deeper.  Finally, the water came gushing out!  It was a big day that I shared with the community.  I knew then that doing work for The Samburu Project was a gift – not without challenges but a gift nonetheless.

Now, on my first official visit to Samburu as the Executive Director I wanted to visit the Lekiji well community to see the finished well and witness first hand how the lives of the people there have changed because of the water.  We arrived to find a small group of women doing laundry as the children helped to pump the water.  I was told again and again, “Ashe Oleng” (Thank You)!  “We are so happy that we don’t have to walk far for water anymore!” I am sharing these expressions of gratitude with everyone who supports TSP and especially the ABAR Foundation who sponsored this well.



Lekiji Thank You

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Meet Eric Lekolii, TSP’s Newest Staff Member

With 84 wells and more on the horizon, the area where we work in Samburu East is growing.  We realized that TSP needed more staff on the ground to ensure our wells continue to function properly and offer support to our well communities.  We were very lucky to find Eric Lekolii in early 2016.  

A native of Wamba in Samburu County, Eric is 100% Samburu through and through. Married and the father of three children, he grew up in a traditional Samburu village and knows every tree, bush, valley and village in Samburu.  In addition to his knowledge of all things Samburu, Eric is also a graduate of Nairobi University and a bronze level tour guide.  He spent five years as a guide at the Samburu Sabah Lodge.  Ask Eric the sound a Golden Breasted Starling makes and he’ll tell you along with its scientific name and mating habits. Ask him if he’s ever come face to face with a leopard and he’ll share a good story with you.  Spending time with Eric on this trip was quite a treat. 

Eric first knew about The Samburu Project when we put a well near his village in 2007. Now, he is quickly becoming the second face of TSP on the ground as our new Field Manager. Engaging in this type of work requires a unique skill set; first of all they must be Samburu, speak the language and have the trust of the people, have a knowledge of wells and mechanical issues is equally important, being able to communicate with our California staff and pass on information to our donors are all important traits.  We found all of the things and more in Eric.  We are thrilled to welcome Eric to our Kenya team on the ground and I can’t wait for you to meet him in person.


Eric Lekolii (left) with TSP Project Manager, Lucas Lekwali. (Photo courtesy of Iris Schneider)


Bonus Fun Fact: Just one of the fun facts we learned from Eric during our long bush drives; we all know the “Big Five” to look for when on safari: Rhino, Buffalo, Lion, Leopard and Elephant.  Can you name the Little Five?  Hint: their names bear resemblance to their larger namesakes. (The rhino beetle, buffalo weaver, ant lion, leopard tortoise and elephant shrew).


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“Kristen, this is Africa. Isn’t it cool?”


Ladies singing in the pick up

Yes…we finally made it to Samburu and saw some wells today!

The truck is fine. Something must have been dragging from the undercarriage last night, but miraculously by this morning it was gone. Big sigh of relief!

One of the great gifts The Samburu Project has to offer the people of Samburu is a ride in the back of the truck, with all the thanks going to those who donated to our Truck Campaign! Today there was a constant flow of people jumping in and out of the pick-up as we drove through the bush. The ladies pictured to the left joined us at the end of a very long, hot day and were so happy for the ride that they broke out in song. It was delightful!


Singing & dancing on the way to the well

One of the benefits of people riding with us is that it is a perfect opportunity for community development. It’s a no pressure environment to ask questions about what’s happening in a community and for those that have a well, how it is working, what issues have arisen and what difference clean water makes in their lives. A few of the ladies pictured to the right live in the Nairisha 2 Well community. Exhibited by their singing, the incredible dancing that we did on the way to the well and the hundreds of times I heard “Ashe Oleng” (thank you in Samburu), their gratitude was overflowing. It’s these moments that make the challenges I face in my work more than worth it.

So, we visited four wells today in Sere Olipi and Ndonyo Wasin. Being that I am somewhat of a Samburu-phile, this was super exciting as I have yet to travel to these areas. The Samburu Project expanded into Sere Olipi in 2011 and then Ndoyo Wasin in 2012. Nothing like getting some more of the Samburu East road under my belt…and it’s a lot of road.

Road to Ndonyo Wasin

Road to Ndonyo Wasin

Our first stop was Ndonyo Wasin and it truly felt like driving to the end of the earth. Albeit beautiful, it was a long, hot and bumpy road. We arrived at the well to find two children there taking water for themselves and their animals. Nenderua (11-year old girl) and Leipua (9-year old boy) are typical Samburu kids; sweet, giggly, shy, and very, very curious. The Nesesiai Well was drilled at the end of 2012. It was clear that they were excited about the well and that it had changed their lives drastically. They have yet to go to school as there is no primary school close to their home.

Nenderua & Leipua

Nenderua & Leipua

After I said goodbye to my new friends and started to make my way up the hill to the truck, they started yelling. They wanted to see the pictures I took of them…OF COURSE. I must be rusty if I didn’t offer to show the kids their photos! I’m so glad they mustered up the courage to ask. Nothing better than watching Samburu children look at pictures of themselves!

We made our way back over the long, dusty road to Sere Olipi. There, we visited three wells: Sere Olipi Trading Centre, Sere Olipi Primary School and Nairisha 2. The wells in Sere Olipi were all bustling. Prior to The Samburu Project drilliing in 2011, Sere Olipi had never seen a hand pump before. Many of the people in town drank water from a dam about 5 kms away. The dam’s water is very salty and causes diarrhea. Between the Primary School and the Trading Centre wells, the 5,000 people in the whole town are quenching their thirst!

I had a lovely conversation with Winnie who teaches Standard 6 English and Standard 4 Math. She has been teaching at Sere Olipi Primary School for five years. She said that prior to the well, water was the biggest challenge she faced at the school. After long days teaching she would have to walk far to get drinking water. Washing her clothes was nearly impossible because it required walking 5 kms to and fro. Beyond her personal challenges, she spoke of the relief the well has given to the girls she teaches. Because personal hygiene is such a challenge in the absence of water, many girls were inconsistent with their school attendance. With water, they can now focus on their studies without interruption.

Teacher Winnie & her students

Teacher Winnie & her students

Night began to fall so we had to cut out of Sere Olipi before visiting our last two wells: Nolkapur & Nairisha 1. I was so exhausted that I dozed off on the way back to Archer’s Post only to be awakened to a BIG giraffe walking across the road. Lucas laughed at my reaction and said; “Kristen, this is Africa. Isn’t it cool?”



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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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