Tag Archives: education

MEET IRIS SCHNEIDER, Journalist and former Los Angeles Times photographer

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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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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Linda’s Samburu Story #1

I left Los Angeles days ago. Twelve hours flying to London, another eleven flying to Nairobi, 4 hours sleep and then up again at 5am to make an 8am Air Kenya flight to Samburu which would take another hour and a half. As we leave the skyscrapers and traffic of the developing world behind, Mt. Kenya emerges on the horizon. Another half hour and the earth begins to turn a deep red that I’ve see in the American west and Hawaii. Are those giraffe below us? Yes, they are. Five years, approximately 30 hours and I am finally here, in Samburu.

The Kalama Airstrip in Samburu.

The Kalama Airstrip in Samburu.

As we approach the airstrip I can see Lucas waving up at me. I can’t believe I am finally here. Lucas informs us that there is a change of plans. The well drilling rig has a broken part. Someone has been dispatched to Nairobi to get a replacement. (If only we knew, we could have brought it.) We will wait another day for the well drill to begin. In the meantime, we are off to visit the Ntilal #1 Well and to meet the people of that community.

As we head off the main road, we are struck by the magnificent landscape and the bluest sky above. We proceed through the red dirt until we see a huge tree with a protective ring of dried thorny twigs around it. Lucas pulls over and tells me this “structure” is why he works for TSP. We get out of the car and enter the nursery school, the first of its kind in these parts. The students had all gone home for the day but their chalkboard told us that they had classes today. The date on the upper right read 10/20/2015 followed by multiplication tables. It wasn’t hard to imagine their smiling faces on the hand cobbled benches under the shade of the beautiful tree above. Nearby was a 3 walled structure that was their kitchen, also a byproduct of the TSP water. Considering less than 5% of Samburu are literate, this school was proof that TSP is engaged in life changing work for everyone in this community.

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In about 5 minutes, we approach the Ntilal #1 well where we find about a dozen children of various ages pumping water and washing clothes. Our presence was quite the surprise and a foreign, white lady was quite alien to them. Lucas explained that we were here from The Samburu Project and wanted to talk about water. It took a little while to break the ice with the shy, curious toddlers but a few high fives and we had started a game. Shortly we could see the women of the community approaching with their gerry-cans. Their brightly patterned kangas and beautiful beaded jewelry announced their presence. Mama Sarah, who seemed to be the oldest in this group was surprisingly gregarious. She has 9 children and was eager to hug me tightly and thank me for the water. I didn’t have to ask how the water has changed her life, it flowed out of her. She no longer had to walk miles and miles for water. This water is good, doesn’t make her sick. She can tend to her animals and her children now go to school. Life is good, thanks to us at The Samburu Project. Sarah wanted to send her greetings to Bob, my fellow board member and all the other people who helped drill this well. She told the story of sleeping at the well site when the rig pulled up in 2013. Staying there and praying until the clean water came out of the earth. Along with other ladies in this group, she broke into song and dance, as is the Samburu way to celebrate and say thank you.

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Mama Sarah in profile on left with members of the Ntilal #1 Well Community.

Mama Sarah in profile on left with members of the Ntilal #1 Well Community.

Sarah emphatically wanted me to know how greatly they appreciate EVERYTHING we are doing for them. I was so overcome that I fought back tears of joy. I have been telling any and everyone who would listen for 5 years about the work TSP is doing here and now, for the first time, I am seeing our work with my own eyes and feeling in my heart the connection with these ladies. It took a while to remember that I was also here to do a job..ask questions! Right! I ask Sarah and the other ladies if any of them had experiences with wild animals. Yes! They replied, elephants were here this morning, you can see their footprints, droppings and the damage to the fence they made. When they saw the elephants this morning, they were scared and stayed in their homes until the elephants wandered off. They had already had a community meeting early in the afternoon to hatch a plan to repair the fence. The well is their lifeline, they will not stand for it being in jeopardy of being destroyed by more elephants!

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We took more photos and chatted through Lucas and an interpreter George. These ladies have a sister community that is desperate for a well and lobbied Lucas to help. By now the children were comfortable, wanting to touch my skin and red nails. One little girl kissed my hand before running off giggling. Is that a camel in the distance? We said our good-byes not before hoping we see each other again. Whew! There you have it. A day in the life of the Ntilal #1 well community, elephants in the morning and a curly-haired white lady with red nails in the afternoon. Life sure is full of surprises – for us all!  Stay tuned for more stories from Samburu.

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You can see video from this well community visit on The Samburu Project’s Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/samburuproject/

www.thesamburuproject.org

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Walking for Water

Women of Samburu walk up to 12 miles each day to get water that isn’t always sanitary. I know this fact is written all over the Samburu Project website, instagram, facebook, basically every form of social media you can think of, but I think for a lot of us this idea is difficult to grasp. 12 miles is insanely far to walk. That’s one mile shy of a half marathon, and people train for months at a time for those! I personally get winded on my 15-20 minute walk to class (a mile at most) so 12 miles sounds pretty unbearable. And these women are doing this almost daily. Think of all of the things we do instead of walking in a day. School, work, sports, leisure, everything. Without convenient access to water, Samburu women and children are denied almost all aspects of life we assume are inherent. Imagine not being able to attend school because you need to get some water. It sounds ridiculous but this is the unfortunate reality for millions around the world. The Samburu people need water to survive, however, they have no hope of advancing in the economic or educational world if they have to spend all of their time walking to water.

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Even worse, most of the water they consume is contaminated, leading to an entirely new set of problems. Water borne illnesses account for more the 3.4 million deaths per year, most of them children. In addition to the tragic loss of life, there is an economic loss. Parents may remove themselves from labor force to care for a sick child meaning they have less to provide the rest of the family. Most of these common illnesses are virtually obsolete in the developed world because of the infrastructure in place that sanitize and transport water. Some may suggest moving closer to where the water is, but for most that is not an option. Samburu land is their culture and leaving it would mean taking on an entirely new way of life. Wells allow for the Samburu people to nurture the growth of their culture and the health of their bodies, encouraging future prosperity for the people.

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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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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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