Tag Archives: Sere Olipi

Lunch with Elephants


Samburu is home to some big, beautiful herds of elephants.  Tourists come to Samburu just to see them. When you see elephants in their natural habitat it is exhilarating.  That sight never gets old. They are magnificent creatures.  Here at The Samburu Project, we’ve heard many times that elephants are a major threat to our wells. They need water too and when their highly efficient trunks smell water, they try to get it. It’s terrifying and dangerous for anyone at a well.  Sometimes, where these threats exist, the communities construct a fence of spiky bushes around the well to keep these magnificent creatures at bay.  Imagine our reaction when we came across the site of two elephants having lunch right next to our well near the Sere Olipi Trading Center.

This is a site that is not deep in the bush. In fact, it is right along side a major roadway and close to town.  We were able to get out of the car for a brief well inspection but Eric insisted we not stray too far or call too much attention to ourselves.  Elephants pose a real challenge to our work.   I felt lucky to have witnessed this sight with my own eyes after hearing about it for so many years and am happy to share the photo with our supporters. It is an excellent illustration of the challenges we face working in this remote but beautiful area. 

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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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The Long and Worthwhile Journey to Sere Olipi


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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