Tag Archives: women’s group

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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“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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My eye-opening meeting with Satla and Saatho from Sarara Women’s Group

After working in the office all morning, Lucas and I headed back to our lodging around 1PM for lunch and to rest before going back to the office later in the day. I didn’t appreciate just how cool the office was until I stepped outside; by this time the sun was beating down with no reprieve. I am extremely thankful to Lucas for allowing us to “take it easy” today rather than going straight to the field- I don’t think I could have handled walking to the nearby wells on my first day in this beautiful but very hot region.

Anyways, I got back to my room with lunch waiting for me (will upload photos of food later… it is absolutely delicious!) and decided to take an afternoon nap although the temperature in my room was not conducive for a lovely cat nap. Nevertheless, tired from all the traveling, I was able to pass out before waking up to a phone call from Lucas. He had run into two ladies, Satla (the one on the right) and Saatho (the one on the left), from one of the women’s group and they were eager to meet with us. My first interaction with local well community leaders!  I began to realize that a “regular day in the office” came with many unexpected turn of events as community members will constantly seek out Lucas. In this case, not only did they want to meet and talk with us, but they also conveyed to Lucas that the well in their community, Lentanai/Ntepes Well, was not pumping water at the volume that it normally does. Lucas immediately called Paul, our well maintenance guy, who sped off on his motorbike to investigate.

At 3:30 pm, the two leaders from the Sarara Women’s Group (one of many women’s group in Samburu; Lucas’s late mother was actually the previous leader of this group!) came to where I was staying to show their appreciation and also inform me about the problems in this community. They began by saying that they were really grateful for The Samburu Project to come into this community and drill wells. They testified how access to clean, safe drinking water has reduced their burden of finding water. With the free time they now have, these two women are committed to better the lives of the women and children in this community. They are truly shakers and movers in their community.  Satla and Saatho are involved in the getting women to do the following activities and do all of this without being paid: bead and jewelry making, farming initatives, micro-enterprise loans, environmental protection, political empowerment, and last but not least awareness about FGM, female genital mutilation.  The purpose of writing this particular blog is to share what I learned about this last matter and to bring to light what goes on in this culture and in many other African countries. I am not writing this to judge or ridicule the culture but because I know it is Satla’s and Saatho’s desire to have the international community informed about this practice in hopes that together we can slowly bring an end to this engrained procedure. Moved by their discussion about it today, it is the least I can do but to share it with you.

Like in many countries, FGM is very much engrained in the Samburu culture, especially in Samburu East.  I do not claim to be an expert on this topic or why the Samburu people practice this, but I have included a few cultural/social causes taken from the World Health Organization website: FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist “illicit” sexual acts. FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean”.

Whatever the reasoning might be, I learned that the elder men are the ones that promote this practice.  Therefore, the women try and educate the community on the negative aspects of FGM (there really are no positive aspects).  Satla herself went through the procedure and I could see in her eyes the pain and anger she harbored because of it; she is motivated to end this procedure in her community so that her daughter and other young girls will not have to go through the pain and violation as she did.

In addition to persuading the community to put an end to FGM, the women go further and become pro-active. If they hear that a girl is about to undergo FGM, the women will go to the lady that will be performing the circumcision and come up with a plan. Since the men will not go with the child to the procedure, the ladies in the women’s group will crowd around the girl and pretend to do the circumcision themselves. In order to convince the father that the procedure happened, they will make a small cut somewhere (such as the leg) so that there is some blood present. Also, they show the girls how to walk as if they did get the procedure. So far they have successfully done this 3 times already! But it doesn’t end there. If the girl gets married and pregnant later on, she cannot have her baby in town because the women that help with the birthing will notice that she is not circumcised and will circumcise here then and there. Instead, the women need to make sure that these girls give birth in the hospitals where they will not be forced to have a circumcision.

Out of the two women, Satla spoke the most during the entire meeting but when it came to this topic, Saatho chimed in and you could tell how strongly she felt about this issue.  I hope that if this raises any questions, that you will look into this issue and become informed as well.

Oh and for those that were wondering about the well and what the problem was… On our way back to the office, Lucas gave Paul a call. Paul said that it was an issue with the rubber and it has been fixed and is working fine now.  Lucas and I will be visiting this well and hopefully four more tomorrow by foot (Juma is working fast and furiously to get our car repaired). Let’s hope I don’t turn into a red lobster by this time tomorrow.  Good night!

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