I am writing this blog at The Bounty Hotel in Nairobi. After crack-of-the-dawn-back-to-back days and many hours in one type of vehicle or another, Lucas and I can finally say we did it! Despite the harrowing car woes and the countless obstacles in the field, we were able to visit 37 of our wells, meet with the people in Kaumba (about 3 hours from Nairobi, 12 hours from Wamba) regarding The Kaumba Project, and still managed to accomplish many other things along the way. Although I am eager to come home and share my stories with all of you in person, writing this post is bittersweet. Though three weeks seem like a long time, it feels like it was just a few long days of amazing experiences. If departing from Wamba was hard enough on Wednesday, leaving the Samburu people yesterday left me emotional and wanting to spend more time with these incredible people. After being stranded on the road for several hours on Wednesday, Wambugu assured me that the car would be running smoothly the next day. Turns out he was correct! We all woke up before or around 5 AM and we were in the car and on the road within the hour. We had a mission to visit two more wells and another project before heading to Nairobi during the early afternoon.
Our first stop was Kiltimany, a village near Archer’s Post at the edge of the Samburu National Reserve. There, Drew Berrymore (a World Food Programme Ambassador Against Hunger) funded the drilling and equipping of a solar-powered borehole. This borehole is truly one of a kind (I think this is one of three pilot projects, this being the only one in a rural area) – next to the tank and borehole is a machine that is an electronic system set up by the Danish company Grundfos Lifelink.
This machine basically controls the flow of water from the tank. Each community member has a plastic key encasing a computer chip. Each key has a serial number and they can use their phones and the M-Pesa system in Kenya (a mobile-phone based money transfer service) to put money on this key. When they want water, they place the key in the machine and it triggers the pumping of water from the tank to the long hose. There is another slot on the other side of the machine that allows them to check what their balance is. The fee is very nominal, 2 KES (a quarter of a cent) to fill a 20 liter jug, but has turned out to be a great way for the community to come up with a fund for repairs and spare parts. It was pretty great to see this project and Wambugu was amazed that you could use the M-Pesa system to bring water to people! (The first time I heard about the M-Pesa number I was astounded by this invention which is very widespread in Kenya- basically you go to one of the machines and you put the money in and put in the phone number that you want the money to go to. The money will stay “in your phone” until you go to an M-Pesa machine to withdraw that money).
After spending a couple of hours traveling and visiting that site, we were on our way to visit the two remaining wells in Archer’s Post. If ever I questioned God’s timing during my trip, these last two visits put me in my place. If the car hadn’t given us so many problems these past few days, we probably would not have come to these wells at this time of the day. When we arrived, we found both of these wells overflowing with people who had brought many jerry cans to fill early on in the day. It truly was the perfect way to end this portion of my trip. At Laresoro Well, which was drilled this past August (D5W8) and funded by Forever 21, spirits were high, water was flowing, people were helping one another, donkeys were happily drinking water… it was a beautiful sight!
For Nolmungi Lobuk, the biggest way that this well has changed her life is the fact she does not have to go far distances to find water. The other women attested how this well has cut their time in search of water from 6 hours to 20 minutes. No matter how many times I have heard this, I do not and cannot be desensitized to just the magnitude of this difference. They no longer have to spend their time sitting in the baking sun scooping soil in hopes of getting a small pool of dirty water to bring back to their families. They no longer are debilitated with waterborne diseases such as diarrhea every day. They can now properly bathe and wash themselves. They now have time to look after their animals and properly cook and care for their children! They can finally do the things that all mothers aspire to achieve- raise their children to be healthy and clean human beings that now have the time and ability to go to school and pursue an education in hopes of a better life. As we were leaving, Lucas spotted one of the women who had just arrived at the well and he identified her as one of the women who was present when he and Kariuki did the hydrological survey. She could not believe that this place could ever have water. She told Lucas yesterday that this must have had to be some kind of miracle and she is still astounded by this well and incredibly grateful to The Samburu Project and the donor.
Our last visit was Lolparaui Well, also from this past well drill (D5W7) and funded by Pittsburgh Children’s Foundation. Lucas had no problem of finding someone at this well who was willing to answer our questions. In fact, Monica Leikaru (the lady bending down) was eager to share countless stories of how this well has changed her life and everyone in her community. I could tell by Luca’s expression that many of these incidents was something he had never heard before which made the impact that much greater for all of us present.
Monica began by saying thank you to The Samburu Project for bringing this well. They are very happy because they used to have to go many kilometers to find water which took the entire day. Highlighting the dangers of finding water before, Monica recalled when they were gathering water from a deep hand dug well. One day, one of the ladies from her community actually fell down the well and she broke her spinal cord. To this day she is disabled because of that fall. Before this well, many women would come to the riverbed to find water from these shallow wells and because it took a long time for each woman to painstakingly scoop the water and fill their 20 liter jerry can, not everyone had a chance while it was still light out. As a result, many of the women would have to come out at night and they would bring their boys with them because wild animals also took water from these holes and there was oftentimes conflict between the animals and the people. But now that they have this well, the women are very happy and incredibly relieved.
She ended by blessing us and telling Lucas that she would pray for us (the people that brought this well), that God may help us to have more money so that we can help other people.
Since there were many women and children present by the time we were leaving, I asked Lucas if they could all gather around the well so I could take one last picture. After I was done, Lucas asked if I wanted to join them and he did not have to ask me twice! I truly cannot think of a better way to end my inaugural tour of our wells.
When I first told Lucas that I was sad to leave Wamba and the Samburu people, he simply answered, “it’s because you are family now.” I have so much to share about my new family here in Kenya so stay tuned for more posts!