First Day in the Field!
I am truly grateful for Lucas for allowing me to get some rest and save my energy yesterday; as I have soon realized, Lucas knows best when it comes to all things Samburu related here! Our day started around 8:30 as we stopped by the office before visiting the wells. I apologize for being slow to upload pictures of where I am staying and our office but here is a picture of beautiful Wamba. I keep on telling Lucas how beautiful the area is and he agrees wholeheartedly, not taking for granted the beauty of this land.
The first well that we visited was Upper Margwe Well (D5W1) funded by Ryan's Well Foundation. Even when we were still quite a distance away from the well, we were approached by Priscilla Lenkonyokie. You might recognize her from the Face of Water: An Exhibition of Photography. She is the lady in the signature image! As we came closer, Lucas immediately noticed that she was beginning to tear up and cry. He later told me that she always cries when she sees him- not only was she close to Lucas' late mom but she was one of the first women that Kristen met when she began working with the Samburu people and I know that Priscilla is very grateful to both Lucas and Kristen for all they have done to better her life and the lives of everyone in her community. We then gave her a Face of Water shirt and also an 8"x10" of the signature image and you could tell that she was even more moved; by this time, even I could tell she was crying. She kept on expressing how grateful she was and wanted me to pass her regards to Kristen. I know that both Priscilla and Kristen have soft spots for each other- the last time Kristen came in August, there are pictures of both of them crying as they embraced one another.
We approached the well together and there many children, a few men and a couple of women gathered around. Lucas immediately asked who among the men spoke English and Walter spoke up. Walter, who I later found out is Priscilla's grandson, would be my interviewee. Where possible Lucas tries to find Samburu people that can speak English so that I can directly communicate with them and get the full story rather than going through him to translate. Walter's English was incredible; I know it was not easy for him to understand me especially with my American accent but soon the two of us were communicating very well with only a little help from Lucas who was never far off. Walter told me later on that he went through primary and secondary school and would have loved to go onto higher education but could not afford to pay the tuition.
Walter told me that before this well, women and children would have to go 3-4 kilometers away to find water. The water they did find came from shallow hand dug wells that were contaminated either by animal feces or from people bathing in these small watering holes. In addition, the women would have to wait for the water to gather so that there was a substantial amount to take home; using a cup they would painstakingly fill up their jerry cans and then head home. This would take on average 4 hours each day! Some of other well communities we interviewed today said that women used to walk 7-10 kilometers away, behind the hill or mountain in the far distance. In Walter's community, the well is only 2-3 minutes away from their homes! Seriously, that is mind blowing.
When I asked how the well has changed daily life, Walter reminded me that before, they would get water from a contaminated waterhole that was not good for consumption. Before the well, cholera, dysentery and other water-borne diseases were very prevalent and was the number one source of illness. Now that they have safe clean drinking water, there are very few cases of water-borne diseases; now, the most common health problem is malaria.
With water, many households in the community now grow small kitchen gardens. They take the water from the well to water their vegetables. There is actually a small community farm right next to the well where they grow kale, tomatoes, beans, watermelon, maiz, and sugar cane. The water that is wasted from the well flows straight into the garden! Before, it would be very expensive to buy these vegetables. The households could only afford to eat maize. Now, these crops help to balance their diet and give them better nutrition.
With water, men are able to make bricks which they can use to make houses or to sell to make a small profit. Walter himself is involved in brick making along with ten other youths and said that he normally sells the bricks for 10 KES (less than 15 cents) and can make 1,400 bricks per week. Whatever money they make they use to buy livestock and pay school fees.
Lastly but very importantly, with water, people and homesteads are clean. This is something that was repeated over and over again each time we visited a well. They are able to bathe themselves and wash their homestead on a regular basis but they are also able to keep their utensils clean. I can tell by the way they talk about this change in their life just how great they value cleanliness. And it reminded me of how I take for granted the ability to take a shower or wash my clothes and how I grumble when I don't want to clean my dishes.
After I was finished asking Walter a bunch of questions, Lucas had one final question to ask (thankfully we were able to capture this on camera because his response was incredible). Lucas asked this simple question: "If one day The Samburu Project decided to take this well away from you, what would happen?" Walter began by saying that people would suffer a lot. He reiterated that people used to travel 3-4 km across a mountain to get water and not only was that water contaminated but the mountains were very dangerous as there were many wild animals; conflicts would break out between the animals and people, leaving the latter badly injured. Now that there is a well, the time to fetch water has been drastically reduced allowing women to take on small jobs and sustain their families. Again, households are now a lot cleaner; without the well, there would be very little water and the water would be dirty.
When Lucas asked again, "Well what would you do if we wanted to take the well away?" Walter replied without hesitating: "Water is life. We won't let you take life away from people." That response left me speechless. It is one thing to write "Give Water. Give Life" on our website and collateral material; it is another to hear a Samburu confirm that. If ever I had any doubts about my career direction, this interview with Walter wiped them all away and I left that community feeling incredibly inspired and grateful to them for opening their lives to us.
More stories from the other wells tomorrow! For now, I am finishing up my delicious dinner (reminds me strangely of my mom's food which should indicate just how yummy the food is) and will crawl into my bed hut with Hunger Games in hand!