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.