Clean drinking water is the foundation of a new life for the Samburu people of Kenya.
Water is the basis of all life, and in northern Kenya, it’s the foundation of opportunities for the Samburu tribe. Thanks to the efforts of just a few dedicated people at The Samburu Project, pastoral communities in the area are gaining access to education, improving their health, starting small businesses and diversifying their diets.
For the Samburu people, the water and sanitation crisis is the leading cause of death not AIDS, war or starvation. Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease and diarrhea is the leading cause of death among children under the age of 5.
But California-based nonprofit The Samburu Project is aiming to change all of that by drilling wells that provide clean water for thousands of people.
“Our whole goal is to provide clean drinking water as a foundation for development,” says Executive Director and founder Kristen Kosinski. “With water, all things grow. So, we work in other facets of development as well, but our work always begins with clean drinking water.”
The Samburu area is an arid land home to a tribe of people of the same name. Groundwater in the area is not easily accessible, forcing Samburu women and children to travel up to 12 miles a day searching for water.
Women often wake up as early as 3 a.m. to being their trek to communal water holes where they stand and wait in long lines. “The issue is that the walk is far, but also, the queues get very long at the traditional water holes,” Kosinski says. “If you don’t get there early, you might run the risk of not getting any water at all.”
The severe water shortage causes other problems in the community, such as constant gastrointestinal issues. The water from the watering holes is far from clean, often containing bacteria, animal waste and the occasional animal carcasses as it is shared with wildlife, and livestock like goats, cows, camels and sheep. The Samburu people who drink from those sources constantly battle with diseases as well, including cholera and dysentery.
“It’s not unusual for there to be all kinds of animal byproducts like defecation and urination in the water as well as sometimes a carcass because there’s no protection,” Kosinski says. “They walk so far for the water, and then the water that they’re getting is most likely contaminated, which leads to severe diarrhea throughout the entire community. It’s sort of a way of life.”
But with clean water comes lower mortality, agriculture and education for young girls. The number of girls going to school has tripled in communities with wells since children are no longer traveling to wells with their mothers. Women have more time to care for their children and access to water for gardening. Some Samburu are even starting small businesses and farms, investing the profits back into their communities.
“In a lot of our communities, we’ve seen gardens, whether they’re small kitchen gardens or bigger scale projects like 3-acre farms,” Kosinski says. “One of the things Samburu women do is they’re very gifted in beadwork and so they often are making more beads and trying to sell them.”
To learn more about The Samburu Project, and how you can help, visit their website, or connect with them on Facebook. Photo courtesy of Rudi Dundas.