The trek to the watering hole is long; for some families 20km for the return journey. The load is back-breaking. Because the water itself brings disease and can be deadly, ChildFund New Zealand recently began a campaign to bring safe water to Emali, a district in South-Central Kenya. On this assignment I accompanied several families in Emali on their daily rounds to collect water, walking kilometers on end with them while toting my camera instead of a jerry can. I definitely had the easier task. Click on any of these photographs for a bigger view.
It’s rare to see such a populated area like Emali District, only three hours from Nairobi, without access to safe water sources. The land appears lush and green thanks to the recent seasonal rainfalls. Yet families here spend most of their daylight hours walking to and from the sandy pits where they have dug far enough to tap ground water. The sand acts as a natural filter, straining out some of the mud and sediment, but not the deadly bacteria. “At times I lose hope because I know that these diseases are caused by lack of safe water… but we don’t have any alternative but to drink the water,” said one mother, Angeline Okirot.
The lack of water seems to affect every aspect of daily life here. Without clean water residents cannot cook or wash their clothes. People find it hard to earn income because most of their time is spent finding water. Recent development studies have shown that providing clean access to water is one of the most transformative things an NGO can bring to a community. “I cannot remember a day when I had free time to rest. When I come from the spring I also take water to the school… We contribute water to the school as a community in exchange for the meals our children take there. After coming from the school I go to the forest to fetch firewood to cook for the family,” says Mrs. Okirot.
Most families here earn any income they might have as hired day laborers, performing tasks such as fencing or farming. Some industrious people in the district have begun making a business out of trekking to and from the watering holes, asking a small fee for their water delivery services. However, most people are unable to afford to pay for this convenience.
Children also miss out on school here in order to help their parents fetch water, which can take six or seven hours in a single day. As a result, most children only attend school two or three days a week. Wells and springs are almost non-existent here, but that will soon change provided that ChildFund NZ can raise enough funds to install community wells in the area.
Hopefully the next time I come back to Emali, it will be to document the improvements that have been brought to families’ lives as a result of having access to safe water.