May 15, 2014
March 2014 marked the 5-year anniversary of the completion of Voss Foundation’s first clean water project, a solar-powered water system funded by VOSS Water in the community of Latakwen in Samburu, Kenya.
From 2008-2009, Milgis Trust, our first and longest-standing partner, worked with the community of Latakwen to dig a well and lay piping to pump water to three access points at the village center, the school, and the health clinic, via solar power. Over the past five years, Voss Foundation has received many updates from Milgis Trust that suggest the solar water system has had a ripple effect on the physical and economic health of the community, and even acted as a lifeline for other communities in the area, especially during times of drought.
We wanted to see for ourselves just how access to clean water has changed peoples’ daily lives and the community as a whole, so our Program Officer, Caitlin Rackish, spent two days in Latakwen on her recent trip interviewing people and assessing the functionality of the project for a Five-Year Follow-Up Report.
Latakwen is a small town approximately 10 kilometers from where the Barsaloi and Seyia luggas (or, seasonal rivers) meet to form the Milgis Lugga. Since the Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists, towns are few and far between. Latakwen has a primary school and a health clinic, both of which have on-premise access to water from Voss Foundation’s solar water system. Additionally, the town is notable for several small shops and a weekly Saturday livestock market, which attracts people from the remote areas to purchase and sell their goods. The town continues to grow, due in part to the reliable, year-round water supply as well as access to social services and markets.
Buildings in the town center are clustered around the two main roads, which form a “T.” Homes in town are mostly constructed of either stick walls and thatched roofs or corrugated tin roofs and rock walls covered with painted plaster, and are often encircled by natural fences. Beyond the immediate settlement, the community includes manyattas (or, tradition Samburu homes) on the outskirts. Samburu manyattas are compounds made almost entirely of organic materials. The typical Samburu manyatta is a compound enclosed by a natural fence with several homes and circular enclosures for livestock inside.
Upon arrival in Latakwen, we drove through the center of the town and to the well compound, which contains the well, the solar panels, and the watchmen’s hut. Each project budget with Milgis Trust includes the salary for two water watchmen. One of the two water watchmen, Lesanchu, met us to give us a tour of the compound and the system.
II. Project Status
We observed that, on the whole, Latakwen’s system functions well, even after five years. This is a testament to the quality of the work, the knowledge and commitment of Milgis Trust staff, and the water watchmen. There were, however, a number of minor problems due to natural wear and tear, and one major problem: a cracked main tank. Although the community can preform basic maintenance or temporary fixes, and actively do so, they need Milgis’ support for many repairs. Minor problems we observed the first day we visited are as follows:
- The knob for the faucet for the water watchman’s small storage tank broke, so they have been scooping water out of the top.
- The O-ring for the inlet on the health center dispensary tank is missing, so water was leaking. (NB: One of the water watchmen and several men from the community were working to fix this when we arrived.)
- Both the health center and school storage tank had water stains on the exterior from overflow, due to people not checking the level and/or turning off the water in a timely fashion.
III. Finding Solutions
Fortunately, all these breaks are fixable, and short-term solutions always exist until Milgis Trust is able to work with the community to resolve the issue. For example, the community temporarily stopped the leak on the health center storage tank by connecting the pipe to a garden hose instead of the inlet, and that they fed through the lid of the tank. Until the main storage tank can be replaced, they have put a t-joint at the pipeline to divert the water directly to the water access points. These resourceful solutions enable the systems to continue to function and provide the community with water access.
We anticipate the number of minor problems to diminish in the future because Lazaro, the Milgis Trust Water Coordinator, has started to make monthly visits to project sites this month. He will be able to help communities stay on top of repairs, procure spare parts, and continue to educate the community on use and maintenance.
Latakwen residents have also developed a financial management system for the solar water system to cover these problems, but there are a few challenges. Lesanchu, the watchmen, explained how the community chose to manage the solar-water system financially, and some of the challenges that remain:
“We started to charge people for this water so that we have money for repairs, but this money can barely be kept because we also use it for other emergencies, like when someone is sick. During hard times, when there is little water in the lugga [to use for needs, like watering livestock], we charge 2 Kenyan shillings. Where there is a lot of water [in the lugga] we charge 5 Kenyan shillings. We face one challenge, money that is borrowed in an emergency isn’t always repaid.”
The fact that the community put a payment system in place, and seems to adhere to it is commendable. Even though the water fees aren’t exclusively used for operations and maintenance of the water system just yet, they are still used wisely to support the community, and provide a resource that was previously unavailable to the community. The Samburu towns and villages also receive “community fees” for tourism. Although small, this is another way they cover the cost for parts and maintenance of the water system, and community emergencies.
IV. Community Impact
As we assessed the functionality of the system, we had the opportunity to interview people about how the water project changed the community. Since many people echoed the same sentiment, we have selected the quotes that best represent the comments.
The solar-water system shifted peoples’ water collection practices, their consumption habits, and their opinion of water. The below comment by Lesanchu summarizes many of the reports we heard:
“People in town no longer go to the lugga. Now they consider river water not clean because they have this clean water. It is the same with the health. They now get clean water. When you get medicine you go get water to take it. People don’t want water from kisima (or, well). They want tank water. This is clean water from underground. It’s not open to dirt. People don’t step into it. People see it’s clean water and it’s helping us…This water helps us because it relieves the burden on women, giving them time to do other things.”
A. Impact on Women
We learned more specifically about the way water helps women when we visited the standpipe (tap) at the village center. There, we met a group of women weaving makuti (or, reeds) in the shade of the home of Mpurkel Lekupano an elderly woman who lives next to the standpipe. Mpurkel Lekupano spoke on behalf of the women about some of the ways the water project has helped them better fulfill their role as mothers and homemakers:
“Water has come very close to us. We no longer bring 20 liters of water from the lugga uphill because it is outside our house. Even if it is late in the evening, you can [send] your children [to go to collect water] because water is close….You can easily make food for your children because water is very close. Even if it’s late in the evening you can have a meal because water is close by. The burden on women is also reduced. We used to go collect firewood, and carried a jerry can at the same time… [Voss Foundation’s water project] is why you can see me making this makuti, or traditional woven roof. Before I would be searching for water instead of making this makuti…”
B. Impact on Education
According to community members and school personnel, water changed the school day for children. It reduces the time spent collecting water and the number of interruptions throughout the day, and also allows the school to better provide one meal per day to the students. The benefits to education were highlighted by many:
“School children used to go to school, and break in between [classes to collect water from the river]. Since we have this water, they now learn comfortably. They just walk out of class and have water [access to water] at the kitchen at the tap.”
“Our school children no longer go to school carrying jerry cans. Now they just carry their schoolbooks.”
According to David, the Head Teacher at Latakwen Primary School, water even encourages more parents to send their children to school because they will be able to spend all day learning, rather than having to leave to get water: “Parents, they don’t want their children to go fetch water, and they don’t want learning to be interrupted.”
C. Impact on Health
The water also enables Rita, the health clinic nurse, and her team to treat patients and conduct outpatient procedures in a clean, safe, professional environment without the risk of infection from water-borne diseases. Moreover, the government has begun construction began on a new maternity ward. It is unclear when the maternity ward will open, but it will provide a safe place to deliver to expectant mothers who require procedures too complex to be performed at home.
Based on our observations and our conversations, the solar water system not only continues to function smoothly, it has also has had a ripple effect on the community over the last five years; there is a correlation between the project and Latakwen’s physical and economic development. Financial and technical management still need improvement, but the community has systems in place for both. On the whole, we are thrilled by the state of the system, and are grateful for the commitment of the local staff and community-based water watchmen, and Milgis Trust’s commitment to ensuring that projects remain functional.
Voss Foundation remains committed to the sustainability of our projects and we remain devoted to ensuring the continued success of Latakwen’s water system. We will continue to report on the project in Latakwen and our other projects throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.