May 4, 2015
Voss Foundation’s Program Director, Caitlin Rackish, recently returned from over three weeks in Eastern Africa where she spent time with our partners Milgis Trust in Kenya, Georges Malaika Foundation in the DRC, and Good Future & Hope in Uganda. While there, Caitlin visited our water, sanitation, and hygiene projects funded by Women Helping Women, Jewel’s Project Clean Water and Virgin Unite through Give A Drop, Lene Maria for Rent Vann, and Kim and Tenny Field. She saw some projects still under construction, and discussed future projects. She also took the opportunity to meet with potential partners and visit proposed project sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. Over the next several weeks, Caitlin will report back on the trip, starting with her visit to the Samburu region of Kenya, where she spent four days with Helen Douglas-Dufresne and Pete Ilsley of Milgis Trust, and their dedicated staff of Samburu warriors and wazee (or, “old men,” in English).
My trip to Samburu, where I visited our longest-standing implementing partner, Milgis Trust, fell over the Easter holiday. I met Pete at the Wilson Airport in Nairobi early Friday morning to fly to Elkanto, Helen and Pete’s beautiful basecamp on a hill overlooking the spot where the Seiya and the Parsaloi Luggas (“rivers,” in English) meet to form the Milgis Lugga. Helen flew up with two other Milgis Trust supporters a few days earlier. We arrived to find the hill abuzz with excitement; a heard of almost 60 elephants had appeared earlier that morning, a sign that the rains were imminent, and played in the lugga for several hours before they disappeared into the brush. Pete and I missed them by minutes! Fortunately, we saw them at dusk as they reemerged, congregating at the edge of the lugga to continue their journey north. This sighting, an extraordinary moment for everyone, and a great way to begin my visit, is a sign that all Milgis Trust’s conservation efforts are making a difference. The elephants are returning to the area. (NB: Helen blogged extensively about the elephants; I encourage everyone to read her posts here.)
Over the next several days I caught up with Helen, Pete, Moses Lesoloyia, Milgis Trust’s Ground Manager, and the Water Coordinator Lazaro Letipo. We talked about everything from Milgis Trust’s initiatives around conservation, education, and health to the status of our current water projects to potential new project sites and budgets. We also visited three of our nine completed projects – Milgis School, Lekeri, and Latakwen – to see how each system is functioning and learn more about topics like how the community handled financial and operation management, what problems they have had, if any, with the system, and how water had influenced their daily lives.
When I visited Milgis School in the community of Ilgwe Eldome last year, construction was still underway. What a difference a year makes! The project, which Milgis Trust completed soon after my visit and was officially opened at a ceremony in August, pumps approximately 20,000 liters of water per day to four water access points: one community standpipe located outside of the school compound and three standpipes inside the school compound that are located next to the kitchen, the teacher’s accommodations, and the latrines. There is also a small overflow trough near the community standpipe for livestock and wildlife. Since completion, there have been a few problems with the system, which Milgis Trust has addressed. The biggest issue was with the pipeline; Milgis Trust rerouted and replaced 1600 meters of pipeline earlier this year, and will replace the rest, another 1600 meters, in the future. According to Lazaro, they decided to change the pipe because the water pressure kept causing the previous pipes to burst. Although the community collects water fees, the cost of a new pipeline is significant, and the result of a problem with the system, not misuse, so we will help cover the cost for the new pipeline.
Although most project budgets with Milgis Trust includes the salary for two water watchmen who guard the solar system, the Ilgwe Eldome community decided they also wanted to employ someone to guard the community standpipe. The community selected a woman who lives close to the standpipe and pays her with the fees collected for water use. Her daily responsibilities include opening and closing the outlet that allows water to run from the main tank to the standpipe, collecting the water fees, and making sure the standpipe is used properly. Based on our brief visit, she seems diligent! We arrived at Milgis School just before dusk on Saturday only minutes after she had closed the outlet for the day and returned home. Fortunately, she came back and turned on the system for us.
The Lekeri water system, our newest project, was funded by Lene Maria for Rent Vann in memory of Maria Annette Ofstad Derås, a friend of Lene Maria’s, who passed away at the age of 21 from Batten disease. When Maria Annette passed away, her family asked friends to donate to Lene Maria for Rent Vann (“Lene Maria for Clean Water,” in English). Although the solar water system is up and running, there are a few components of the project, like the signboard, that still need to be completed. The system pumps water to two community standpipes. One, pictured right, is a short distant from the nursery school. The other is near Moses’ home. According to Pete, the hand-dug well produces enough water that more water access points could be added in the future. The salary for the water watchmen was not included in this budget so the community assigned someone to collect fees at the community standpipe. The fees will cover the watchmen’s salary, and future repairs. While at Lekeri, we walked the pipeline in reverse from the farthest point, the community standpipe, to the compound that contains the well and the solar panels. Since this is a new project, our visit also provided an opportunity to drop off a few necessary supplies and provide a bit of on-going training. For example, Pete brought new squeegees, which are used to remove the dust from the solar panels each day, and explained how to use them to the watchmen.
We also passed through Latakwen twice, once on the way back from a hike, and once en route to Lekeri. On our first trip through, we stopped to see the new 10,000L main tank. The old tank cracked in half, and had yet to be repaired when I visited last year. As a short-term solution, Milgis Trust diverted water to the health center storage tank, the community kiosk, and the school, until a new tank could be purchased. When Lazaro and the community installed the new tank, they decided to move it to a new location approximately 200 hundred feet away, where they could build a stable cement foundation. This change also required them to replace a portion of pipeline. Now, water flows to the main tank once more, and then to the secondary tanks. This means there is always a reserve. On a sunny day, the system actually produces so much water, that the main tank will overflow, which happened the day we visited. They may put in an overflow trough to collect the runoff, and serve as a watering hole for livestock.
On the second trip through Latakwen, we stopped in the center of town so Helen and Pete could speak to Rita, the nurse. Lazaro and I waited for them around the corner at the community kiosk where at least two dozen women and children were collecting water. Mary, who runs Milgis Trust’s family planning program, was overseeing water collection. Mary explained that there are 14 people on Latakwen’s water committee. Each person spends one full day at the kiosk every two weeks. They open and close the kiosk, make sure that when one jerry can is full another one is replaced, and collect 5 Kenyan shillings per jerrycan. (NB: Each community sets their own water fee.) Mary said they have 23,000 shillings, or $300.00 US dollars, in the account that they will use for repairs.
Although I only had time to see three projects, I received written reports from Lazaro on the status of all the other projects, and will share the results in the coming weeks. As I mentioned in last year’s trip recap, over the years, the increase in the number of Voss Foundation projects, and the distance between the project sites, make it difficult for Pete and Francis, who are responsible for the implementation of all solar water systems but are not in Samburu full-time, to regularly check on the projects. Milgis Trust hired Lazaro, who also assists with the implementation of the projects, to ensure that all projects are properly maintained, which made him the ideal person to show me the projects. Lazaro checks all the projects every four to six weeks, and makes special trips to make repairs whenever problems arise. In addition, he writes detailed reports about each project which Helen and Pete scan and send to Voss Foundation.
It’s fantastic to see (and hear) that all our solar powered water systems are functional, which is a tribute to both Milgis Trust and the the communities. Voss Foundation is fortunate to have partners like Milgis Trust, who share our commitment to follow-up and making sure that the projects remain functional. We are excited to continue to work with them and the Samburu to meet their water needs.
Thank you to Helen, Pete, Moses, Lazaro, Petra, and everyone else who hosted me on the trip!