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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

There is this Thing ...

Water is life's . . . mother and medium. There is no life without water.
Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Water is life, and clean water means health.
Audrey Hepburn

There is this thing, the “rule of threes:” You can live for 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Look into this and you’ll find that there are, of course, exceptions. But it does put into perspective the sense of urgency required when addressing insufficiencies in these vital elements of life.

The purpose of Global Hope Network International’s (GHNI) Transformational Community Development (TCD) program is to bring villages mired in extreme poverty to a state of sustainable self-sufficiency. There is structure to the approach. When a village is engaged, projects are planned in the areas of Water, Nutrition, Wellness, Education, and Income Generation. Project details are based on the current state of the village. But the village is ALWAYS expected to actively participate in planning and executing the projects, to engage in the coaching that is central to TCD, and carry out their roles to the best of their ability.

You might guess from the rule of threes that water is a big deal. And it is. But it might be even more important than you imagine. This is the first of three posts in which I share my experiences with TCD water projects in two villages in central Kenya.

It was a water project that introduced me to TCD in action during my first visit to central Kenya in 2011. Then, in 2014, I saw first-hand the issue of water in a new light; it broke my heart and steeled my commitment to provide whatever help I could to the TCD program.

One of the homes in the village of Bulesa Dima (2011)

Bulesa Dima was my introduction to the villages in the area around Isiolo Town in central Kenya. It is at once beautiful and terrible. Stunningly picturesque; hot and dry. OK to visit; hard to live in. I have had five opportunities for the former, but never the struggle of the latter.

After the stop there, we moved on to visit the four other TCD villages. Of particular interest to me was the time we would spend at Ola Nagele, then the newest village in the program and the one for which I had become one of one-hundred sponsors in 2010.

Ola Nagele is conveniently located just over 3 miles north of the center of Isiolo Town and just off the paved highway that runs to the Ethiopian border, 257 miles away. Convenient, because the people have access to the town with its markets and because there is a municipal water line running alongside of the highway. But nearby and accessible are not the same thing.

People in Ola Nagele, as did those in villages farther out in the rough bush, had to go out and find, collect, and carry water every day. Here is how Wubshet and Habiba Mengesha, GHNI’s National Leaders in Kenya, described the early days as GHNI began to bring the village into the TCD program:

“When GHNI started their program in Ola Nagele, the main challenge which the community faced was water; no borehole or water stream nearby, but rather the people walk over 5 to 10 km in search of this precious commodity. The main Isiolo water pipe could not supply this village simply because the communities are poor and they could not afford the pipes to pull the water from the main pipe which passes by the main highway.”

It might have been fairly easy for GHNI to arrange a connection to the water line, but that is not the way the program works. Here is more from Wubshet and Habiba on how things progressed:

“… we established the (village water) committee and brainstorm on how to go about this problem in conjunction with Isiolo Water and Sewerage Ministry ...”

There is important information in this statement. All villages engaging in the TCD program appoint leaders and form committees for TCD focus areas. GHNI staff mentor the committees as they look for low cost, low tech, locally appropriate solutions to the problems they are charged with solving. Some of the most important contributions to the village occur in meetings with the GHNI staff.

Wubshet meeting with Ola Nagele leaders

Habiba discusses water project with the village elder

It was probably obvious that connecting to the municipal supply would be the easiest way to supply the village. So, discussions included the Isiolo Water and Sewerage Ministry. Through their active participation in the meetings, village leaders learned important skills in relating their situation to others who might be engaged in a solution.

What happened as a result of the meetings? Again, we hear from Wubshet and Habiba:

“...we bought pipes and community digged the trench over 2 km and we also built a tower tank in a central position where everybody could come and fetch the water at small fee for maintenance ...”

Building the base for the first water tank in Ola Nagele

Raising the tank onto the base

The village welcomed the flowing water as soon as it was let through the pipe from the municipal supply and further celebrated when the large storage tank was mounted on its base and connected to the piping ...

Water is flowing into Ola Nagele

The tank is connected and showering residents from its contents

The village could, for the first time, look forward to a nearby, ready supply of clean water. It was a good time for sure.

Coming up next: Life’s not all Daisies and Hot Dogs

Monday, October 2, 2017

Life’s not all Daisies and Hotdogs

Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.
John Adams

There was understandable excitement in the village of Ola Nagele when water started flowing into the large, black tank sitting atop its newly constructed wooden base. People had a nearby source of clean water; true, they had to collect it in the ubiquitous 20-liter yellow jerry cans and haul it back to their meager homes, but the trip was now one of meters, not kilometers.

Connecting to the municipal water line with a large buffer tank was a low cost, low tech, locally appropriate solution to the village’s water problems. Much of the cost of the tank and piping was provided by village sponsors and donors through Global Hope Network International. But, as the water came from the municipal system in Isiolo Town, there was a charge and the bill had to be paid monthly for this solution to be sustainable. The village water committee’s decision was to have each person drawing water from the tank pay a small fee, just a few Kenyan shillings, an amount of about 5 cents. The committee would then arrange to pay the bill on behalf of the village each month.

And thus, it was settled. Or was it?

Not long after everything was in place, the base collapsed. The tank, which, if just half-full of water, would have weighed 5,500 pounds, crashed to the ground, splitting asunder as it came to the dramatic and disheartening end to its all-too-short useful life.

A setback for the village

The tank was, without doubt, destroyed. The villagers? Dismayed, dispirited, despondent, distressed, disenchanted, disillusioned? How could they not be? During my 2011 visit to the area, after this setback, I met Priscila, an intern with GHNI and collecting data for her thesis work. She summed up the difficult life people in the villages faced this way: “Life’s not all daisies and hotdogs.” No ma’am, it certainly is not.

But there’s this thing:
Visits to Africa have allowed me to experience a variety of mishaps, one of serious significance, others not so much except for the magnifying effect of being in Africa, where I am at home about as much as a tuxedo at a square dance. I try achieving an appearance not reflecting internal turmoil. It is easier to pull this off as my African companions invariably exude calm. About the only evidence that something has happened is their smooth, easy shift from what was engaging us before to attention to the calamity at hand. The calmness is only surpassed by their problem-solving abilities; by themselves or with the help of “bystanders,” people not connected with our mission but to help to set things straight. At times the “African Swiss army knife,” the ubiquitous mobile phone, is used to call in reinforcements.

Not being there, I cannot say for sure how things evolved, but the result tells me it was not much different for the calamity of the collapsing tank than for the lesser inconveniences I had seen incurred, attacked, and dealt with. First, GHNI and the water committee sought the cause of the collapse; it seemed the rather small, round poles used to support the base upon which the tank sat were too easily pushed into the soil; since not all the poles sank at the same rate, the based tilted until the tank, leaning beyond the point of no return, toppled to the ground.

It’s never good to have problems and for sure a big one in a place where every day is full of them. But, once done, it is best to extract as much benefit from them as you can. In this case, the village, GHNI, and local experts in the town identified the problem, determined an appropriate solution and executed the new, robust design in the dry soil of Ola Nagele.
A strong concrete platform atop rebar reinforced pillars sitting on deep, sturdy footings
New base, new tank and a new day for Ola Nagele

 Once again, and this time for good, water flowed into the village. Life’s not ALL daisies and hotdogs. But there are those special days …

When I arrived in Ola Nagele in 2011, the new tank was serving the village well; so well, in fact, that work had started on laying pipe from it to the location of a second tank. Some had already been put down with about 200 yards to go to bring it to the site of the second tank.

It was sunny, hot, and dry in the village. We walked along the road, wispy clouds of dust marking our footfalls. It seemed even the parched soil could not muster the energy to rise much above our shoe tops. It does rain in Ola Nagel. Not so often, though, and it is not unusual for what rain that does fall to come in on a brief, intense storm. We experienced this during our visit. The ground turns to mud - until the sun comes out and quickly bakes it back into the more familiar hard, cracked surface. 

Road in Ola Nagele
Occasionally muddy, it is most often this hard, dry, sun baked surface

We arrived to find the water engineer, retained by GHNI to handle a few of the technical details, busily engaged in preparing piping in anticipation of completion of the remaining 200 yards of the shallow trench. In the pictures below he is making a joint by heating the end of a pipe section; when it gets soft, he gently inserts a short section of pipe, prepared just for this purpose, expanding the warmed plastic to just the right size for it to fit over end of pipe already in the trench. Low cost, low tech, locally appropriate …

Preparing pipes with a small fire and homemade “joint sizer”

There were several people at the site when we arrived, but only the water engineer was busy. After introductions, Wubshet provided us a brief review of the project to date and expectations for the day. A group of men were to be here to continue digging the trench though that had obviously not happened yet. Wubshet and Habiba had conversations with a few of the women from the village and we waited. Eventually, a group of eight to ten men carrying rough made and well used digging implements arrived, but stopped short of coming all the way to where Wubshet was waiting.

So, Wubshet walked across the short distance and engaged the men in what would turn out to be about a 30-minute discussion. When he came back to where we were waiting, he explained that the men had said they needed to be paid for the work. They would normally go into town to get work, they told him, and what they made in a day was what they would have for food for their families the next. I cannot imagine this was news to Wubshet, but he engaged them in a negotiation, starting off by reminding them that the materials and the water engineer had been provided for water for THEIR village; and, the village had an obligation to participate as they were able. The question of how long the project would take them came up and, eventually, all agreed it would be a two-day job.

With that settled, Wubshet offered to provide them with the equivalent of one-day’s pay for the two days’ work. The men agreed.

Now, as this was going on, one of the women from the village picked up a shovel and started to dig. I cannot say for sure, of course, but I do believe she was sending a message ...

Digging at the trench ... and sending a message?

Soon the men were hard at it, making good progress towards the target of a second tank making water more easily available to all parts of the village.

Hard work it is, digging in the hard, dry soil under a cloudless sky

 A good portion of the trench was dug before the end of my visit and some of that saw the piping laid and backfilled.
The water engineer laid in the pipe as the trench was dug.
Later, the men filled the trench to finish up

 During the months after I returned home, the project was completed with celebration of a second tank in the northern part of the village and a plan to keep the village in clean water. Ola Nagele had found the opportunity in the problem, making a big step forward in their journey to a sustainable, self-determined future.

Coming up next: It's Complicated

Sunday, October 1, 2017

It’s Complicated

There's no limit to how complicated things can get, on account of one thing always leading to another.  E. B. White

It was all so simple. Engage 100 sponsors, offer some financial support, add a dose of coaching, encourage a few days of labor, ...; just like that, Ola Nagele’s water problems were solved and with renewed confidence, dignity and hope, they were on their way to a sustainable future, the goal of GHNI’s TCD program.

OK, so I didn’t REALLY think it was exactly like this. A lot happened in the three years since I first visited the Isiolo cluster of villages. Water, nutrition, wellness, education and income factors were addressed, each with its own village committee. It seems so orderly, five issues, five solutions. Then, in 2014, I went back. I would soon realize that it was not simple at all.

The big news at Ola Nagle wasn’t the water program, but the successful beginnings of income projects. Women’s groups were formed and members given small sums as a “micro-loan.” The businesses they started were interesting and successful. Rope making, a fresh milk stand and a shop providing camel intestine soup were changing the lives of the women who conceived of and built these enterprises. Exciting developments, for sure ...

A Women's Income Group in a mentoring session

Micro loans are provided for business startups

Weaving rope for sale in the village

Fresh milk by the cup at her kiosk

Camel intestine soup from her small shop

Returning to the issue of water, let's look at the 2014 visit to the village of Attir and developments that followed. Wubshet and Habiba had spent much time with Attir and they were considering engaging in the TCD program. While they were interested, they were also skeptical as a result of a less-than-effective engagement with another group in the form of an impressive water tank on a tower ... with no provision whatsoever to actually get water into it.

Attir's water tank

The visit was the first for GHNI staff from the U.S. Jeff Power was leading the trip and we all listened as the village explained their needs and articulated their skepticism. One of the elders pointed to the tower saying, “That is our statue.” They actually wanted to just tear it down.

When it came time for Jeff to speak, he reminded the village of the things Wubshet and Habiba had already taught them about TCD ... the approach, the benefits, the responsibilities. Then he emphasized that GHNI took its role seriously and promised that they would stand with the village during the course of the program. But he also challenged them. They would promise to carry out their roles; those in planing and execution of, and contributions to the efforts. It was a critical juncture. But all agreed that being a TCD village would be good for Attir and so it was decided. Attir needed a helping hand up in every area of the TCD program: water, nutrition, wellness, education, and income. Water was the most pressing issue, but the village would, as was required, form committees and engage with GHNI in mentoring.

An elder at Attir addresses the meeting between the village and GHNI

I’ll have to say it was pretty exciting to see what unfolded that day under the shade of the elder tree in this village in the harsh bush of central Kenya.

Much happened during the rest of the visit. But, there was this thing ...

We learned that the women of Attir, as is their lot, rose early every morning, took up their 20-liter yellow jerry-cans, and ventured out through the bush on a mile-and-a-half trek to the “river” where they filled their cans, then walking, now heavy-laden, back to their homes.

What I am about to relate is in no way a “walking in their shoes” experience. I cannot imagine, even after we walked with a few men and women of the village to the river, what it is like for that to be a daily chore that means nothing less than survival. It is, truly, beyond what I can comprehend.

So, we walked. A few of the women, one with a large yellow container and a smaller one, cut to serve as a scoop, and some of the men set out from the village with us in tow. It was hot. The ground was hard, dry and rocky; the plant life, what there was, prickling with spikes and thorns and barbs and all other manner of weaponry designed to keep us at a distance. We were told that elephants, snakes, lions and hyenas might be encountered; their experience was a meetup with a hyena being more likely. They did this walk. Every. Day.

The walk to the river for water

We arrived to see that the river was really just a small, muddy stream. I could easily step across it. While not in evidence when we were there, it was a popular place for watering camels, cattle, and donkeys. The stream was more than just muddy.

The lady with the large container was regally outfitted in a colorful wrap over a torn, faded, yellow T-shirt. She had beaded bracelets on both wrists. And she carried the most amazing collection of necklaces on her shoulders, reaching up to under her chin and ears. Yellow, red, blue; all arranged, I suspect, in an order that had meaning regarding her station in the village. Perhaps one of the necklaces identified her as a water carrier.

Collecting the dirty water from the river

She stooped down and began to transfer the foul water from the stream to the large can. About halfway through the filing process, instead of emptying the scoop where she had the others, she brought it to her lips and drank ...

Drinking directly from the muddy waters ...

... that others partake of nearby

It was hard for me, watching this woman bear the burden of her role, a burden decidedly weightier than the container of water she had just filled. So, you might expect that we immediately engaged donors and rushed to provide a well for the village. But it was complicated ...

A source of funds was available for a well, but a decision – a hard decision – was made. The Attir water committee would assume responsibility for finding a Kenyan organization to assist them. They were mentored in life skills related to finding resources, presenting their story and making decisions to ensure proposed solutions were low tech, low cost, and locally available and appropriate. It took them some time. I have no idea how hard it was, accepting this responsibility, finding and dealing with organizations, many of which could not, or would not, engage with them. But in the end, they succeeded.

APHIAplus, a Kenya-led, USAID funded non-governmental organization (NGO) agreed to partner with Attir. This success was followed by some disappointments. Planned activities were delayed. The Attir water committee kept up the dialog, but also worked on alternate solutions. It was hard to watch this glacially-paced progress in the monthly Village Reports; imagine how difficult it was to live it, to be SO CLOSE but with clean water still out of reach.

I went back in 2015. In the time since the previous visit, the water committee worked out a plan to collect rainwater. It makes sense, collecting and storing rainwater. But it doesn’t rain much in Isiolo and most of what comes is in two short rainy periods, the rest of the year being dry ... the kind of dry you can feel; the kind with an aroma exactly opposite that of the fragrance after the rain.

There was also an agreement with the nearby village of Chuviyare to connect their well and pump to Attir with a 3-mile pipeline. Water would be pumped two or three days a week. The pipe failed under the pressure with high temperatures weakening the PVC material suspected as a contributing factor.

The women of Attir still walked through the bush.

May of 2016; my fourth visit to the Isiolo cluster of villages. The preschool in Attir had grown to two rooms. Several women in the village were nearing the end of the intensive Tailoring and Dressmaking program at the Empowerment Center in town.

But, the women of Attir still walked through the bush.

After this trip, the good news finally came ... the June 2016 Village Report announced that a borehole had been sunk in the village. APHIAplus and the Attir water committee had worked out all of the details and the long awaited nearby source of clean water had arrived. Or had it ...

 A borehole is drilled in the village of Attir!

Just prior to going back to Isiolo in December of 2016, we heard that the borehole was capped while the water committee worked on the issue of a pump. The plan was to get a solar powered electric down-hole pump, something that had worked well in Gambella, just a couple of miles from Attir and GHNI’s first TCD graduate village. We visited the site. It was wonderfully sad ... a borehole right in the village; water just a few meters away; no way to get it out.

A big step for Attir, but the borehole casing is capped, waiting for a pump

And the women of Attir still walked through the bush.

Then, the best of news appeared in the April 2017 Village Report,  ... Clean water was flowing freely into the village of Attir!
Success at last!

Back at Ola Nagle, I finally got caught up on where the village sat in terms of water. It was not at all what I expected. Many homes now had water taps in the yard. The water came directly from the municipal service and homeowners took care of their own bills. There were some bumps along the way; the water committee had problems paying the city for water that flowed through the original system with the two tanks. But with guidance, encouragement and reminders that this was their problem to solve, they got it sorted out.

The simple joy of getting water from your tap

Ola Nagele’s success – after that represented by the supply of the two large tanks – went unnoticed by me for years. The lesson: the village would continue to move forward after the almost insurmountable barrier had been removed. The development was, of course, supported by GHNI in the form of counsel, encouragement and further supported by progress in the other four TCD focus areas.

But the most important factor in the ongoing progress is to be found in this:

Confidence, dignity and hope had returned to the villages ...

Coming up next: Confidence, Dignity and Hope