Mary’s muscles often hurt so badly she couldn’t get out of bed. The culprit? Repeatedly carrying 20-liter jerry cans — 44 pounds of water — from a water point located half a mile from home in Bubisa, in northern Kenya.
When Food for the Hungry staff first met this 45-year-old wife and mother of three children, water consumed her daily life. The family of five needed about 250 liters per day (compared to over 600 liters per day, per person used in the United States on average). When Mary wasn’t walking to the water trough, fighting for space with feisty camels and goats, she pondered how to ration water. “Do I wash clothes or reserve water for cooking? Do I drink water or wash my hands after using the bathroom?”
Usually, basic hygiene came last on the priority list. The household and latrines were filthy. Handwashing, one of the best defenses against illness, was an afterthought.
The water trough where Mary used to obtain her drinking water.
Making the best of it
Mary had the option of buying water from local vendors, and she often bought about four 20-liter jerry cans per day. But the water from the vendor came in dirty containers contaminated with disease. Typhoid and dysentery struck young children often in Mary’s community.
Often Mary would conscript her little girl Ann, age 5, to come with her, carrying a small 5-liter jerry can. Every drop counted! But she worried that Ann would be hurt by animals desperate for water. Livestock line-ups at the water point could be dangerous to humans. Huge camels that had gone weeks without water would think nothing of knocking over a small child or even an adult, to reach the water trough.
No more fights with camels
With funding from the charity Blood:Water, FH helped the community installing a water tank and several kiosks where families can obtain clean water. For Mary, this means she travels about a tenth of a mile one way to obtain water. Her children are now bathing daily, and her older boys Jillo (age 9) and Bor (age 11) aren’t being pulled out of school to fetch water. Mary can do laundry and clean her kitchen regularly, too. The children in the community are healthier, with fewer incidences of water-borne illnesses.
Mary (in red dress) obtaining water from the new water kiosk.
The water points also have associated handwashing stations which students from the nearby schools can use during the school day.
To ensure that the water system stays operational, FH helped the community form a water management committee. The committee members are trained in maintaining the system. Mary and her family collaborate with neighbors in contributing money toward managing the system, which they are happy to do given that the water from the system is cleaner.
More to do
Mary and her neighbors still have struggles ahead. In the extreme desert conditions in Bubisa, water is always scarce. The management committee rations the water via its metering system, so families still need to use water very carefully. Mary hopes to purchase smaller household tanks to capture rainwater, which they can use for house cleaning and bathing; they’d only use the purchased kiosk water for drinking and cooking.
Mary says she’s grateful for FH’s help. For one thing, she recounts that there have been no serious illnesses in the family since they started drinking the cleaner water. For another, she’s hopeful for a future where her community can solve its own water shortage issues. “We would not have gotten the training and water infrastructure development without FH,” Mary says. “We had shared our water problems with other development agents in vain.”
You help make more stories like Mary’s happen. Take a look at the water projects you can donate to from the gift catalog.