Last week I promised to tell you about my second two priorities during my four months here in Kenya, and I fully intended to keep that promise. But, a few really exciting stories I heard this week changed my mind, and I think you’ll forgive me if I instead share what I learned from the local men and women who make up committees that manage the wells.

Quick briefing on well committees: 7 members – female and male, old and young, with varying levels of status in the community.

1 Nuru staff member (a Water and Sanitation Field Officer),

3 Nuru volunteer leaders (Water and Sanitation Representatives), and

3 members of the community (members of Nuru and other community members).

A chairman (lady) heads the committee, and a treasurer and secretary are elected to collect the money from the well attendant and document the conversations and decisions that take place during meetings.

At a well committee meeting, members clearly present their purpose and goals, brainstorm creative solutions to the challenges they’re facing (like lack of awareness about the benefits of the well vs. the local springs… we’ll get to that later), work together to implement solutions, and are able to articulate the purpose of charging for water usage. On the last point, each committee said some version of the same thing: “You know, when something is free, the people will spoil it. But, when they have to pay, they take care of it as their own.”

Each well committee sees opportunities to invite more families to abandon their contaminated springs and start using the clean water from the well. In the words of one committee member (a village elder): “Nicole, please, we must meet again soon to get started on this work!” Two ideas that we’re going to implement right away are:

1) Customized Well Flyers – Each well committee will design their own flyer featuring a photo of the well and the committee along with messages they want to share. Some ideas the committee members have for messages include: no more boiling, cheaper than firewood, no more typhoid, your 2 Kenyan Shillings will fix the pump if it breaks and keep clean water in the community for our children. The flyers will be hand-deliver to homes in every direction from the well. We’re also thinking about including a coupon for a free bucket of water and offering homeowner a cup of water from the well to taste.

2) Designing Additional Revenue Streams at the Well – All four wells are located at primary schools, and committee members informed me that when children run out of pencils and exercise books, they have to run to the local shops, which are often closed. But, if there was a small kiosk stocked with school supplies and snacks, run by the friendly well attendant (who could use some shelter from the rain), this problem could be solved and more money raised for the well maintenance fund. Right now we’re struggling to cover the well attendant’s salary with revenue from the well, so this could really help out.

3) Educating About the Dangers of Contaminated Water – The other water sources people are using (those who are not using the well) will be tested in our lab for fecal and other contamination. Then, we’ll educate the community about the results and the dangers of using contaminated water, like typhoid, amoebic dysentery and skin diseases. We’ve heard that signage warning about contaminated water and directing people to the nearest clean water source has been successful in other parts of Africa, and our research team is trying to track this information down. Please comment if you have leads or information! Alternatively or simultaneously, we could post Water and Sanitation staff members or volunteers at contaminated water sources to verbally convey this information.

So, all of these efforts are in the works. But, what got me even more excited were the following anecdotes committee members shared about the benefits the wells have had on the community:

“Before the well, the school children were rushing to the bushes to look for water on their breaks, but now they can drink clean water at the school.”

“Women no longer have to spend their time boiling water… [to kills pathogens, because well water is clean].”

“The distance to the water has been reduced.”

“Before the well, many people were having amoebic dysentery and typhoid, but after the well we’ve had no reports.”

“Previously [before the well] girls had to wake up very early to get water from those springs and they had to plant maize on the shamba [farm]. Now the mother can collect clean water from the well and the girl goes to school.”

At one well, they told the story about a teacher who stops by the well every morning on his way to work to buy water for his school, which is located a few kilometers away. This provides the teachers and pupils clean water to drink throughout the day, something that is not available near their school.

I also learned that a bundle of firewood costs 50 Kenyan Shillings, and that bundle will provide enough fuel to boil drinking water for one day. So, the user fee of 5 Kenyan Shillings per 20 Liter bucket of clean water is a massive financial savings for a family, not only in firewood savings but also hospital visits and missed days of farming.

These stories made my week! Clean water is here to stay! Please share your ideas for better names for this “Well Buy-In Program.”  Bryan Kidd submitted “Dig Deep.” I like it. I’ll have to ask my colleagues about the Kiswahili translation. I invite your comments!