What do flyers, cell phones and road trips have to do with clean water in Kuria?

On March 25th I posted a video blog showing a group of men and women putting their marketing skills to work to promote clean water in their communities. The educational flyers the well committees created that day have been a smashing success! Well, sort of.

The four deep wells that Nuru drilled at primary schools in populated villages have been operational since August 2009 and are the sole year-round source of clean water for about 2,000 school children and 85 families (about 510 people).  However, we learned from the well committees who manage and protect the wells that there are about 100 families that could be using the deep wells, but are not.

Why, I wondered, would people continue to use their local springs, which we’ve confirmed through laboratory tests, are swimming with disease-causing bacteria (from fecal matter) when they can pump clean water from the well? The well committees enlightened us that a good number of people in the community still were not aware that:

1) their local springs are polluted and causing typhoid, amoebic dysentery and other diarrheal diseases;

2) the deep wells are clean and don’t require boiling, and

3) the small user fee (2 Kenyan Shillings per 20-Liters of clean water) is dramatically less than the cost of firewood needed to boil the local spring water to kill the bacteria (500 Kenyan Shillings)

Flyers, designed specifically for their community by each of the four well committees, including coupons for a free bucket of water accompanied by a personal home visit would be a good first step in bridging this education gap. People who thought the water they collected from the “protected spring” was clean will now know the truth (another organization dropped in here in the early 1990s and built a few springboxes and never returned; we tested the water in our laboratory and confirmed fecal contamination). People who were averse to paying for clean water might become aware that they’re paying  the cost of giving their families dirty water, in hospital visits and medication charges or in firewood if they choose to purify the polluted local spring water. People who were skeptical about the taste of the water from deep beneath the ground might change their minds after trying the water for themselves.

After confirming that 500 flyers have been received by homeowners and 325 coupons have been cashed in at the wells, we hoped we’d see an increase in well users. But, there’s been a slight twist.  Unfortunately for our little experiment (but fortunately for the maize, which has grown like 10 feet tall now), the rains arrived during our flyer campaign. And when it rains here, we’ve discovered that families rely almost solely on the water they collect from their roofs in old oil barrels using “traditional rainwater catchment units”, essentially a few feet of corrugated metal bent to function like a gutter wired to the roof (a key piece of monitoring data we’ve added to our rainwater catchment pilot project). Well users started dropping off when the rains began, but we did see a slight increase after the flyers hit the streets. So, it looks like we’ll have to wait until June or July when the daily rains cease to measure the true impact of our educational well flyers.

The Water and Sanitation Field Officers had the job of ensuring that the Water and Sanitation Representatives actually delivered the flyers to the families they are responsible for training. This provided an opportunity to test out their new cell phone skills. The task: visit homes to check that flyers were received and answer any questions, take a photo that proves that the flyers were received, and email it in to their manager, all using their cell phones. Mourice, our most tech-savvy WatSan Field Officer emailed in the photos above (notice the missing lower right corner of the flyer is where the coupon used to be).  He and his colleagues are also starting to practice taking meeting attendance, recording monitoring data for their rainwater catchment pilot units and recording rainfall data.  Soon, the stacks of paper on my desk that need to get entered into spreadsheets will disappear! And, this makes recording data for program monitoring much more sustainable for a community with just a handful of computers. It’s amazing what you can do with mobile technology out here in rural Kenya, and at Nuru we’re serious about putting it to work to end extreme poverty.