Deep Well Buy-in Program

Over the past two weeks, I managed to fill up an entire notebook, drain two pens, and completely cover my wall in fluorescent-colored sticky notes (this neurotic mess is featured in the photo).

My Design Thinking training informed me that the very first thing I needed to do upon arrival back to our project here in Kenya was to listen. The objective of my listening has been to get up to speed on the Water and Sanitation activities that are in motion and to understand what is working well and what needs some TLC. I’ve been away from the project for nearly one year and I did not directly transition with another Program Manager (there was no WatSan Program Manager here in Kenya the past 6 months), so I’ve been on quite an adventure.

I’ve been sitting on wooden benches in dirt floor churches and on tiny desks in primary schools observing WatSan training events and meetings. I’ve interviewed people at their mud-walled homes about how their rainwater catchment units, which are currently being monitored as part of a pilot program, have been holding up. I’ve inspected our four deep wells and sat on a schoolyard lawn meeting with one of the well committees (that manages a well).  I’ve stood above the enormous hole that is the future septic tank and got educated on how our pour-flush community latrine will work. I’ve even gotten some interesting insight from motorbike taxi drivers during the ride from our staff house to the villages. And I’ve been spending as much quality time as I can with my local WatSan colleagues Lucas, the WatSan Manager, Eliza, our newly promoted WatSan Field Manager, our two new Field Managers, and our six Field Officers.

What I’ve learned so far from all this listening is that these next few months will be filled with even more listening, continued evaluation and iteration. And since I have about 15 weeks left here, I’m going to focus my efforts on three things:

The Well Buy-in Program

Mentoring and managing our local WatSan Managers

Training and empowering our volunteer WatSan Representatives

At Nuru we don’t do cookie-cutter solutions. Instead, we first identify the needs of the community by listening to the community members, and then we develop innovative solutions to address those needs. We test solutions, evaluate them after some time, and then iterate on them. (When I say we, I mean “me with our local staff”.) The above three items emerged as my priorities because they have shown the greatest need for TLC (iteration) and are central to the success of the WatSan Program. The following is a bit about the well buy-in program. I’ll save descriptions of the other two for future posts.

The Well Buy-in Program is our first WatSan revenue generator. I’m not that happy with the name “Well Buy-in Program,” so please offer your ideas! At Nuru, we use revenue generation within our five Program Areas to raise funds to cover program costs, in this case funds for a well maintenance (because handles and pumps inevitably need repairs at some point). A paid attendant staffs each of the four wells and collects a small user fee that buys a community member a bucket of refreshingly cold, clean water. No boiling or chemical disinfection is needed, eliminating the need to buy firewood or chlorine tablets as well as the time required to boil and cool water or mix the tablet into the water. There are also other benefits, including improved health for families (due to reduced diseases and deaths from waterborne diseases), drinking water for school children (the wells are located at schools), and potential for future expansion (like piping the water to household taps).  These benefits and the purpose of the user fee are very clear to me and the WatSan staff, but we are discovering that there is a need for continued effective education and communication on such topics at the household level.

I’ve gotten a pretty solid overview of our Well Buy-in Program, but a deep dive is now in order. Two WatSan Field Officers have been paired up and assigned the task of understanding and documenting the existing strengths and weaknesses of the Well Buy-in Program and providing recommendations for improvement. I’ve also commissioned an official Nuru Research Project, and our volunteer researchers are currently reviewing other organizations’ experiences with user fees, including Water Partners.

I realize why some organizations implement promising solutions without first carefully listening to the community, and I can see why standard implementation plans are favored above community-specific plans. It takes a lot of time to listen well and iterating can be a messy process, but at Nuru, we are convinced that these are necessary ingredients in empowering the community to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.  So, we march onward in finding a Well Buy-in Program that works for this community.