Heritage

A sustainable water project in Samburu

samburu

A water point in Kalama, Samburu County. PHOTO | AFP

My regular readers will recall an article I wrote in 2019 about the Jewish veterinary doctor from Poland who came to Kenya with his wife Erica in 1942 as a refugee after fleeing his home country following the invasion by Hitler. Dr Igor Mann pioneered research in animal health and founded the Animal Health and Industries Training Institute at Kabete.

Read: How couple’s tenacity gave birth to Kabete vet school

After reading my article, Dr Igor’s daughter Rhodia Mann contacted me, and we became good friends. She related many of the adventures she had with her father in remote parts of Kenya in the 1950s and 60s as he researched animal diseases and husbandry. One of her favourite trips was to Samburu and she eventually fell in love with the Samburu people.

Rhodia Mann was born in Kenya and is a writer, researcher, bead and jewellery designer, and historian of several traditionally-pastoralist tribes in Kenya, including the Samburu and Borana of northern Kenya. About a month ago, while Rhodia was delivering a talk about her father at Muthaiga Country Club, she introduced me to Harold and Tamara Zagunis. Harold has recently joined the board of The Samburu Project (TSP).

Also read: New Samburu museum opens at International School of Kenya

TSP is a 501 (c) non-profit organisation (NGO) based in Los Angeles, California, founded on the promise of delivering access to clean water to the Samburu pastoralist community in northern Kenya.

TSP was founded in 2005 by Kristen Kosinski, a former television executive at Paramount Pictures. Along with Samburu elder, Mama Musa, she was inspired to start TSP as a vehicle for women’s empowerment during a trip to Kenya.

After 10 years, Ms Kosinski resigned from her position as executive director to focus on family life. In February 2016, the former board chair Linda Hooper, whom I had the pleasure of meeting online last week, assumed directorship.

TSP has a staff of three in Los Angeles, and a staff of five at their Wamba office in Samburu County. A diverse Board of Directors is composed of 11 individuals in the US. The organisation is recognised as both an NGO and a community-based organisation (CBO) in Kenya. TSP also has an active internship programme open to high school and college students.

Currently, TSP has 137 wells providing clean water and has expanded its program to support women, and teenage girls with menstrual hygiene products and reproductive health information, and gardening workshops as a way to stem food insecurity, diversity, and alternative livelihoods.

TSP is supported by foundation grants, personal donations, events, and corporate partnerships. It is due to hold a fundraiser in Kenya at the Muthaiga Country Club on November 10, 2022, at which I will be the Master of Ceremonies.

Having worked in communities myself in Narok, I took great interest in this project and Harold invited me to accompany him on a visit to TSP three weeks ago.

Landing at Kamala airstrip near Archer’s Post in the early morning, we were met by Eric Lekolii, the Project Manager, Kenya, who drove us to several nearby wells. The wells are sunk to a depth of 70 metres, and most are hand-operated by the community members. The cost per well has been USD 22,000 (being revised to USD 24,000) which includes the capital cost, training of community members on basic maintenance, spare parts, periodic maintenance, and depreciation. Teams of technical support are outsourced for more demanding maintenance work. As a result of this foresight, 95 percent of the installed wells are operational at any one time.

Before the wells were sunk, women and children had to walk more than 10km daily to fetch water. The wells have provided a readily accessible, potable water source freeing the women to attend to other chores and incoming generating activities while the children can go to school. The incidence of waterborne diseases has reduced considerably.

I was impressed by the financing and operational model employed by TSP. The funds raised come directly to the project and there are no intermediaries, as we often see in other NGOs. The entire organisation is run by a total of eight people. The office in Wamba is a simple affair and no expatriates are running around in big four-wheel drives, living in expensive neighbourhoods, and taking their children to high-cost schools at the cost of the project. Neither are there any high-profile politicians or entrepreneurs sitting on the board or the local community well committees whose interests are often elsewhere.

Perhaps other projects should adopt this model to achieve a sustainable impact on communities at the grassroots level.

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