As the plane lands in Nairobi, I can’t help but think back to the previous visits I’ve made to East Africa. I’ve travelled across lush mountainous landscapes where rainfall guarantees harvests. This time however, I know that my visit will be quite the opposite.
September in Kenya is a dry season and I’m on my way to semi-arid region of Kilifi, where the scarcity of water simply boggles the mind. Rather confusingly, the landscape appears very green – a by-product of the recent torrential rains and flooding that ensued – but when you look more closely, thorny bushes are the only growing plants, the baobabs have lost all their leaves, and their white barked skeletons stand tall in the land.
Kilifi: Coastal village battling drought
Kilifi may be a coastal region yet its little valleys host dry river beds at the bottom. There are no visible water sources apart from the salty nearby ocean. It’s hot and the sun hits us hard despite our little group’s best attempts to move from shade to shade, gathering under one tree and running to the next. I’m already parched from the heat!
As I step out of the car, I am met by hard dry earth, packed so tight I wonder how anyone can have the strength to till the land, or how little shoots of kale and okra manage to push through. And yet, here we are, standing in a field.
Immediately, the challenges stand out like a sore thumb: where is the water? How far do you need to carry it to grow your crops? How many buckets do people have? How long does it take to individually water each plant? Without irrigation, the workload is immense.
I’m shocked and worried for the local population, until they guide towards a nifty little innovation: “green barrels”. Some two hundred shoots are planted together and quite astonishingly you only need to water the top for all of the plants to benefit directly. Not quite as precise as drip irrigation, but still a huge time saver and far cheaper!
These “green barrels” – made from natural materials – are transforming the way communities can grow plants to feed their families and become food secure.
Throughout the day, I will hear the same comment over and over again: “We need water,” they tell us, “without water, we cannot live.” Something we take for granted each and every day here in the UK is such a precious resource. That’s why our work is so crucial!
Communities in action: Women leading the way
The ladies from the local community group and savings loan association echo the same plea – communities need water, financial support and help towards building a more sustainable future. That’s where we provide a helping hand.
We’re supporting these women by offering training in financial management and poultry rearing. The aim is to enable each of these women to bring their income above the poverty line – a mere £1 a day. This may seem so little, but for these communities, it’s the world.
I’m lucky enough to attend the local women’s association meeting, where every member helps contribute towards their bi-weekly collection. This is such a critical part of their livelihoods and such a small yet amazingly powerful source of support for local families.
With this savings pot, women are able to access interest-free Shariah-compliant loans, which they use to pay unexpected medical fees when illness strikes within the family, or to take out small business loans to increase their production. With this extra income, they proudly tell me not one single mother has failed to pay school fees, meaning all of their children are in school. This is such a joy to hear!
Despite all these successes, the chairwoman takes the floor to voice the issues the community is facing with their housing and explains that water-borne diseases and poor food intake are still a real threat within the community. Easy access to clean and safe water will go a long way to unlocking their full potential. So this is where we head to next: the new deep well constructed by Islamic Relief.
This new installation has slashed in half the distance any local family needs to travel to find water. This in itself is normally a major change for the women and girls who contribute disproportionally to unpaid labour in the household.
Judging by the queue already formed at the taps, we know the demand is there. I ask a lady if she’d let me squeeze past her and try the water for myself. It flows out clear and cool and after being filtered through layers after layers of rock, it’s certainly some of the cleanest water I’ve ever had the chance to drink!
It’s always so exciting coming to the field to witness first-hand the contribution we make to people’s lives and this visit is no different. I can see the smiles on the locals’ faces and can’t help but smile too! Thanks to the support of our donors and our staff on the ground, we really are transforming lives. That is what makes our work so rewarding. Thank you!
If you’ve been inspired by Marine’s visit, why not find out more about our work in Kenya or donate towards our Water for Life fund to help provide safe drinking water for communities across the globe. Your support makes all the difference.