By Rosalyn Kutsch
Sometimes a journey starts with a few small but important steps. Peace Corps volunteer Shailah Bevan found this out when she partnered with us to address the quality of available water in schools in the Mawingu region of Kenya. Using Shailah’s photos and descriptions of the schools in the communities where she was working, we developed a video that to share on Facebook and other social media sites. The video showed the challenges that students in the Mawingu region face in accessing safe water and protecting themselves from common diseases through the use of simple hygiene methods such as hand washing.
By June 2014, donors had given enough money to buy and install rainwater harvesting tanks and then conduct schoolwide water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) education workshops at two schools, Central Corner School and Gathundia School. School and parent volunteers constructed a base for each rainwater harvesting system, and a week later, Shailah returned to the schools with storage tanks and WASH education lessons. After the tanks were installed, she conducted a hand washing lesson with the schoolchildren to teach them about the proper technique and length of time to best eliminate germs and bacteria—lessons they will be able to take back to their homes and use to educate their families.
In total, there are 14 schools and around 7,000 students in the Mawingu area. None of the schools had access to clean drinking water before this project, and as a result, almost 50 children died of typhoid fever in the district in 2012. In addition to the unsafe water, there was little education on water-related diseases and a dire need for sustainable clean-water practices. Rainwater harvesting is an essential tool in regions such as the Mawingu where water is very limited in the dry season and must be collected and saved. The harvesting tanks not only help to eliminate waterborne illnesses, they save schoolchildren hours of collecting unclean water at rivers and ponds.
Although the fundraising campaign didn’t allow Shailah to outfit all of the schools in the region with rainwater harvesting systems, the work she did with us still made tangible difference in the lives of Kenyan students in the Mawingu region. As Shailah finishes her term with the Peace Corps and returns to the United States, we are glad to have had the chance to work with her to make a difference!