Thursday, 4 June 2015

Trustee Travels - by Jo Zeevi

Having co-founded Dig Deep, eight years ago, I was incredibly excited about heading back to Kenya to see the work that Dig Deep is doing on the ground and to see the impact in the communities and schools we work with. It was four years since my last visit and although I have heard of progress through our monthly trustee meetings there is nothing like seeing and hearing the stories first hand.

Co-founders Jo Zeevi and Peter Fitzsimmons in the early days of Dig Deep

16 million people lack access to clean water in Kenya and over 43% of Kenya’s rural population does not have access to basic sanitation. Dig Deep's work is focused around the Narok county by the Maasai Mara and Bomet in the west of the country.

Day one in the field saw us visiting the Endonyo Narasha community which is the first project that Dig Deep fundraised for back in 2007. Unfortunately, due to the incredibly high fluoride levels in the water, the wind pump installed in the borehole has badly corroded and is difficult to maintain. As Dig Deep continues to monitor the projects we have implemented we receive information on whether something happens with a project beyond the means of the communities. We then work with the community to see what the most appropriate solution is.

Endonyo Narasha opted to have a new technology installed - community rainwater harvesting. This is an incredibly simple system where a large roof collects the rain water and it is stored in enormous concrete tanks which can be easily treated. There is estimated to be enough water for 15litres of water for each person per day. They are also in discussions around donating the wind pump to another community we work with that does not have a problem with fluoride in the water, so nothing will go to waste.

The Community Rainwater Harvester at Edonyo Narash

We were there for the opening ceremony of the community rainwater harvesting where the Water Committee officially took control of the project and talked at length about the provisions being made for maintenance. We also talked through the training that Dig Deep will provide for community members so that they can independently manage the system. We met in the corrugated church, sheltering us from the blazing sun. After many introductions in English, Swahili and Ma (the local Maasai language) everyone filed down to the tap stands where there were queues of women ready to fill their containers. Brightly coloured kangas and jingling beaded jewellery gave the scene a carnival feel as school children sang and the water was released.

There were some marked changes since we were there seven years ago. A new kindergarten, a bigger central market and lots of new faces. The water committee and chief seemed fully engaged and I felt proud of the long term relationships that Dig Deep creates with the communities we partner with. This feeling was echoed time and again as the reputation of the charity resulted in unprompted discussions with everyone we met about the way that we work and the sustainability and success of the projects.

This was the beginning of several meetings we attended in the Mara region, each with the Water Committees and wider community in attendance where everyone welcomed us and our essential partners on the ground, Olare Orok Motorogi Trust. Wherever we went they were praying for rain as the land was dusty, dry and barren. The drought had continued longer than anticipated and the communities are keen to move quickly with new projects, more than willing to provide their contribution upfront.

We travelled with Dig Deep's Country Manager Carol who is working incredibly hard to engage and empower communities. From village elders and women's groups to school children, Carol welcomes everyone's input and encourages debate. I felt a huge sense of pride as an elderly lady announced to the community how much of a role model Carol is and how this demonstrates the need for children to receive an education (which isn't possible without the basic access to water) so that they can create change within their own communities. This highlights perfectly the work that Dig Deep does to break the cycle of poverty.

Our time in the Mara left me chomping at the bit to continue our journey to Bomet county and see how we are working  in a completely different environment; within towns, a place that is green and lush but still suffers from water scarcity.


We left the Mara on a high as the long awaited rains came and having felt the momentum of the work there building.  As we journeyed to Ndanai in Bomet County I was full of anticipation as I had never been to this area before, with Dig Deep having started to operate in the region only three years ago. We were greeted by Justice, our local Dig Deep Officer in Ndanai, who has been steadily engaged with the communities and schools throughout the projects. This helps us to monitor the projects and impacts accurately.

Students prepare to recite their poem at Township School
Dig Deep has completed 12 school projects in Ndanai and has another 12 schools in the pipeline. We were able to visit 6 of the schools and wow - I was blown away! Dig Deep has constructed high quality self-contained VIP (Ventilated Improved Pit) Latrines which include rainwater harvesting to allow for hand washing at key times.   This is alongside additional rainwater harvesting in the schools, or connection to the main borehole in the town centre that dig Deep completed 3 years ago. The impact on the schools is astounding.

We saw the hand washing facilities being actively used in each of the schools that we visited and the head teachers were proud to speak of the impact on attendance, the reduction of diseases and the increase in enrolment due to improved facilities for the children. The schools are proud of the infrastructure and are no longer embarrassed to tell students they have to use a collapsing pit latrine with no water to wash their hands. Kagasik Girls School is a great example of improvement. As a result of our water and toilet projects they have since been able to attract investment from regional governments resulting in boarding enrolment having increased from 50 girls to over 200.

The Township School Headmaster was beaming as he talked through the impact on test results due to the decline of illness (they had the highest performing student in the county). Even though our visit was unannounced they were quick to want to demonstrate how the hygiene training had affected the pupils. Amidst shining smiles and shrieks of enthusiasm we saw demonstrations of how to wash your hands properly and played games of get the ‘poo in the loo’ (equivalent to kicking the ball through the goal).

For me the most powerful moment was when Standard 5 started to recite the poem they had written themselves about Dig Deep, sanitation and giving thanks. It was conveyed with such pleasure and sincerity it caught me off guard and I was struck by the huge impact and meaning of Dig Deep’s work and reputation. It is funny how the things you aren’t prepared for can sometimes have the biggest affect. Of course I blinked rapidly to ensure there wasn’t a tear in my eye and clapped and laughed along with encouragement.

Throughout our trip as we drove through the Mara and Bomet regions we passed boreholes and water points powered by solar, water kiosks selling water, rainwater harvesting in schools and areas where water has been piped around the village. I saw children with plastic mugs drinking straight from the taps and children thoroughly washing their hands after using the latrines, I saw women collecting the water and people looking healthy and strong. This is all the work of Dig Deep and its partners. When I remember back to when it all began I give huge thanks to those who have supported the charity over the years. The impact is real and tangible. I can’t wait to see even bigger changes on my next visit, and I have no doubt that it will be transformational.

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