Spring of Hope International (SOHI) is a 501.C3 non-profit organization dedicated to Empowering African communities with the mindset and resources to alleviate extreme poverty. One of the keys to this is making clean water accessible to families. Since its inception in 2004, SOHI has partnered with the people of the Karachuonyo region of rural Kenya empowering the community to improve its living conditions. SOHI’s region of focus is approximately 42 square miles in an arid region called Karachuonyo. Approximately 50,000 people live in this region.
The phrase “Water is Life” is far more true than most Americans can begin to comprehend. Water-borne disease and death is a common fact of life in the Karachuonyo region. The leading reason is that the most readily available source of water is highly polluted ponds and rivers. The only sizable source of clean water is found deep underground through volcanic rock in an aquafer approximately 300 ft below grade. The only access to it is from wells that must be mechanically drilled at a cost of approximately $25,000 each—an amount that is beyond the reach of these people living in great poverty [Note: a partnership with another NGO has recently reduced this cost to approximately $16,000]. These conditions have left people living in the area with two choices get their daily supply of water. To walk up to several kilometers a day in the scorching sun and stand in line for hours to get clean water from the limited number of operational wells. Or, to resort to drinking toxic water from nearby stagnant ponds and rivers. One choice makes the people dedicate many hours every day to getting water which severely limits their ability to farm, work, or go to school. The other choice leads to almost certain sickness which is often deadly—especially to children and the elderly. Sadly, when clean water is not available within a reasonable distance, people are often forced to make the latter choice; disease and death are commonplace. SOHI’s goal is to make clean water available to each person within the community with a walk of less than 1 km.
2.0 Long-term Solution
For 12 years, SOHI has worked to alleviate this conundrum by rehabilitating long-defunct legacy wells and drilling new ones. Through these efforts, as of the end of 2017, the region now has 28 operational wells. It is estimated that approximately 45% of the region now has access to clean water within a 1km walking distance; up from about 27% in 2015. Needless to say, great progress has been made, but much work remains to be done.
To ensure sustainability, SOHI works with community leaders who establish a well committee made up of local individuals to manage each well that is rehabilitated or drilled. This group is trained on and responsible for the operation, sanitation, maintenance, and repair of the well pump prior to SOHI turning ownership over to the community. The committee monitors and maintains the well and charges a small fee for water taken. This money is accumulated such that within 3 years’ time, enough has been saved to afford the purchase of a rebuild/repair kit for the pump. Thus, the people using the well keep it in good operating condition without continual assistance from outside sources (aka, it’s sustainable). It should be noted that no one is refused water from a SOHI-drilled or rehabilitated well; if a family cannot afford the small use-charge, they are allowed to work for the water taken.
In order to maximize the community benefit afforded by each well drilled, a Regional Water Committee (RWC) has been formed by the local chiefs. The intent of this committee is to collaborate with SOHI on the identification and prioritization of new well sites. Another function of this group is to oversee the individual well committees. A key tool used in the collaboration between the Kenyan RWC and SOHI is the Clean Water Map shown in Figure 1. This map locates all public clean water wells in the region. Green, yellow, and red radiuses around each well indicate 1, 2, and 3km distances from the wells respectively. These radiuses are used for determination of maximum distances that families throughout the region must walk for water. The goal is that eventually, the region will be completely green meaning that no one has to walk further than 1km each way to get clean water.
The map is a valuable planning tool used by the RWC and SOHI to determine the greatest need areas for upcoming well drilling operations as funding allows or for interim relief operations. The highest priority regions are typically red in color. However, factors in addition to walking distance, such as the presence of a school or clinic, or a high population density, are considered as well in prioritization using an Excel-based tool developed by SOHI and the RWC.
The Clean Water Map is also a valuable communication tool. It provides a mechanism for SOHI to visually demonstrate to existing and prospective stakeholders (i.e., financial donors, churches, and business partners) the great amount of progress that has made to date while highlighting the substantial remaining need for additional wells. The map and prioritization tool demonstrate that a well thought out process has been developed to ensure that donations are used to the maximum benefit in efforts to alleviate the serious water crisis that exists.
3.0 Interim Relief
It is estimated that 30-35 additional wells will be required to achieve a less than 1 km walking distance goal for clean water for all people in SOHI’s current area of focus. At current well drilling costs, this constitutes greater than $800,000 of funds needed. As a small non-governmental organization (NGO), raising these funds may take in excess of 10 years unless grants from corporate sponsors can be attained. Thus, SOHI is implementing a program to provide interim relief for the estimated 27,500 people that currently do not have reasonable access to clean water. This interim relief program will provide in-home bio-sand filters to those households.
Bio-sand filters, if properly operated and maintained, are reported to be 98-99% effective in the elimination of dangerous parasites and disease organisms from contaminated surface water. Proper use of these filters will allow people living away from existing wells to use their current source of water (e.g., ponds, rivers, or water pans) for domestic purposes with greatly reduced health risks. SOHI has purchased 8 molds and construction equipment for casting the concrete vessels for the biosand filters and build a secure storage building for housing equipment. Community members (predominantly the RWC) have been trained on filter construction, operation, and maintenance. The RWC has begun an extensive educational effort in cooperation with regional chiefs to instruct people on the benefits of using filters. In 2018, SOHI has begun a pilot program to fund the construction of 200 biosand filters that will be given to the marginalized and most needy community members, such as the old grand mamas that are struggling to raise 3 or 4 grandchildren whose parents died from the AIDS epidemic. This pilot project will get clean water to an estimated 1200 people. Our collective goal is for the community to run a sustainable, non-profit industry to build and distribute filters to those that need them at a reasonable cost. It is anticipated that filters will be affordable for the people who need them most; hopefully—hopefully under $20.