About three hours north of Nairobi around a high, rocky hill is a collection of small huts. They are part of the Maasai community of Naibor, in Kenya’s Laikipia region.
As well as the mud huts, there is also a small primary school built of metal sheeting and a track, carved through the red dust, linking it to the towns of Nanyuki and Doldol. The odd goat grazes along the side of this track and women can be seen trudging through the red dust daily with water containers on their backs. The lack of water in the community becomes increasingly apparent the closer one gets.
“We were in difficulties with water,” explains James Supa as he sits on a rock near the roadside. “In the dry season, mothers have to walk to the river or Doldol or Nanyuki for water. It can take a whole day to fill their buckets with water.” (Read our earlier blog post about the effects of the water burden on women in Naibor.)
The little water they do find is often contaminated by animals or can only be reached by digging in the mud where the river used to flow, five kilometres from Naibor. Supa acts as a link person between The Road Less Travelled project (TRLT) and the Maasai, to ensure any development activities are locally-appropriate and meet the needs of the community. TRLT is a project of Anglican Overseas Aid, which works in partnership with local organisation the Mothers’ Union of the Anglican Church in Kenya (MUACK).
The past few years have seen increasingly long dry spells in the Laikipia region, and the water shortages have worsened. When TRLT started and a community development committee was formed, the people of Naibor identified the chronic water shortage as a key challenge, and appealed for support from the project to alleviate the problem.
After community discussions, the suggestion was made to use the local environment and build a rock water catchment to store water during the rainy season. TRLT supported the initiative, which made use of local labour and resources to build two low walls along the hill’s bare rock face, as well as a storage tank. The walls channel the rainwater down the rock face and into the tank for use during the long dry season, when water is scarce.
The catchment was finished in April 2013. Now, says Community Chairman Letipipi Sena, less time will be spent collecting water. “The women can now do many things in the day. They can do family work like washing or maybe some business or they can go and look for food for their children.”
Frederick Kimathi, a local resident who lives close to the water catchment, adds, “So many people are benefitting from the project already.”
This year the rains have been harder to predict and the long dry season has not yet come. As Supa explains, “There are not problems with the water at the moment, because we have had lots of rain and the water is still clean in the river. We will use the tank when other sources dry up.”
The community also benefits greatly from a sense of ownership of the project. The phrase the Naibor Water Committee uses to talk about the catchment is ‘kazi ya community’ – Swahili for ‘the work of the community’. They do not see it as something that has been given to them, but as something they have built themselves.
“We had the plan before as a community,” says Supa. “And we shared the idea with MUACK.”
Everyone in the community contributed to the project, especially the women who, Supa says, played a bigger role than the men. The catchment had to be built during the dry season, which is also the time when the men move with their livestock to find suitable land for grazing. This meant that much of the construction work had to be done by the women and children of Naibor. Women now have four places on the Naibor Water Committee, which oversees the initiative.
Now, the Maasai in Naibor are turning their attention to other projects. “We have developed other plans since there is water,” says Sena. “We have decided to put up a vegetable plot here to teach the community about organic farming and to improve diets and nutrition.” This in turn will improve the general health of the community. The plan is proving popular, and Kimathi has already started planting some vegetables. “I would plant more,” he says, “but we need more water tanks to be filled.”
More than 2,000 Maasai live in Naibor, and some will still have to walk long distances to reach the catchment and its water tank. “We have a vision for more tanks, and to provide water for the local primary school. A lot of water is still wasted here,” says Supa.
But the local community now understands how to build more tanks that could serve other parts of Naibor. They are also more confident that they can solve their own problems, fuelled by the outcome of this project.
“We coped together,” says Sena, “and we were successful.”