Lush green fields dot the landscape which was once barren land

"I'm no longer preocupied with the search for water. I only walk for a few minutes to the nearest water kiosk."

The options had narrowed down to this; exchange her only milk cow for a donkey. The cow was not only a source of nutrition for the family of six but also generated a reasonable income.

Despite all these obvious advantages of keeping the cow, Naomi Bahati Munyika went ahead and exchanged the cow for the donkey. And there was a good reason for this: water.

Her home in the sun scorched plains of Mlilo in Kishushe location, Taita Taveta County, had no running water. The nearest source of water was Paranga River some 10 kilometres away.
Every day she would set out for the river at the crack of dawn. She would get back to her home late in the afternoon with a 20-litre jerry can balanced on her head. “By the time I got back, I would be so exhausted that all I could do was crawl under the shade and sleep for the rest of the afternoon. I had no time for any other useful engagement. My whole life revolved around that one jerry-can of water.”

This is where the idea of the donkey came in. She figured that with the beast of burden she could ferry several jerry-cans of water per trip. This would ensure that she reduced the number of trips to the river.

But her water story changed after the opening of the Kangemi Mlilo Water Project. Supported by Safaricom Foundation and implemented by ActionAid International Kenya, it has transformed her life in ways she would never have thought possible.
Commissioned three years ago, the project brought water right to her doorstep opening up a world of new possibilities.

With the abundance of water she has turned to irrigation and is now growing vegetables for domestic use and for sale to traders who take the produce to the market in Voi town.
“Besides better income, nutrition for my family has improved. We also have enough water for laundry and bathing. I had never thought it was possible to have a bath every day. We are much cleaner and definitely happier,” she says, her face lighting up.

David Mwamburi is the chairman of the Kangemi Mlilo Water Project which is now benefiting 4,000 families. He describes the project as a game changer for the residents.
“During the hot season, Paranga River is reduced to a dry river bed. To access the water we used to dig into the river bed. The water was dirty and diseases such as diarrhoea were common,” he recalls.
He says the diseases presented the residents with a double jeopardy; Not only were they forced to spend scarce resources on treatment but were also not economically productive during sickness.
Mr Mwamburi says that the link between availability of clean drinking water, improved health and increased economic production is now evident.

The perennial water scarcity had adverse effects on education as well. It was a requirement that school pupils carry 5 litres of water to school every day. This meant parents had to ferry more water from the river to spare some for the pupils.
“One of the greatest impacts of this project is that it has supplied water to Mlilo Primary School. Children can concentrate on learning without the extra burden of ferrying water to school,” says Nancy Saru, a beneficiary of the project.
A stop at the school reveals why Ms Saru is excited by the water supply to the school. It is 4pm and the school is engulfed by oppressive heat and dust whirlwinds that dance across the sweltering compound every now and then.

It is time for the afternoon break and the school explodes into life. Pupils pour out of their classrooms carrying plastic water bottles. They head to the water tank behind a classroom block where they queue to draw water to quench their thirst.
According to area chief Joseph Meso, the water supply to schools has greatly improved construction. “Before, we got water in schools, construction could only take place when it rained. Now we can build any time of the year,” he said. In Mwakelili village, the project has triggered a green revolution. In the coolness of the shadows cast by hills sitting opposite each other, Donald Mwaosi is watering his lush green shamba using hose pipes.
The shamba contrasts sharply with the rocky and barren hillside. For two years now, Mr Mwaosi has been growing a variety of crops such as passion fruit, cabbages, spinach, capsicums and peas.

“Two years ago, I couldn’t make a living out of this shamba. My source of livelihood was charcoal burning. Today I make an average of Ksh1,000 in sales each day. I have vegetable merchants coming here everyday because I’m able to grow vegetables throughout the year.”
Like Mr Mwaosi, other farmers are turning to irrigation for a living turning their backs on charcoal burning. In a way the project is also contributing to environmental conservation.

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