Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Kenya article--updated w/interview

Here's the latest version of the article. Unfortunately it can still be filed in the "not quite done" category, but should be complete soon! I still need to get the last few examples for the lead. I did get some quotes, though the interview was not so conventional. :)

Minnesota women tackle Kenya’s water crisis

“Imagine giving your baby his first bath in water teeming with amoebas and parasites. EXAMPLE 2….EXAMPLE 3…” (Note: these will be filled in following the interview)

Have you ever thought about how many gallons of water you use each day? The average American consumes 100-176 gallons of water per day, between showering (20-50 gallons in just one 10-minute shower) or flushing the toilet (5-7 gallons per flush). In America, we can turn on the tap and clean water flows. But across the globe, the fact of water is not so simple for Kenyans, who average 5 gallons of water per day.

In August, 2007, two young women, part of a volunteer program sponsored by a religious group of women, set out for a remote village in Kenya. Their mission: to bring water to several villages facing water shortages and water polluted with amoebas and parasites. In order to accomplish this task, Anika Walz and Angie Van Den Hemel would spend a year working with local community leaders to establish wells and rainwater harvesting, not an easy task in a country faced with adversity.

Walz and Van Den Hemel got connected to this project, dubbed the Kenya Water Project, through their involvement with the Sisters of St. Joseph, a religious order that sponsors the St. Joseph Worker Program, an Americorps-affiliated year-long volunteer opportunity for young women to work in social justice and non-profit organizations. After spending the previous year volunteering at organizations in the Twin Cities, Walz and Van Den Hemel “renewed their commitment” and signed on for a second-year residency, this time taking their passion for social change internationally.

This project, initially started by the Sisters of St. Joseph, sparked out of their passion to serve citizens globally. According to Walz, “This evolved out of an idea and a partnership. Sister Irene O’Neill thought about how there are women religious throughout the world on the ground working to meet the needs and build networks of hope, and how Rotary is throughout the world funding and implementing projects for the common good.”

Walz and Van Den Hemel were joined by Sister Rosita Aranita and worked in Kenya from August through January, at which time they returned to the states when violence over political elections surmounted in the country. Now that the women have returned to Minnesota, their work continues. Though it is tough to be back, especially because it was months earlier than planned, but Van Den Hemel easily admits they have to continue their work knowing firsthand the people they met and worked with whom it will benefit. The project is currently working towards raising enough money to establish or complete projects in five locations in Kenya: Kanam A, Adiedo, Soko, Koyier/Kamuga, and Wadghone-Nyongo.

The Kenya Water Project works in collaboration with local communities in Kenya and their leaders to develop plans to secure clean water for each community. The communities assess their own needs and identify resources, also selecting leaders to form Community Based Organizations. Those leaders manage and implement all elements of the water project, which range from harvesting to wells. Their work routine in Kenya involved working with CBOs and meeting with community leaders that invited them the three workers in. They would listen to their needs, brainstorm solutions, and identify assets. It was important though, to focus on the Kenyans as leaders as Walz pointed out: “We let the community own and lead the process, and we were simply a resource if and when they needed us.”

Three methods exist for water collection in Kenya, including: rainwater harvesting, borehole wells, and spring preservation. Depending on the land, the last two options are not always feasible, such as villages located near the highly polluted Lake Victoria. If wells are drilled too closely, they can cave or be spoiled by other sources of pollution. Recently, Van Den Hemel cited that Kenya receives enough rain water annually for harvesting to become a viable solution to the water shortage, and it is the most cost-effective method.

For Walz and Van Den Hemel, this project goes beyond just water. As Walz explains, this work is essential, and she calls other people to action: “By partnering in this work they don’t just bring clean water to people in desperate need. They impact an inter-connected web of development; by bringing clean water they also free girls who would be fetching water for hours a day to attend school, free women who would be fetching water so they could participate in income-generating activities to elevate their families’ standard of living, and free the local population of water related disease.” It is clear that access to clean water can provide the path Kenyans need to survive and begin to thrive in their communities.

In order for the Kenya Water Project to continue to reach its goals and send proper funding to support the harvesting and well-digging, Walz and Van Den Hemel will continue to raise funds. If you would like more information, or like a monthly update on this project, send an e-mail to waterproject@csjstpaul.org. To send monetary donations, contact the Minnesota office at 1884 Randolph Avenue in St Paul, or call 651.690.7044.

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