Saturday, 7 February 2009

Day 4: GHARP integrated rainwater harvesting

Mosquito bites: 0 (unexpected but welcome)

Interesting fact: the Masai are a pologymous lot, and when a young man reaches a certain age he is free to have sexual relations with the wives of other elders. He indicates his preferences by placing a spear in the ground outside the hut of his chosen woman (en).

Day four saw us departing early for the GHARP project, a rainwater harvesting initiative based in the Narok North District, roughly four hours outside of Nairobi. For the first time we were able to get an impression of the sense of distance in Kenya. We drove through Rift Valley and most of the journey was just arid landscape, broken up occasionally by run down villages and the dots of locals working in the fields. We had been warned to expect a bumpy ride and indeed for most of the four hours it felt like we were off-roading through large potholes. All the guide books warn tourists to avoid driving in Kenya (the roundabouts on their own would be enough to scare even the most capable Westerner) and you can see why. Despite the terrible conditions of the roads it seemed to be an unspoken agreement that it was a race to get to the front of the pack, using any means possible. Because it was so dry, when a vehicle passed on the other side of the road the dust kicked up and you could hardly see the road ahead. Shoulders tensed, we’d just shut our eyes and hope for the best, while fearing the worst. I had to chuckle when we passed a sign that said “Driving recklessly kills!” – I think we’d just been doing battle with a massive truck and ended up overtaking on a bend at the top of a cliff.

We stopped off for a 10 minute break on the way and I spent some time in one of the gift shops. As you would expect the sales people are incredibly pushy, still attempting to lower the price even after you’ve told them five times that you have no money on you. The vender told me he liked collecting english coins, so, sensing an opportunity to get him off my back I gave him a couple of quid I randomly found in my bag. It was only when Cliff got in the car and mentioned that he’d changed some Kenyan money for pounds that I realised I’d been scammed! Apparently pretending to collect coins is a common trick – seems ridiculous now I think about it, but he was very convincing and obviously I must be a bit na├»ve so it was a winning combination.

Back to the project: GHARP promotes rainwater harvesting and management systems and aims to improve food and water supply, sanitation, health and nutrition and provide sustainable livelihoods for disadvantaged pastoral communities in eight semi-arid areas of Kenya. It will create eight storage tanks, sanitation facilities for eight schools, 150 micro-irrigation systems, eight tree and vegetable nurseries, and 150 improved bee hives for honey production.

We were visiting one of the eight sites, which happened to be home to a traditional Masai community as well as a boarding school. At the moment only the girls board as there is not enough water for the boys as well – in fact, the school came close to being shut down recently as the water situation got so bad. Rainfall is so unpredictable in these parts that droughts are now endemic and floods occur quite frequently. It is crucial, therefore, that the coping strategies we are helping to put in place make the most of the rain that does fall. Our support has enabled the community to build a 20,000 cubic metre dam which it is hoped will be half filled when the rains come in April, as well as a water tank which will be used for showering facilities, latrines and troughs for the animals. We also saw some roof water harvesting, with gutters directing the water into a tank and out through a tap. These facilities will enable the boys to start boarding at the school as well as providing water to 1000 homes and their livestock in the surrounding area.

We also saw six beehives which are going to be owned by the community and sold for income. The Masai’s predominant income is crop generation and the project has recently helped them to build a wire meshing around their vegetable patches to protect them from an unruly hare and its penchant for the good stuff.

Once we’d seen these simple but effective solutions, we were led into the shade of a huge tree to have a welcome meeting with the Masai community. They are fascinating people famed for their colourful attire and unique traditions, and we felt honoured to be their guests. The school children were encouraged to join us and tentatively came to sit on the grass behind our chairs. Most of the women and female children have very short, shaven hair so this might explain their fascination with my long(ish), light-coloured hair. Not that I’m complaining, mind, my hair and I thoroughly enjoyed the attention of their gentle fingers.

We listened to various tribe leaders talk about the importance of the project and how it was helping to improve their economy. As the Location Chief succinctly put it “Nothing can work without water. Life IS water”. The whole project is focused around the provision of water - something we take for granted but literally is the source of everything for these people – apart from to drink, they need it for sanitation and bathing facilities, to keep their livestock alive and for their crops to grow. Water will also reduce wildlife / human conflict as before the project the women and children were having to walk many kilometres to fetch water and would often come across dangerous animals. One of the teachers I interviewed put it starkly when he made the point that none of the teachers would even be there if there wasn’t a hope for water. In other words, without the GHARP project the school would most likely shut down, leaving the children with no chance of an education.

The sentiment from the community was very clear – as with Ngei, it is very important for the Masai people to feel that the project is their own. They are self-motivated and have their own ideas and vision for the future, and recognise the need to come together to fight poverty. Some of the women have set up self-help groups making jewellery to generate an income, and are using some of the proceeds to sponsor young girls through their education. Towards the end of the ceremony all the visitors went up one by one and were presented with an item of jewellery as a gift of thanks – I think we all felt pretty overwhelmed by their generosity. We were then treated to a spectacular ceremonial dance by both the female women and children.

After the ceremony finished, Rachel and I interviewed a couple of people on camera, while the others went inside to feast on some goat the community had prepared. We left the GHARP site thrilled to have experienced a real Masai community and blown away by how friendly and gracious everyone was. As a rural project GHARP was completely different to the urban Ngei DYG but equally as impressive. The fact that it has been built on a school site will expose the children to rainwater harvesting systems at a young age, ensuring that they adopt the new techniques and become the agents of future change. This will of course have a positive impact on the long term sustainability of the project.

On the way back we saw some wild zebra and a giraffe, which took the edge off the sometimes painfully bumpy ride. Another fascinating day, another captivating project and although I may be slightly biased, another reason to support the Tribal Foundation.

On we go...

No comments:

Post a Comment