Water is a powerful force. In rivers, it pushes huge generator turbines. In the ocean, it covers most of the earth. From the ground, it changes people’s lives in ways I never would have imagined unless I had seen it with my own eyes.
In Kenya, Operation Eyesight has been fighting the terrible trachoma infection for many years with antibiotics and surgery. But despite our best efforts, this eye disease just wasn’t going away.
We decided that if trachoma was to be beaten we had to deal with the root problem of personal hygiene, which can only happen with a reliable source of clean water. In Kenya, that means deep water wells, which led us to Ongata Naado.
I remember first visiting this village in 2006. It is located on a vast prairie region of Kenya where the Maasai people live. The village wasn’t much to look at because these nomadic people don’t stay in one place for long. It was dry and wind-blown with a ramshackle school that held only 20 students.
Every Tuesday the teacher would shut down the school and ride his bike for 20 km to get 27 litres of water that would last him and the children a week. Families would also forage afar to find water, so whatever they collected was used for drinking and cooking, not for washing. You can imagine how the kids’ faces were like fly magnets. Disease traveled from face to face, with new infections popping up constantly.
The first bore hole that Operation Eyesight drilled was in Ongata Naado. It took the people there a bit by surprise, because they couldn’t immediately see the link between water and eye health. The big drilling truck that rolled into town must have had the same impact as a three-ring circus. When the water started gushing out of the ground, everyone showed up to watch in amazement. One older man was heard to say: “I have seen water from above, but I didn’t know it could come from below!”
The community set up a committee to get the pump and generator installed and fund the rest of the pieces they would need, and they really took ownership. Donors through Operation Eyesight paid for the drilling and brought in technical expertise, but the people of Ongata Naado supplied everything else.
Like a seed sprouting, something was happening among these people – slow at first, but growing. I became aware of it when I returned in 2009. The village didn’t look much different, but the people were energized with plans for the future. Plus, everyone looked healthier and their new water source was in full operation.
Little did I know that the best was yet to come…