When I stepped out of Liriks Sweatel Café in the center of Mudimbia for the last time today, I found Chief John waiting to say goodbye. It’s a mystery to me how the Chief knows our every move before we do, but to say he has his pulse on the community is an understatement. He thanked me, I thanked him, then I watched him pedal off on his bicycle for some official bit of business he was late for. The Chief doesn’t own a car; nobody in the village does. As he rode down the path, I suddenly realized that he reminds me of Andy Griffith; handsome, affable, stern when he needs to be, with an obvious love for his community.
The KWAHO office in the Kibera slum on the outskirts of Nairobi is just a short five minute walk from where we parked our car today, but five minutes is more than enough to feel the crushing poverty that envelopes one of the largest slums in Africa. About the size of Central Park, perhaps as many as 750,000 people subsist here on about one dollar per day. The exact number is a matter of dispute, with estimates ranging from 150,000 to over 1 million. What is not disputed is the fact that access to safe water is a huge issue here. Much of the water comes from private vendors, whose barely-buried pipes are patched and re-patched with tape to stem the many leaks where water exists and microbes enter. The water is dangerous.
If you travel thirty minutes by leaky motorized canoe from Mudimbia, the first ten minutes snaking down a reed-lined channel before sliding into Lake Victoria and the last five snaking up another channel, you’ll find a small fishing village comprised of reed huts. The second channel isn’t hard to find due to a bizarre sight which, from a distance, looks like 30 or 40 men walking on water. In fact they are fishing with nets from sand bars some distance from the shore. After hauling one end of their net out into the lake by canoe and then back again to the sand bar in a giant u-shape, the men take hold of the lines and heave against the weight of water and fish.
The Anglican Church in Mudimbia can be found by passing through the gates of the government primary school and following a dirt path behind the school. There you’ll find a simple mud-wall building with low wooden benches for 100 people. Reverend Franklin Earnest Madiang is standing at the front; tall flowing white robes and a chiseled face, behind which a smile threatens to break out at any time. Our crew arrived too late for the service, but just in time to hear the fifty or so congregants singing “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”, in Swahili. I would challenge anyone not to be moved by such a sight and sound, but for the four us in the crew that grew up as pastor’s kids, it was especially moving.
This demonstration pilot has four main components; a daily household survey that looks at acceptance and proper use of the Hydropack, a second daily survey undertaking by three community health workers looking at predetermined health parameters, an in depth interview process with certain households to examine ways to optimize the communication and packaging, and finally the collection of randomized HydroPack and source water samples for lab testing. Today we took the samples to a government lab in Kisumu for testing.
Clifford Wahanya, owner of Emergency Relief Supplies (ERS) in Nairobi, was slightly nervous as the sun rose on the third day of the HydroPack pilot demonstration. This was the first day the participating households would be surveyed regarding their acceptance of the HydroPack, and the first day that samples would be taken for laboratory testing. ERS has supplied logistical support to KWAHO (Kenyan Water for Health Organization), the Kenyan NGO running the pilot.