'Maji ni Uhai' - water is life. These were the words Samwel Njogu Munywa and his wife Gladys Muthoni greeted us with, as we entered their compound in Karudas village, Thego location in Kieni East District
Kieni, an electoral constituency, sits in the footholds of Mount Kenya, North of Nairobi and is one of the country’s biggest landmarks. The region is one of mixed fortune. Where one part serves as the ‘breadbasket of Kenya’ whilst the other is home to cyclical droughts,largely barren,chapped and rocky- just like many other parts of Kenya.
Amid the melancholy, Samwel Njogu has something to smile about. He is one of the beneficiaries of Ngonde-Gatei community water project, financed by Actionaid. This has allowed him to farm all year round in a relatively dry environment. Leaving his work largely unharmed by the cyclic droughts.
Inside his compound, lies his source of happiness- the 3.5 acres of land that allows him to earn a living. A piece of land that he had given up all hopes for, owing to the consistent lack of rainfall in the area. With the only source of water being a river seven kilometres away; a journey so arduous that he had lost all hope.
We used to call our area Mathina, Land of problems, but not anymore
Samuel tells us,beaming with pride as he shows us around his green farm.
He now harvests potatoes, onions, kales, spinach and yams for local consumption and french beans for export to countries like Holland and United States.
Access to a basic necessity, water, has changed Samuel’s life in many ways. He has since moved from a poorly constructed shanty house to a properly constructed house, a mansion almost, with electricity and proper sanitation.For him, it’s not only a change of lifestyle and a means of livelihood, it is the future of his three children, who are now studying at a boarding school.
With content apparent in his voice, he informs us that he gets over $100 a day; a sum he would never have been able to earn from his job being a plumber.
`The dream to have the Ngonde-Gatei community water project was conceived in 1987 but came into operation in 2008 due to lack of financial support`, informs 68-year old Benson Wanyeri; while giving us a historical overview of the project.
The project stalled plenty of times, forcing them to approach Actionaid in 2004. Actionaid supported the projects with water pipes and fittings.
``A lot of our members died along the way and the ones who were left got too tired of struggling for years. I am glad that I lived to witness this day, to be able to use this water``,Said Benson,who also happens to be the secretary of the thirteen member water committee.
The water project currently benefits over 500 households, with an average of seven members per household.Every member pays $2 per month and the money is utilized to sustain the project that draws its water from Thegu River in Kaparu forest.
In a neighbouring village,54 year old Alice Munywa , who is also a beneficiary of the project explains to us the impact the project has had on her ability to support herself and her six children.`Before I only grew maize and beans, but now I grow,potatoes, onions,spinach, cabbages and Kales. I grow enough food to feed myself and have even managed to educate all my children, even affording university education for them, something I couldn’t have imagined’ as Alice informs us, the happiness in her voice is evident. The two acres of land, Alice owns, is a far cry from the barren farms and stunted crops that belong to some of her neighbors.
`My neighbors here used to laugh at me because I was poor but look at me now,I am rich and they respect me thanks to this water project `, Alice breaks into laughter as she explains.
In a country where the sole earning comes from a piece of land. Farmers are gripped by the recurring threat of drought, a source of water brings hope, it is of great help to community that is coping struggling with challenges.
All Samuel,Benson and Alice ever wanted was a source of water, and the rest they were able to figure out for themselves. They sought assistance not dependency. As we leave the villages, I leave as a witness, one who has seen proof that by investing in agriculture, we can support communities to adapt to the changing climate.