The journey to water – a personal tale from Kenya, Africa

Where can we get water? The pivotal role of water wells in Africa.

Venturing into the hinterlands of Kenya I embarked on a journey to understand the acute water poverty plaguing many communities. This exploration was not just a mere trip but an eye-opening experience into what it means when we say, “Water is life”.

Visiting a local school, I was confronted with the desperate need for water. The high number of absences due to water-related issues and the dire conditions spoke volumes about the urgency of our mission.

Traveling through the country, I witnessed the dichotomy of Kenya’s water scenario. On one hand, the breathtaking beauty of the land and, depending where you are, its streams; on the other, the grim reality of water scarcity. People drawing water from streams for daily use, children bathing in murky ponds, and a girl fetching water from a puddle inhabited by a leech. When asked if she considered the clean water, she nodded without hesitation. “Yes.” This sight was heart-wrenching.

Amidst the natural splendor of rivers and streams, the sight of people using this water for cooking, drinking and washing was alarming. The proximity of industrial pollution, such as a sugarcane factory discharging waste into the water, highlighted the severity of the situation.

The resilience of the communities, however, was inspiring. Despite the challenges, there was a sense of hope and determination to find solutions. The journey constantly raised one critical question: Where can we get safe water?

Exploring Solutions

If it rains, from time to time, one option is to catch the rain that falls onto the roof of your buildings, by adding a good guttering system, and some big storage tanks. You have to keep the roofs, gutters and tanks clean. The hurdle, however, is Kenya’s annual rainfall averages 680 mm, with its uneven distribution—from less than 250 mm in northern ASALs to about 2,000 mm in the west—posing significant water collection challenges.

“WellBoring installed a rainwater harvesting system in the giant slum of Kibera, where drilling conditions were very difficult, but it is disheartening to visit the school in the dry season, when the tanks run dry.” Nigel Linacre, chair of WellBoring explained during our journey.

The next level is to catch water at ground level. It’s easy but it’s unhealthy to the point of being dangerous. Ponds, rivers and streams all carry disease. Mountain streams can be an exception, but mostly it’s the fall back when nothing else is available.

The quest for safe water leads us underground, to the aquifers that lie beneath. If you’re in Europe, your water almost certainly comes out of the ground. These wells often extend down to depths of 60 meters, nearly 200 feet, tapping into a reliable source of water. Drilling for water presents a promising solution, tapping into the natural reservoirs that can sustain communities. The process, though challenging, holds the key to unlocking a reliable source of safe water in rural Africa. I’ve learned the most sustainable solution lies beneath our feet.

This journey was more than a mere visit; it was a profound learning experience that highlighted the complexities of water access in Kenya. It reinforced the importance of our work and the need to continue seeking and implementing solutions to ensure that every community has access to safe, clean water.

It has changed more than just my perspective. I now have a deeper understanding of what it means when they say ‘water is life.’ Without a doubt, it was a transformative, never-ending journey towards water and a desire to help make a difference.

Matthias Boch, WellBoring Germany e. V.

Transform lives

Women returning from a river in rural Kenya, carrying jerry cans with water, amidst a landscape of natural beauty yet challenged by water contamination issues.
Kenya’s landscape captivates with its beauty but hides a grim truth: its waters, though picturesque, harbor disease and danger. The effort to fetch water is perilous, costing especially girls and women precious time. Moreover, a river today may dwindle to a trickle tomorrow.
Meet Celestina, who offers us a glimpse into her world of water scarcity. Witness her daily reality, grasp her perception of clean water.
Where Celestina collects her daily water: A startling reality. Contaminated sources like this contribute to the deaths of approximately 360,000 children under five each year in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the highest child mortality rates globally.
A typical (Satur)day in Homa Bay County: Dozens of community members gather around murky earth ponds—remnants of the last rain, possibly from days or weeks ago—washing clothes, watering animals, and collecting dirty water for domestic use … for cooking, drinking, and hygiene.
Lillian, accompanied by her children and her donkey cart at the pond, fills water for her family. How long will the water last; a day or two? We forgot to ask. But what’s certain is women and girls around the world spend over 200 million hours every day, a collective 22,800 years, gathering water.
Rainwater harvesting through rooftop catchment systems face significant challenges due to regional climate conditions—teachers at this school reported that their system provides water for only about 20-30 days a year for their over 500 pupils.
WellBoring has got safe water to nearly 400 rural schools and communities in Africa by digging, building and rehabilitating groundwater water wells. If enough people, like you will help, we’ll reach a million people in the next few years. That won’t fix the whole water problem, but it’s cool to help to transform a million lives.

Videos ©Erick Omollo, photos ©Philippe Grohe & Matthias Boch