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Kenya: Conserving Water, Saving Lives

Posted on: Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Keywords: Kenya, Africa, Environmental Justice, Water Rights, Women's Health, Combating Violence Against Women

"I told my parents I was not ready to get married."

Grace's parents worked hard to send her to school. But when she was 15, they lost their livestock due to severe droughts in the region. When she traveled home for the Christmas holidays, she discovered that her parents were planning her wedding to an older, married man – a man who had brought her father cows after her own family's livestock died. And in return, her father had promised the man his eldest, unmarried daughter in marriage.
Terrified at the idea of being taken away from the life she knew and forced into marriage with a complete stranger, Grace ran away from home and went back to school. But she was fearful of leaving the school grounds. Even going to collect water from the river was an opportunity for this man to come and take her away.

Health, safety and education

Kenya Water Project: Kilgoris Girls' School

The Kilgoris Girls' Secondary School is one of the few schools set up for girls' secondary education in this region of Kenya. In rural, Indigenous communities, few people have the resources to send their daughters to school.

MADRE is working with our partner in Kenya, the Indigenous Information Network (IIN), to support the Kilgoris Girls' School. Together, we are providing young girls with a safe space where they can grow and learn without fear of a forced marriage. 

For people living in extreme poverty, a girl's dowry is an important source of income, and many parents see marriage as a means of protecting and providing for their daughters. In reality, girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during childbirth or pregnancy than older women. And other serious risks linked to early marriage include loss of mobility, freedom and access to basic human rights, as well as trauma and pain caused by early sexual relations and, often, repeated miscarriages.
In Kenya, the prevalence of the harmful practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) poses an additional threat to young women’s health. This practice is closely linked to the tradition of forced child marriages, as uncircumcised girls often bring in a lower dowry.
In contrast, providing girls an opportunity for education reduces the risk of child marriage and improves their chances for a healthier, happier future.

Access to clean water

Kenya Water Project: Kilgoris Girls' School

Working with IIN, we installed large water tanks to collect and filter rainwater for the school. The tanks are located on the school grounds and each tank hold 10,000 liters of water. These tanks will provide enough water to meet the girls' needs.
Before the tanks were installed, Grace and the other young girls had to go to the river to collect water each day for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing. The water carried disease-causing bacteria and chemical run-off from a farm upstream, leading to serious health problems for the girls. And like Grace, other young women are wary of leaving the school grounds for fear of being abducted by relatives or the men they were promised to marry.
Over 400 young girls attend the Kilgoris Girls’ School. The tanks provide the girls with access to clean drinking water, greatly reducing the risk of cholera, typhoid and other water-borne diseases. And with the tanks right on the school grounds, they don't have to spend as much time collecting water at the river. They are able to spend less time worrying and more time devoted to their studies.
At the completion of the project, the chairman of the Parent-Teacher Association said, "I urge you students to be responsible by taking care of the tanks as advised by your headteachers. With the water tanks, you will get clean water…as students your task now is to focus on education."

"We conserve water to save life.”

"There are places where there is no proper water. There are schools in Northern Kenya, close to Nairobi that do not have water,” IIN leader Lucy Mulenkei told the girls. She continued, "As Kilgoris gets a lot of water, you can be able to have water in the school and no longer walk along these roads to collect any water."
Grace and the dozens of other girls like her at Kilgoris Girls' School—young girls who are trying to escape the brutality of forced marriages—now feel safer every single day.
Speaking for all the young girls at the school during a skit that they performed, one girl said of the water project, "We conserve water to save life."

Photos from the project:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

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