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HOT in Coastal Kenya with Aga Khan Foundation

AK Saumu Mboga  platter 2I’m in rural coastal Kenya with Aga Khan Foundation and their developmental effort called Coastal Rural Support Program (CRSP).  I first visited them in 2003 and we’ve been working with them consistently since 2007 to provide clean drinking water.  This Aga Khan Foundation’s development effort reaches deep into the rural areas of the Kalifi and Kwale Districts of coastal Kenya not far from Mombasa. 

 AK hot 2Today is hot.  And not just regular hot and humid but stifling hot.  It’s the kind of hot where lizards scurry across the dirt because it’s so hot and the heat sort of numbs your brain and makes it hard to concentrate.  The hot breeze feels like it’s out of an oven but it’s still welcome to stir the air a bit.  I know I should appreciate the break from the cold winter of the US, but this is too much to enjoy and I feel like I’m struggling just to breath.  I can’t imagine living here in one of the mud huts with tin roofs that amplify the heat.

 AK huts 2Deborah Imali and Pamela Moraa of CRSP are the coordinators of the clean drinking water effort and tell me that when it gets this hot it usually results in an afternoon shower.  That sounds quite delightful right now but there’s a lot of hot day ahead of us.  And rain is desperately needed in this area so that the maize can finish growing in the next month before the harvest.  Everyone is praying that this will not be the third year of bad harvest in a row.

Deborah and Pamela confirm my suspicion that this area is deeper in poverty than when I first started visiting.  My quick impressions are based on the tattered clothes and the thinness of many of the people. While much of Kenya has a thriving and growing economy, these subsistence farmers are really hurting because of the recent droughts and inflation.

AK mother & child drinking 2In the past, we’ve worked with Aga Khan Foundation to reach into schools and to set-up traders to provide the P&G water purification packets.  We’re continuing the school outreach but today I’ll visit for the first-time Aga Khan Foundation’s effort to reach people living with HIV/AIDS with clean water.  This two year program will provide 7 million liters of clean water to vulnerable people in this rural impoverished area.




AK Pamela and Rose 2We’re accompanied by Rose who is part of the community health volunteers established by the Kenyan government.  Deborah and Pamela work closely with the existing health infrastructure and people like Rose for their outreach on clean drinking water. 

AK grandmother 2


We visit a household that has a 74 year old grandmother who is HIV/AIDS positive.  It’s unusual in my experience to see an elderly person with HIV.  She lives with the family of her grown daughter who usually prepares the treated water.  But the daughter has been bitten by a Nairobi fly and is away at the clinic.  This nasty insect leaves an extremely painful rash on the skin and I’m glad to say that I’ve not encountered it first-hand - yet.




AK rubber bands 2I admire her granddaughter’s ingenuity in making her hair look nice by braiding it with colored rubber bands.  She’s a bit shy but when I tell her that it looks nice, she agrees to a picture and flashes a nice smile. 

AK water carrying 2








On the way to our next stop, Rose tells us that our next visit will be one of their most dramatic experiences with this program.  We see the home’s water source and it’s a hand dug pond to collect water during the rainy season.  This harvesting of water during the rainy season is the only type of water source in the area and previous attempts to dig bore holes have failed to provide water.  Because it’s the only water source, people share the water with their cattle and goats and it’s highly contaminated. 

AK Saumu stirring 2We meet Saumu Mboga and learn that she was bed ridden and down to about 50 pounds before receiving the P&G water purification packets six months ago.  She tells me that prior to receiving the water packets, her family frequently suffered from waterborne illness.  When I ask more specifically about her personal experience, she tells me that her problems had gotten very serious before receiving the packets.  She had typhoid from unsafe water and then she had frequent vomiting and persistent diarrhea.  She regularly had to go to the clinic and spent most of the day in bed.  The transformation since she’s had clean water for six months has been dramatic.  While she’s still very thin, she’s regained a lot of weight.  And, she’s much stronger.  Saumu shows her vigor in stirring the clean water while she tells us that she can now walk and work in the fields.

AK Saumu digging 2Like many people with HIV/AIDS, Saumu tells me that the diarrhea that she began to have after she had HIV/AIDS was more severe, more persistent, and accompanied by very painful stomach cramps.  There seems to be something about the reduced immune status of people with HIV/AIDS that results in these severe symptoms.  For example, we know that parasitic infections from pathogens such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium can be much more severe in people living with HIV/AIDS.  These infections are usually self-limiting and not life-threatening in people with a normal immune system, but they are frequently fatal in people living with HIV/AIDS.  Because the P&G water purification packets remove these parasites that are resistant to normal disinfection, they’re an appropriate and affordable intervention for people living with HIV/AIDS in these areas with unclean water.

AK Saumu Mboga before & after cups 2When Saumu shows us the difference between the water treated with the P&G water packets and the water from the nearby pond, it’s quite dramatic.  This is clearly an area that is appropriate for the use of the packets.

AK water source 2


Our next stop is to a home that also collects water from one of the hand dug ponds.  This pond is even smaller and it’s easy to find evidence of the fecal contamination from the animals that share the water source.  It’s hard to imagine being able to survive drinking this water and impossible to imagine surviving if you have a reduced immune system.

Ak Saumu  Nazua pouring 2This beneficiary is also named Saumu but in this case Saumu Nazua.  She tells us that she first started using the P&G water purification packets when her daughter got very sick from diarrhea two months ago and she took her to the clinic.  Rose showed her how to use the packets then and she’s been using ever since.  Saumu believes that her family of nine people is healthier since they’ve had clean water.

AK drinking 2When I ask how much water she prepares each day, I’m surprised to learn that she makes 2 batches of 20 liters every day.  This is 2-4 times the average consumption so I probe a bit further.  Saumu insists that they drink this much water.  In fact, her own average consumption is 5 liters per day.  As the sweat rolls off my face and onto my notepad, I get it.  This sweltering heat means that people need to drink a lot more.  And, because of the poverty, they don’t have other options for consumption of liquids. 

AK Saumu Nazua phone 2JPG


While this is a poverty-stricken area, the ubiquity of the cell phone has reached here as well.  Saumu shows that she’s familiar enough with the process of using the P&G packets to continue stirring while she answers a phone call from her son.  I have to laugh at what has quickly become almost a universal task of multi-tasking while on the mobile phone.

AK Saumu Nazua cup 2Saumu thanks us for the packets and confesses that she had one experience recently where she went back to drinking untreated water.  She traveled to a funeral and didn’t take packets with her and drank the water of her neighbors that wasn’t treated.  She got sick and believes it’s because she has a weak immune system because of her HIV/AIDS status.  She tells us that she’ll not make this mistake again but will take the packets with her and help spread the word to her neighbors.

AK Saumu Nazua before & after 2


Our visits with Saumu Mboga and Saumu Nazua are two more examples of how clean drinking water can save lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.  She joins Jemima, Zeinab, Bashir, and many, many others who have told us the same thing.  People with HIV/AIDS are dying from unclean water and something as simple as the P&G water purification packets is helping save lives.  It’s one of the most important parts of our Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program and I’m grateful to Aga Khan Foundation and our many other partners who are helping some of the most vulnerable people live positively by providing them with clean water.


It is not surprising why P&G grows limitlessly and continues to stand before kings.But lets remember that so many stones are still unturned.

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