When it comes to protecting the lives of people and communities from diseases, especially in these Covid-19 times, access to both clean water and sanitation is key. Knowing very well the importance of this, Winnie Atieno embarked on a quest that now benefits close to 3000 members of her community. She talks to CHRISTINE MITCHELLE about how the project came to be.
Winnie Atieno, 29, is a resident in Mathare, Ruaraka Constituency and a professional actress with Three Set Productions, where she is the chairperson. On a normal day, together with her workmates at Three Set, she goes around performing set books to high school students within the country, simultaneously pursuing her acting passion and earning a living.
Born and raised in Lucky Summer estate, which is just around Mathare, she is well conversant with the area. From her days as a scout, she got more exposed to the poor living standards around her. However, as a child, there was only so much she could do.
“When I was younger, I used to get involved in many community development activities because I was a scout. We would go around my community and even the neighbouring Mathare to collect litter,” she says.
At one point, when she was young, life got a bit difficult and she was locked out of their house together with her mother. This led her to crossing over to Mathare, where her elder sister lived. She ended up staying with her sister for some time, even after things at home normalised.
However, during her usual adventures as a child, she would come across Jangwani, a neighboring community, which constantly bothered her due to the poor living standards.
“From the first day I visited Jangwani, I knew I wanted to do something to improve the water and sanitation conditions. Small children were playing around open sewers, which was dangerous to their health and the water the residents depended on was not clean. I had never been to a place where people lacked one of the most basic needs in life,” she elaborates.
Seeing such a state of affairs broke her heart and she decided at the time that she would do something some day to improve the living conditions of the place.
She first heard about the EABL Foundation Water of Life Programme in August 2019 and decided to find out more about it.
“A friend told me that EABL had a programme that was geared towards creating access to clean water and sanitation for informal communities but the implementers were Amref Health Africa in Kenya. I got in touch with them and they asked me to write a proposal,” she says.
On her proposal, she asked for three ablution blocks whose proposed locations she had already identified. However, when the proposal went through, she was awarded one block.
“I was told I had to make a decision where I wanted this block built. After critically thinking, I went for Jangwani because it was sentimental to me. I had made a promise to improve the area and I was finally going to do it!” she expounds.
What followed was a process that almost saw her give up on her dream but she held on. For starters, the process of validating the site she had chosen was indeed government land took about six months and this weighed heavily on her. Fortunately, it sailed through after getting in touch with the area MP, Hon. TJ Kajwang’ and other government administrators.
She then embarked on a mission to clean up the site that was clogged with sewage. Once again, she had to reach out to government institutions such as Nairobi Water & Sewerage Company and private investors for assistance.
“At first, trying to convince them to do something for free to give back to the community was not easy. However, I was persistent and they eventually agreed,” says Winnie.
Soon the site was clear but a series of events took place, forcing them to halt the project for six months.
“First, the rains started and before we knew it, Covid-19 hit. There were lots of restrictions on the number of people who could be at a construction site at one given time. We had to pause everything,” she explains.
When things started easing up, Winnie and the community picked up on clearing the sewage-clogged land However, some community members in the area started doubting the completion of the project since many community projects had been started and left unfinished.
“A part of the community started doubting the project because of he delays we had experienced. It was very tough to convince them to be patient. However, our MP stepped in and committed to the completion of the sanitation block. Things went smoothly from then on,” she says.
The residents of Jangwani are now all-smiles as they benefit from the project, which was completed in December 2020.
“We have a well-planned strategy that will see this project generate other projects in our community, creating self-sustainable projects that will provide job opportunities for the youth and educating them on important factors such as saving money,” she said.
The project now benefits more than 3000 people in Jangwani area since it is the only ablution block that is in good condition for a community of about 5000 people. She reckons the project is just the beginning of many more opportunities in Mathare Constituency.
“I would like to thank EABL for selecting and funding this project and Amref for working with us on its implementation. Ten years down the line, this project will be bigger and better,” she affirms.
The project has also come in handy to especially safeguard the safety of women who have to go to great lengths to acquire clean water or find clean and safe spaces for sanitation.
“This project has helped because, initially, women faced the risk of being assaulted while accessing water and sanitation, which were located far from Jangwani,” she concludes.
In line with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, ‘Women in leadership’, Winnie’s quest to better the livelihoods of the Jangwani community is a challenge to all women to lead in community empowerment, persist despite facing hurdles, and to courageously pursue even the most challenging of causes and also not allow age to be a barrier to their leadership
EABL WATER REPLENISHMENT FOR COMMUNITIES INITIATIVE
Society 2030: Spirit of Progress goals are East African Breweries Limited’s commitment to a more sustainable and inclusive world. These goals are driven by 3 pillars 1)Promoting Positive Drinking, 2) Championing Inclusion & Diversity and 3) Pioneering Grain to Glass Sustainability, all underpinned by doing business the right way.
Since 2018, EABL has committed over Ksh40 million towards the development of community water and sanitation projects across the country.
The projects, which entailed drilling and equipping of boreholes, tanks and water kiosks, pump installation and construction of pipelines and communal water points were implemented in partnership with the Lake Basin Development Authority, Kenya Red Cross Society and Amref Health Africa in Kenya. So far, projects have been completed in Nairobi, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Kiambu, Kitui, Makueni, Kakamega, Kericho, Bomet and Nyeri Counties
For more information on EABL’s progress on local community investments