When the miracle arrived in the village of Kipsongol, Mercy Rop rushed her young daughter to the site.
She held her up to see the drill plunge into the earth, drawing up layers of silt in shades of pink, white and black—so different from the red Kenyan dirt that covered their shoes. As a team of engineers fed long pipes into the ground, Mercy jostled against the crowd from neighbouring communities who flooded the field. She wanted little Trufena to witness the revolution.
“No one had a clue of what was going on,” says Mercy, a farmer and mother of three. “We were used to water flowing through the rivers, so we were eager to see what could come from underground.”
The only water Mercy had ever known was what she fetched from the river. The task had been hers since childhood. She would edge down the bank past lolling donkeys, or clusters of women washing clothes, and fill a 20-litre jerry can for her family. The first of five daily trips would start at dawn.
As a teenager, Mercy dreamed of becoming a teacher. She wanted to work to uplift the children of her community, and help them develop in ways their parents had never imagined. But with her unending hunt for water, Mercy struggled to focus on her studies, often arriving for class exhausted before the school day had even begun.
“There was no time for reading. My family needed water,” she says. “For girls, it was all about fetching water.”
When Mercy failed her final exams, she realized she would never be a teacher. She married shortly after. As a young wife, she continued her journey to the river every day, now collecting water for her own household. The haul was as murky as ever, which meant frequent trips to the hospital to treat her growing family for typhoid and diarrhea. She planned to keep on with the task until Trufena, her only daughter, was old enough to take over.
In the summer of 2015, Mercy was at a community meeting when the news was shared that a water project was coming to Kipsongol. The room erupted with joy.
“It was like a miracle,” she says. “Since I was a child, it was my dream to have clean water close to home.”
On the day of the ground breaking, Mercy pushed her way through the crowd for a clear view. And every day for five days, she brought Trufena to watch the pipes go deeper into the soil, and they shrieked together when finally a stream of water burst up from the ground.
“The water was clean!” she says. “It wasn’t salty like the river water. It was the first time in my life that I tasted water like that.”
Her daughter might have puzzled over the foreign machinery, but for Mercy, the significance of the project hit home.
“It meant the burden of fetching water was off our shoulders,” she says.
She carried Trufena back home, imagining a different future for her, one where she would take her education to the highest level, find a good job and help improve the community—just as she herself had wanted to do.
Since that day, Mercy has been unearthing a potential she never knew she had. With a clean water source just down the path from her home, she’s won back hours on her day and can hone in on more productive activities, earning a better income for her family. Her farm is blossoming, her cows are growing strong, and her children are healthy and neatly groomed, the eldest boy in school.
For the first time, Mercy can afford all of this, and she hasn’t stopped dreaming. She wants to open a small shop of her own one day. This promise was within her all along, quietly waiting for a moment to be tapped.
Deepa Shankaran is a senior writer and producer with WE. Her favourite thing in the world is a good story.