Thirteen individuals gather on the grounds of the local primary school. The water tower arching into the sky beckons them to the meeting spot, the sheet of solar panels provides unexpected shade from the sun.
These are the women and men tasked with sustaining Oloirien’s latest development project—clean water.
This is the Water Management Committee.
The importance of the committee cannot be overstated. After funds are generously donated and WE identifies a project, after the borehole is drilled and clean water bursts from the earth, after the water tower is erected, the solar panels connected, and the kiosk opened—it is the Water Management Committee who keeps the taps on. It is the committee who makes the project sustainable by instilling community ownership.
This is how.
For women, clean water access is a particularly personal issue.
Like her neighbours, before the new water project, Judy Toniok collected water from a river, about a four-hour walk from the school. Whether the water was needed for drinking, cooking, irrigation or cleaning—it was a four-hour walk away. And it wasn’t clean. Consuming the water was an ongoing health risk. In 2017, Toniok contracted typhoid from the water. She recovered, but she constantly worried the same fate would befall her three children. When Toniok, and her friend Jacklyne Naiguta, learned WE was working with the school on a clean water project, they were immediately invested. The friends watched the borehole being drilled at the school—the most central location in the community—and the tower being constructed. They celebrated, along with hundreds of community members, when the water station was turned on at the school, providing clean water on the school grounds for the first time.
Clean water was here. It was real. And now they wanted to know what was next.
On Election Day, Toniok and Naiguta met at the school—it’s located halfway between their houses. Both wives, mothers and farmers, they have lived in Oloirien for a combined 46 years. Toniok, who is 37 years old, was born and raised in Oloirien, while 28-year-old Naiguta moved there nine years ago with her husband. Both Maasai, they represent different demographics—someone who’s lived there since birth, and someone who is building a life there.
At the start of the meeting, the WE mobilizer explained that the purpose of the meeting was to ensure the long-term sustainability of the water project—to ensure the project would be maintained and provide clean water for generations to come. In order to do that, the community was responsible for electing a committee. The committee, in turn, would be responsible to the community and the school for overseeing the health of the project.
The community members in attendance were divided into three groups, depending on where they lived. Oloirien spans hundreds of kilometres, over rocky and dusty roads, with farmland extending in every direction. Ensuring representation from each geography was essential.
The nomination process started. Naiguta couldn’t believe it when she was nominated by her peers to be on the committee. “I had never held any position like this,” she shared, surprised at even being nominated. Then, the community voted.
Cheers erupted when five women were selected to join the committee—Toniok and Naiguta were both elected to the Executive. “We are the ones who know the challenges of not having water so we will make sure this project is well taken of,” Toniok said, explaining why people were so joyful seeing the female representation. Although both women humbly say they never held leadership positions before, they’re also both Sunday school teachers. Now, they will apply their guidance and management skills as the Assistant Secretary and Treasurer.
In total, 13 people were elected.
The committee is made up entirely of community members because it creates real ownership—those who live in Oloirien understand their own challenges and how to best solve them. It’s an odd number so there won’t be a stalemate when making decisions. And of note, it’s a mosaic of old and young, women and men, from both the Kipsigis and Maasai communities—a critical component because, as committee Chairman Joseph Cherono shared, in the past, conflicts along tribal lines had stalled other community development: “We wanted to make sure everyone felt like this is their project.”
The committee meets once a week, always on the school grounds at the heart of the project. In addition to the water station at the school, they’ve opened a kiosk along the road to sell the water to the community at large. The small fee charged will help sustain the project. It’s paying for the vendor who sells the water, and the recently hired guard who protects the solar panels at night. It will also be used to help with future repairs.
As the Water Management Committee discusses the business of the day, the school bell rings and students stream into the yard. This is the generation that will grow up seeing the committee in action—and drinking clean water.