Customers, not beneficiaries
In October 2016, the residents of the Kenyan villages of Korumba and Soko Kogweno had good cause for celebration. For two years, two Safe Water Enterprises of Siemens Stiftung have been supplying the residents with clean drinking water. From the very beginning, the local teams that operate the system have worked extremely hard and completed training courses so that they could successfully operate water kiosks for many years to come. Siemens Stiftung has now handed over responsibility for the supply stations to the villages themselves.
“The kiosk operators filter contaminated water by using the SkyHydrant membrane technology and sell it to the villages at a low price,” said Caroline Weimann, project manager at Siemens Stiftung. “The goal is to keep the kiosks in good financial shape so that they can provide water on the communal level over the long term. The profits flow back into the operation and maintenance of the kiosk and also pay the kiosk operator’s salary. Other potential profits will be used to expand the project and to fund other local social activities.” In addition, the small business owners who provide clean drinking water make an important contribution to the health of village residents and create new opportunities. Furthermore, the kiosks create additional jobs as well as produce opportunities for young people, thus enabling them to shape their futures, in addition to providing good reasons not to flee the cities.
Reporters from Germany's ARD public broadcaster reported on the “Safe Water Enterprise” as part of the program “[W] wie Wissen: Ideen, die unser Leben verändern könnten” (“[K] for Knowledge: Ideas that Could Change Our Lives”) In their story, the journalists explored the technology, the people behind it and the reasons why education is at least as important as logistics and technology.
Many villagers think it is completely normal to suffer from frequent water-borne illnesses. Showing them that this can be prevented with clean water is an important task for Paul Njuguna.
Sometimes I am amazed at the great ideas that develop around our program. In a rural community near Kisumu, for example, the water kiosk that supplies the village with clean drinking water and the neighboring school are currently forming a partnership. In return for a small monthly charge, the kiosk will set up water dispensers in classrooms so the children are always able to drink clean water. The idea is not necessarily something that might occur to everyone. For example, I went to school in the capital Nairobi, where it is not as hot as in this region, which meant we did not have to drink as much. And most importantly, there is not the problem of dirty water in this form.
I have been involved with Safe Water Enterprises for more than a year now. Before this, one of my jobs was at the United Nations, where I was responsible for a project that worked on supplying electricity to rural areas. When I first heard of the Siemens Stiftung water kiosks, I was excited. Clean drinking water is such an urgent need – and most importantly, the technology behind it is immensely practical. A filter to clean river water – that is all you need. From experience, I know that the technology needs to be as simple as possible when working in rural regions. This means, firstly, that it is easy to explain. And best of all, there are no components that are difficult to replace if something breaks.
I travel a lot with my work. I am always visiting the communities where we have set up a water kiosk. Our principles include working closely with the communities so that the project receives broad support. Each water kiosk is operated by a kiosk manager appointed by the community organization. We encourage the community to identify a manager with an entrepreneurial mindset from the local area, who is then given appropriate training. This normally works very well, but occasionally there are disagreements between community members. Then it is my job to visit the scene, talk to everyone involved and help to resolve the dispute – at the end of the day, we all share the same objective and interests.
We have had good experiences with the hygiene training sessions at the water kiosks. These educate people about the links between water and disease. I notice again and again that many villagers think it is completely normal to suffer from frequent diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses. Showing them that this can be prevented with clean water is an important task. It is often about things that might seem trivial – for example, washing hands regularly and making sure always to carry clean water in clean containers.
A great example for me of how our program can help is a project where a water kiosk was built at a hospital. The kiosk operator is now able to supply the entire hospital with drinking water. Not only the patients benefit from the station, but also the hospital’s neighbors, who can also collect clean water there.
Alice Wanjiru lives in a small village in the Thika region north of Nairobi. Like many Kenyans who live in remote areas with poor infrastructure, Alice and her village community drank polluted water from a nearby river. The result: countless cases of illness, high medication costs, and missed school hours.
Since 2012, Githembe has a water kiosk, which has changed the situation. Mobile water filtration systems daily produce up to 10,000 liters of safe drinking water, which can be purchased at an affordable price.
From her job as kiosk manager, Alice generates income for herself and her family. The Safe Water Enterprise in Githembe not only contributes to improved health in the community but also offers opportunities to make a living.