Teach a Woman to Fish ...

The people of Murinduko, in eastern Kenya, had a problem. Water had to be hand carried about two miles, over steep terrain, from the closest source - a river contaminated with laundry runoff and other pollution. Water-borne diseases, including potentially life-threatening diarrhea, were common, and people, who were mostly subsistence farmers, weren’t able to grow or buy enough vegetables to feed their families a healthy diet. In the late 1980s, Murinduko’s men had formed an organization to get water piped in from a clean source on the Kiye River, about 10 miles away, but without success.

So in 1990, 120 women joined together to form the Kugeria Women’s Group, named after a word in the local language meaning "to make an effort." Each woman scraped together 100 shillings ($1.30) to help pay for the cost of surveying a pipeline route, with technical aid from the government. Then the women got a grant from the Africa 2000 Network, a project of the U.N. Development Programme - to which they added their own savings and sweat equity, digging nearly seven miles of trenches.

Now 300 households have access to clean, healthy water - enough not just for household use, but also to irrigate small plots of land. The average household not only grows plenty of vegetables to eat, but also makes about $1,800 a year selling tomatoes and other crops to people in the nearby city of Embu. Parents are better able to afford fees to send their children to high school; they have also given young people land to farm, sharply cutting back on juvenile delinquency and drinking. Payments for water, which is metered, are used to keep up and expand the system. Now the women of Kugeria are branching out, obtaining a microcredit loan to purchase several heifers. They plan to pass them around until each woman in the group owns a cow.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2005
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