Water and jobs (21/3/12)
A couple of days ago I took a walk with a couple of the residents from a small village down the road. At one point we thought we were being chased by a group of young men with pangas (machetes), but I digress.
Kijabe Town lies about 5 km northwest along the escarpment from Kijabe. It used to be a small but bustling stop on the main railway line from Mombasa on the coast to Uganda–one of the world’s epic train journeys made popular in the book “Man-eaters of Tsavo” and the film “Ghost in the Darkness”. Now, the nine railway station buildings lie dormant, windows broken and anything of value removed. The village has perhaps a few hundred residents, most of whom are subsistence farmers, unemployed, or work at the Hospital or RVA.
John is the Maintenance Manager at Kijabe Hospital, and lives in Kijabe Town. He makes the 10 km round trip walk to work every morning and evening. He and I hit it off soon after we arrived last year, and I’ve spent a bit of time helping him learn to schedule work packages and manage a growing portfolio of new construction projects.
He approached me a few weeks ago and asked if I might help him with a water project that the residents of Kijabe Town are looking to build. So a few days ago I met up with him and one of the local Kikuyu mzees (an elder in the village) in the morning on their “Main Street”: a collection of shacks and broken down dukas (shops) scattered along the dusty dirt road. They wanted to walk the route of the 2 inch PVC pipeline they’re hoping to build, and get some construction and design advice. So we set off for the spring source.
We walked, and we walked. If you haven’t been here, it’s hard to picture it: the area in which we live lies on the edge of an escarpment, about halfway down from the top of a ridge to the bottom of the valley floor, a total elevation difference of around 1000 meters (3000 feet).
The spring source they want to lay a pipeline to is about 7 km from Kijabe Town, and 1700 feet higher. So walk up the mountain we did…past the old cave where a hyena used to den, scrambling over the largest eucalyptus tree I’ve ever seen (recently downed in a storm), through gorgeous eucalyptus, red cypress, acacia and pine forests, past a group of angry young men who ran past us waving pangas. We never did find out what they were so excited about. It was beautiful. And exhausting.
As we walked, we talked. I mostly listened and asked questions in my broken Kiswahili. Turned out that John and this mzee are members of a committee representing the “Kijabe Town Unity Group”, a group of residents who have come together to fund and construct some projects for the benefit of the community.
Their first project was to purchase a large tent for community gatherings, weddings, and funerals. With this successfully purchased last year, they set their sights onto the next order of business: doing something about all the unemployed youth in the town. Coming from the West, it is quite a shock to walk into a place like Kijabe Town–groups of young and older men sitting around in the middle of the day with nothing to do, looking bored or kicking a soccer ball made of plastic bags.
The problem and proposed solution grabbed my heart. They know they can’t just create jobs out of thin air for these young men. But out of scarce/nonexistent resources came some creativity.
Turns out the soil around Kijabe is actually quite good for growing crops; all they lack is irrigation water. They have just enough water from a nearby spring to provide residents with drinking water to taps in front of their homes roughly two days per week. The other days they use the water they collected in jugs and tubs during those two days. But no water available for irrigation.
So they’ve decided to build a pipeline to carry water from the top of the mountain to Kijabe Town for irrigation, so they can teach these young men to farm and be gainfully employed in agriculture.
I was delighted to help them map the pipeline route with my GPS, and provide some advice on engineering and construction details to take into consideration. Now they have to apply for the water permits and decide amongst the residents of Kijabe Town if the Unity Group will undertake the financial commitment to deliver this not-insignificant infrastructure project.
It was a great walk, and good to build a deeper relationship with John and the mzee. It was also so beautiful to see an example of community-based solutions in action. They see an immediate need, and their solution is long term: provide the unemployed with jobs which both gives them income and provides sustainable economic benefit to the whole community.
I decided about halfway into the walk, gasping for air with my muscles screaming, that I’m going to do whatever I can to help them deliver this project. It’s still very early on, and there are unanswered questions and permits to be resolved, but this is a great opportunity to come alongside a community-initiated project and help in a way that doesn’t just involve writing a check.