On a typical day, Monica Wanjiru could be seen walking around Kahawa Soweto, an informal settlement on the edge of Nairobi, surrounded by children, looking for water to buy. She and the children would have to keep walking until they found somebody to buy from.
Some 40 children in the Mwamko Children’s Centre needed water: around 20 jerrycans per day. But without access to water close by, it was a daily struggle to find enough water to keep the centre operating. Monica, who has a full-time job running a vegetable kiosk, would have to help out at the centre, which is run by her daughter, meaning that her proper job was neglected for hours on end.
Monica sometimes had no choice but to ask the older children to help with fetching water, which was a problem: “Some neighbours would accuse us of mistreating the children when they saw them ferrying heavy water jerrycans,” she says. But there was no other option.
The children’s centre is not the only place in Kahawa Soweto which has struggled with lack of access to water.
The settlement is home to 8,000 people and has no formal water supply. Residents have been dependent on water vendors, who would connect illegally to the water network managed by the city utility and sell it on to residents. But the part of Kahawa Soweto where the Mwamko Children’s Centre is based did not even have illegal water access.
To address this issue, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor has worked with Borealis & Borouge, the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) to build a new water network for Kahawa Soweto.
There is now a water dispenser close to the children’s centre, reducing the workload and freeing up the volunteers to do more tasks like cooking and cleaning – or even working on their own businesses, like Monica. “Water is now closer and cheaper,” she says. “We no longer have to pile our laundry up for two or three days – we can do our washing daily.”
Monica concludes: “This project has really helped us. You cannot run such a centre without enough water. Our lives are now so much easier.”
And of course, Monica now has more time to tend to her vegetable kiosk. So, through better water access, Monica – and many others like her – can focus more on their livelihoods, creating more income for themselves and their families.