Just before our visit home to the U.S., we were invited to visit with one of the small community groups in the upper catchment of the Mara River Basin. There are many of these groups, developed around water users, or environmental committees, or women's concerns, that work together to help each other achieve sustainable subsistance. I really enjoy visiting with these groups because they are often inspiring examples of how a small but dedicated group of people can make a difference. We weren't able to make the visit before our leave, so we decided to schedule it one of the few days we were available-- Chris's birthday. And it turned out to be such a lovely experience!
The Sabet Women's Group was formed in 2002, when a group of 12 women decided it took too long to walk 5 km to the river every day to fetch water, so they were going to build themselves a tank. In fact, they decided they were going to build 1 tank for each member, so she could harvest rainwater from her roof and use it for domestic needs-- washing, bathing, drinking, cooking, etc. They raised the $90,000 KSh needed for 1 tank (~$1100 USD-- a whole lot of money in a country where minimum wage was just increased to $6,000 KSh/month!) and built the first one. Then they were discovered by Waterlines, a U.S.-based non-profit that helps communities build small-scale water supply systems. The community has to raise 20% of the cost of the project and provide the labor, and Waterlines provides the rest of the funding and technical expertise. They are a great organization that you can read more about here...
With their help, the Sabet Women's Group completed all 12 member's tanks by 2007, an impressive feat that they proudly showed to us. These were really nice systems, complete with rain guttering, a 20,000 L masonry storage tank, and faucet.
Once they accomplished this goal, they realized how much power they had working together as a group, so they moved on to the next goal-- developing sustainable income-generating activities for themselves to raise money for school fees, hospital bills, etc. They are developing a poulty project, and they showed us their beautiful, communal coop. Chris was drooling!
As we walked the short path to one of the group member's homes, we were greeted by a group of women and children, singing and throwing flowers at our feet. Silibwet, where the group is based, is such a beautiful and lush area, and all these incredible, tropical flowers had been collected from their yards.
They then gathered around us, singing songs, and presented us with gifts and necklaces made of streamers and balloons.
I received a small purse, and Chris and our good friend/guide Davila Langat received safari hats!
They invited us into one of their homes where they said prayers expressing their gratitude for everything they have been given and for their visitors that day. They also gave speeches about the history and activities of the Women's Group. Then it was time for the festivities! They presented Chris with a birthday cake they had made for him in a jiko (small, coal stove) and sweet, hot chai.
First, they instructed Chris and I to feed each other. Then they cut half the cake into small pieces for Chris to take around the room and share with all the women (we got to take the other half home!). We had brought Rice Krispie treats to share with the group as well, so I took those around the room. People here have never had this staple American treat, and seem to be totally delighted by it!
And then it was time for Chris to give his speech... This is a custom whenever a group gathers, for representatives of each party to give a small speech, thanking the others and summarizing the experiences of the day, and I am always fascinated by the pageantry.
Then we all gathered for a group photo outside their lovely home before they escorted us back to the car with more song and dance. See if you can find Chris in the picture below...
It was truly a unique experience! I think Chris was a bit embarassed by all of the birthday hoopla, but the ladies were very excited to have a reason to have a party and cake. And for us, it was so inspiring to see this determined, self-sufficient group of women, changing their lives for the better.