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In rural Kenya, women play important roles within their communities. However, because of the distance from urban areas, a lack of clean wells have caused many to spend the day journeying several miles a day in order to gather enough water for cooking and cleaning. In some cases, women could spend hours looking for a water source in order to provide for their families. Without clean water, it is almost impossible to break the cycle of poverty — it’s a basic need that when not provided makes it difficult to concentrate on anything but day-to-day living.

With this in mind, the Samburu Project has been working to provide new wells to these areas. While clean water is beneficial for everyone in the villages, access has changed women’s lives the most. The many hours that were spent gathering water can now be spent working. A number of women have started their own businesses, using the funds to help send their children to school, to provide their families with better health care, and to upgrade their living conditions.

Most of the women in these villages choose to support themselves with their signature bead work. By making belts and bracelets, the women are able to offer their families a new type of life, while also bringing awareness to the fact that many areas in Kenya do not have the opportunity to give their families clean water. Beading is a family tradition, and women learn how to bead from their mothers before passing the skill on to their daughters.

“Now I’m happy that I can do the beadwork,” states Mary, a woman of 58 with six children in a video for Samburu. “I can fetch the water at any time and I can wash the clothes any time because the water is very close.”

kenyan children bennet tobais
Photo by Bennet Tobias.

Mary has had the opportunity to visit the well since 2012, when it was first drilled in Lolgerdad. Since then, she no longer has to walk the many miles it used to take in order to provide basic needs for her community. She spends eight to twelve hours every day on her beading before taking it to the Kamala Airstip every day to sell.

With the women of these villages having more time to work, the cultural perceptions of their role has drastically changed within the past few years. Once regulated to a set of tasks, these women now bring in an income — which is altered these family dynamics. Workshops are now held in many of these communities in order to educate women about their rights and to set new examples of equality.

One example of this is that cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) have declined as women start to feel that they hold more power in their villages. While once a common cultural practice, it now does not occur nearly as often thanks to the education of both men and women in these rural areas. By providing more information about the harmful effects of FGM, Samburu and partner, the Pastoralist Child Foundation, hope to eliminate this practice and provide young girls with a new type of future.

However, all of this could not be accomplished without a way for community members to reach water in a consistent location near to their homes. While everyone in these villages benefit, it is the women who do so the most. With access to clean water, they can look forward to a brighter future for themselves and their daughters.

Header image by Ian Macharia.