What was the situation before our work began in Kenya?
Generally access to water is always a huge challenge in Kenya (and other locations in East Africa) and greatly affects the ability to produce food. In education, access to food affects school attendance because parents struggle to feed their family and rely on schools to supply some food, but at the same time hungry children either don’t attend school, perform poorly or leave school. Therefore, water is an essential link in this causal chain between food security, school attendance, and educational outcomes. The problem may be simply stated that children don’t have enough to eat during the school day to attract them to school, to keep them in school, to relieve the burden of some parents feeding them two meals a day and improving their long-term educational outcomes.
How did the first project affect people and/or the environment?
Many of the children travel to school over long distances and arrive hungry and tired and are expected to focus and learn. Many students’ parents were forced into the conundrum of either keeping their students at home to help them grow food or send them to school hungry. This double-bind situation (at school hungry or work at home to grow food) was agonizing for many of the parents in the community to whom we spoke. Many students arrived at school (or left school) hungry and at low capacity to learn. We realized as well that this effect was amplified on the girls of the community who were often chosen as the first of the children to be kept out of school to fetch water, grow crops or assist their parents.
As we talked about solutions with ACCESS we realized that they needed to address the larger issue of food during the school day if we were going to have a positive impact on the girls in the community. We saw an opportunity to build water access on-site at school so that food could be grown directly for the students securing them at least two nutritional meals per day greatly reducing the burden on parents. So the project’s theory of change if you will:
water -> school garden -> food -> increase food security ->
reduce parental food burden -> more children attend ->
more girls in school -> more girls complete school.
Edge of Seven had worked predominantly in Nepal through 2013 but was beginning to emerge from its youth as an organization and needed to further test its model in another region of the world. It started a conversation with a benefactor for a small rural village in Kenya. The rainwater harvesting project was a great first step for Edge of Seven to address a significant need and also add a new type of project to its portfolio so that it could begin to look at how to scale the solution and replicate. Naro Moru was a rural village, one that had little outside investment, one that had a significant group of existing women (ACCESS) who could start to make change, and the motivation to improve their community. After the first rainwater harvesting project ACCESS and Edge of Seven are working together to build a space to be used for holding trainings and to have indoor and outdoor market space. Edge of Seven sees the relationship to the community of Naro Moru as a multi-generational (another principle) approach and stepped forward because the factors were in place for a greater likelihood of success.
ACCESS is a women’s group with 30 active members. There is a management committee with 7 members (both men and women). Once a grassroots community organization that started as a tree planting group, ACCESS continued to grow as a women’s cooperative as the members were eager to find ways to earn income.
Through a member of the community, Nderitu Wanjau, ACCESS met Edge of Seven and approached them with a request for support for the group in economic development. Edge of Seven wanted to have a couple of smaller projects to test out the effectiveness of the relationship and the group’s ability to drive initiatives. After site visits to three schools we saw the most pressing need was a water source at Kamburaini Primary School because other nearby schools already had a water tank. This project was the pilot of the work together between ACCESS and Edge of Seven, a collaborative process in which Edge of Seven supplies capacity building, funds, and a principled approach to development that focuses on community ownership and sustainability (http://www.edgeofseven.org/our-approach-2/our-model/). The group ACCESS is the driving force in the community and the implementing partner on the ground. They are the respected local group which has the best interests of the community at heart and the group that can lead other community members toward sustainability and ownership.
In this case both groups were excited about the opportunity of working together. There was a mutual respect and excitement about the projects that were planned and forthcoming.
How does it work?
Edge of Seven works with local community-based organizations (CBO’s such as ACCESS) and relies on them to resource the projects. Just as in Nepal and Rwanda where Eo7 works, the NGO emphasizes local sourcing of labor, tools, raw materials, building supplies, and all other components of the project. Edge of Seven raises the funds and distributes them to the groups to execute the project as was the case with ACCESS. This process then requires that Edge of Seven works extensively with ACCESS (the CBO) to build up their own skills in reporting, managing, accounting, banking, community relations, and sometimes other civil society measures so that projects can be executed and long-term maintenance plans can be put in place to ensure that we don’t just speak the language of sustainability but act in ways that help sustainability emerge from the system. We therefore spend whatever time we need in working with the community groups to develop these systems and understand the importance of the principles (see 7 principles document) in how we plan, develop, execute, report and maintain our projects.
Goals into Action
Our goal at Kamburaini Primary School in Naro Maru, was to build a rainwater harvesting project, built in response to the need for water and food. Gutters were installed along the roof of the classroom blocks to feed into large catchment tanks. This water is then used to irrigate a school garden, tended by parents, students and teachers which supplements a food program (additional food is provided by some families who are able to contribute). Because of this new food garden driven by the rainwater harvesting and the donated labor of parents, teachers and students working the garden, there is more consistent quantity of food for the program AND the school can deliver two meals a day to all students rather than just one.
Our plan was to utilize ACCESS to its fullest potential to execute on the project. While the outcomes and impacts may be complex, the execution of the project was not. Rainwater harvesting as a technical affair is relatively straightforward. We had our Architecture and Engineering Advisory committee draw up plans for the project, we worked with ACCESS to create a simple procurement and installation timetable and then worked with them to ensure they could source all materials and labor to match the timeline. When we had all details ready the group set out to execute and Edge of Seven was able to monitor and ensure that no large snags occurred for the group. Had we needed to we were ready to assist and ensure that the group could reach all the milestones. We do this because we see that the capacity building (another principle) is at least as important as the physical structure that is put in place. If the group and its members can successfully take on their next project or challenge, then that is worth at least as much as the investment in the project itself. In this way we believe that we create the emergent outcome of “collective impact” — by simultaneously thinking about sustainable outcomes, the infrastructure, AND the community-based training (capacity) that they are receiving.
Today, the group is finishing the Women’s Resource Center to support their group. This larger project is further proof that they are making great strides in their ability to plan, execute and report on the work that they are doing for their own community. Now Edge of Seven is planning on visiting Naro Moru in July 2016 to plan on the next two schools to receive additional rainwater harvesting projects and also how to begin to scale and replicate this important program into additional villages.
What about Obstacles?
We didn’t meet any obstacles other than the usual challenges of implementation in a developing country. Those typically center around communications, coordination, reporting, accounting, and the requirements of spending other people’s money. These are really significant learning opportunities though to build up the capacity for a CBO and an NGO to work together and to ensure that they are looking at the long term — specifically how to grow each other’s capacity (principle) so that more work can be accomplished in the future. Edge of Seven’s commitment to followup work with ACCESS on this project, and to prepare for doing additional rainwater harvesting speaks to how we approach the obstacles and challenges that we confront — we solve them, we learn (another principle), and we keep moving forward. The continual process of overcoming these “obstacles” is only a matter of communication, education, training, shared mental models and the willingness to build capacity in the community.
How long has the solution been working?
The project has been in use since 2014 and is working quite well in the school. Reports are that especially during the dry season that this ability to tend a garden at the school is a significant support to ensure that meals can be delivered to students to attract them to school, reduce the food burden on some at risk families, keep children in school, and assist girls especially at staying and attending. (We have our October 2015 report on the system posted at this link: Eo7_Kenya_2015-final)
Gutters were installed along the roof of all but one classroom block, which channels water into 2 large tanks. During the rainy season, the tanks are filled and then the water is rationed and used during the dry season.
This project has been hugely successful. This school serves 320 children from ECD (Early Childhood Development) through class 8. There are 157 girls and 163 boys. With the food program, each child is served 2 meals every day. In the morning, the children are served porridge and lunch in the afternoon made from local maize and beans.
How can your experience be used to help in other situations?
If onsite water collection can take place at the majority of community schools food production can be greatly increased with the immediate influence on increased nutrition and attendance for children as well as food production training for the community.
Construction of and maintenance of the rainwater systems is a fairly manageable process that can be continued within the community. It is likely outside funding will continue to be needed to expand the project to other schools but the local community will continue to provide the financial and volunteer support they are able relevant to their income.