On February 27, 2020 a group of eleven women from all over the USA gathered to work side by side with the women in Kenya to help build water catchment tank foundations at women's homes, provide general training and support, and to celebrate together. Fifteen bases were built culminating in the team being able to watch the 10,000 liter tanks be installed. To be with the Kenyan women and engage in hard physical work, as well as praise and worship as lead by them, was a life changing experience for all. The trip was capped off with a two day safari and stay in Tsavo National Park.
All of the photos and videos have not been posted yet, but you can see some here.
Cindy Tewes was one of the team members tasked with journaling about the meetings that we had with the women whose homes we were building the bases. What follows is her story of from one of her meetings:
"Josephine March 2020 Kibwezi Kenya
Josephine is a woman with a warm smile and strong shoulders. She and her friends greet us with a chant and a dance of welcome. The lady of the house and her friends begin singing before we even open the van doors. They are dancing to us and singing what feels like a very warm “hello sisters, welcome to my house, thanks for coming!”. . When you are greeted to a home in Kibwezi , you feel welcome!
Like the other women in her circle, Josephine started carrying water as a young girl. She was helping her mother and training for the rest of her life.
Water is basic. We need water to survive.
In rural Kenya, water is the responsibility of women. It is their job to be sure the household has enough water to cook, clean, water crops and care for the livestock. Water has been the responsibility of women for as long as anyone can remember. The women wake up before the family, walk to the nearest source carrying empty containers, fill them and carry the water back home to begin their day doing the things many women do daily-cook for their family , clean, tend the food crops , make or maintain clothing , help the kids with schoolwork etc. but first there is the ‘fetch the water’ part of her day.
Recent droughts and the political landscape have made this basic job even harder..
Josephine has been friends with some of the other women in her PFP group for a while. She is a member of the AFI (African Inland Church) and was a member of a women’s group before PFP so she is comfortable with these friends who have come to her house to help build the base for a 10,000 liter water tank that will soon sit beside her house with a strong gutter leading from roof to tank to collect fresh water every time it rains. The new factor is us, 4 American women who have come to help build the base for the tank and also to have tea and chat a while.
After greetings we settle down to try to help the local Fundi (mason) who is already at work building the tank base. He gives us a quick lesson in mixing cement, then encourages us to get to work spreading it between bricks that have been laid out in concentric circles, leveling it , making a batch of a cement sand and rocks mix that becomes the second layer that needs to be spread , tamped down and leveled. At this point we all take a break to allow the cement to dry (This is Kenya, it is hot and it dries pretty quickly!) and to have tea.
Because we are at Josephine’s house, her friends have come to do all the work surrounding serving tea to 15-20 people in Josephine’s back yard. As hostess, she is available to her guests and to address any issues that make come up and her friends do all the cooking, chair setting-up in a shady spot, and serving/clearing. Josephine is free to be interviewed by us because her friends are doing the heavy lifting. This is the way women help each other in Kenyan society. I like it!
After a delicious tea of Kenyan chai, sweet potatoes, mango and freshly made chapati we settle down to talk.
I explained that we were going to ask some very personal questions and that if she and her friends were comfortable, we would really appreciate learning about her/their situations. I promised them that we would answer absolutely any questions they wanted to ask us, and that their answers would help us to share their stories with our friends in the US who really want to help them get enough water tanks to free up their time and ensure clean healthy water for their families.
With the patient help of our translator, Paul- a 20ish Kenyan man who has translated for PFP before-we dove in.
It takes Josephine 4-5 hours each morning to fetch water. She gets up at 4am and walks in the dark by the light of flashlights to her water source, 5kilometers away. There she fills her water can and on a good day, walks back home , arriving around 8am to fix morning food and start her day. Josephine has 5 kids, some are grown the rest in school. Unemployment is a big problem in Kenya right now, so her husband’s only way to make money is to get day labor work when it is available.
When asked what she would do with all of the new time in her day if she doesn’t have to fetch water , Josephine told us that she would plant a new garden behind the tank and when she has extra vegetables she will sell them to make her target in her PFP group. I asked if she would sleep in a bit and was looked at like I was out of my mind. No way would she sleep, because to Kenyan women, “sleep is poverty”.
There are dangers to fetching water. Sometimes the women have to compete with elephants early in the morning. If they are around, an alert goes through the area warning people to stay inside until the elephants leave. Sometimes women stumble and fall-falling with at least 45 pounds (20 liters) of water in a hard plastic jerri-can hurts. If water is drawn from an area where the water table is below the surface, then digging for the water adds time and danger. The sides of the hole can cave in on a woman while she is scooping water to put in her storage can.
But the biggest danger to the water fetching women we met was what every woman we met called “the most dangerous wild animal in Kenya”. Kenyan Men.
Unemployed drunk or drugged men ambush women all the time. Rape is frequent and unavoidable. Occasionally women can go for water together, but they live far apart and it isn’t always possible. If their husbands go to fetch instead, the family loses the chance to earn a day’s wage as a laborer. Lose/lose.
We answered questions for about a half hour, mostly about our homes and families. We laughed at our similarities and were intrigued by our differences.
At last we joined hands and formed a circle. We all prayed over the finished tank base (the Fundi kept working while we were talking) and asked for God’s blessings on this family and the fresh water we prayed would soon fill a tank sitting on this base. We sang and danced as icing on the day.
This was my first day in the field with PFP, my heart was full and my mind a whirl of questions and admiration for the women we were here to serve."
- Cindy Tewes