Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baltimore Highlands H2O project

Last year, Baltimore Highlands Elementary school in Baltimore, Maryland funded an H2O for Life project at Rutunguru school in Tnungamo, Uganda. This past fall, a singing and dancing group from Uganda visited Baltimore Highlands to say thank you! Please take a look at the video to learn how the school implemented the H2O for Life partnership in their school. Congratulations Katie Mahoney, staff and students at Baltimore Highlands Elementary. Your school has helped change lives for students at Rutunguru school in Uganda! Keep up the fantastic work.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Action equals Results!!

Centennial Middle School, located in Lino Lakes, MN. recently received photos of a completed WASH project in Bangladesh. Centennial Middle School has partnered with H2O for Life for the past two years, and is continuing the partnership this year. Teachers, Mark Domschot, and Chris Ripken from Centennial High School visited Uganda and Kenya to visit completed H2O for Life projects in August. The middle school has raised over $25,000 in the past two years to complete projects in Kenya, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Bangladesh. This year, they are working to fund a WASH project in Ntungamo, Uganda, a community area that Mr. Domschot visited.

Several days ago, H2O for Life received completed photos from Centennial's partner school in Bangladesh. The school quickly developed a power point presentation to share the good news with their school. Please take a moment and view a few of the photos. Congratulations, Centennial Middle School! Your school has changed the lives of many students around the world. We hope it has also changed how YOU view the world!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Last year, I received this article from "Phoenix" of Forest Lake, Minnesota. The article was accompanied by a one hundred dollar check that she won for submitting this story. Thanks Phoenix for writing a great and passionate article about H2O for Life and the water crisis. You have shown, once again, that one person can make a difference!

By Phoenix Forest Lake, MN
About Phoenix » More by this contributor »

The Gift of Life
submitted by Rebecca Harwell!

Americans are spoiled. It’s a fact. Today, teens have everything we want (except that perfect date for the prom). We don’t even stop to think that many aren’t so fortunate. And, if we do, we assume that someone is helping them and their problems will be solved soon enough. Anyway, what can one kid do? I’m going to tell you about a problem that millions of people face every day. It’s up to you to do the rest.You come home from a grueling soccer practice, and all you want to do is drink up Lake Superior and flop into bed. So, you go to the kitchen, pour yourself a huge glass of water, and guzzle it down. What if you had to walk six miles to a well for that drink? And carry back a heavy jug of water. And, after that, when you’re about to collapse from thirst, you open the jug and find the filthiest water imaginable. There are little bugs floating in the brown water, and it smells horrible. However, you’re dying of thirst and this is all you’ve got, so you drink up. I’m guessing that has never happened to you or anyone you know. But it’s life for millions of children. Africa is the second largest continent, home to 922 million people. It’s also the poorest and most underdeveloped continent. Thirty-six percent of the population of Africa lives on less than $1 per day. That’s less than a bottle of soda costs. With this dollar, they have to feed their families, which can include several generations. These people can’t afford wells for every household like we can. They don’t even have wells for all the schools.This means that every day, people – generally children – have to walk several miles to get a couple of gallons of dirty water for their family. They know that the water is bad for them, but it’s all they’ve got. They must drink it or die of thirst. It’s not just drinking the water that hurts these people. Most villages have open sewage, which means waste ends up in the streets. Animals, including livestock, drink this filthy, diseased water. If an animal gets sick and then people eat it, they can get sick too. Most African markets are outdoors, some right by sewage. Flies buzz around the debris, eating and drinking their fill and laying eggs on the food people then eat. These unsanitary conditions are causing many preventable diseases in Africa. Illnesses that aren’t a big deal here are deadly there. For example, diarrhea kills 3.3 million people, 800,000 of them children, every year in Africa. It’s caused by parasites found in dirty water, along with dehydration. Trachoma is another preventable disease that isn’t necessarily deadly, but is extremely painful. With trachoma, your eyelashes slowly turn inward, causing extreme pain and blindness. This disease has blinded approximately seven million people. It can be spread through body contact and flies. Another illness that you’re probably familiar with is malaria, which is caused by disease-ridden mosquitoes. They need a place to lay their eggs, and the open sewage fits the bill. Half the world’s population is at risk for malaria, and 3,000 people die from it every day. That’s over a million a year. And these are just a few of the diseases that ravage Africa, all because of dirty water. This past year, my school held a fundraiser. This wasn’t the normal kind where you sell magazine subscriptions or calendars to earn money for the school. This fundraiser changed lives. We sponsored a school in Mozambique and raised $9,100 to build a well. A well actually costs twice that, but an organization called H2O for Life found government programs to match the amount we raised. Together, we gave the gift of life to that school. If the cogs in your head are moving and this sounds good to you, then talk to your principal or a teacher about getting your school involved in H2O for Life. It’s a way to get everyone to help. Or recruit a couple of buddies and start raising money yourself. Do a carwash, a bake sale, or sell lemonade on the side of the road. So, you have the money – now what? It probably isn’t enough to build a well, but who cares? Every penny counts. You can donate on the H2O for Life website. They graciously accept even the smallest amount (but try to give at least $20). You can find more facts about Africa’s water situation at hope I got through to you about the terrible problems people face when they don’t have clean water. You can do something about it. I am trying to convince my church to sponsor an African school. When my school started our fundraiser, we watched a short video about a celebrity who went to Africa. He was shocked by what he saw, and so was I. But, the thing about that movie that I’ll never forget was when he visited a school that had just gotten a well. The kids were so excited, not because the movie star was there, but because there was a new flush toilet – something we completely take for granted. Think about that, and look at your life. What if you got excited whenever you poured a glass of water or flushed a toilet? It’s these small things that are the true gifts of life.

This piece has also been published in Teen Ink's monthly magazine.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

H2O for Life is focusing on Water because...

I recently read the article posted below about the amount of money spent in developing countries, particularly in Africa, to combat HIV/AIDS while ignoring other mounting health issues. It is time to spend funds wisely and focus on other health issues that are more prevelant than AIDS. As always, thank you to all H2O for Life schools for your participation in combatting the water, sanitation and hygiene issues facing schools around the world.

Experts want African aid funds channelled away from HIVFocus on Aids, they say, has led to neglect of other fatal conditions killing young children

Alex Duval Smith The Observer, Sunday 25 October 2009

Top scientists are demanding a controversial overhaul of health spending in Africa, arguing that the billions of pounds targeted at HIV during the past 20 years have led to a neglect of other killer diseases and basic health problems such as diarrhoea.

Developed countries poured $13.2bn (£8.2bn) last year into efforts to combat HIV, chiefly for Africa, up from $480m in 1996. But only eight countries, all in southern Africa, remain in the grip of a severe Aids crisis, while World Health Organisation data show that five of the biggest killers in Africa are illnesses that affect children under the age of five.

Childhood diarrhoea kills an estimated 1.5 million children under five each year worldwide – at least half of them in Africa – although it is easily treatable with zinc tablets that cost little more than $2 each. Diarrhoea received less than 5% of worldwide research and treatment funding last year.

Daniel Halperin, an HIV epidemiology researcher at the Harvard Medical School of Public Health, said: "There has generally been a misalignment from the donors. It is time for a rethink. Many people in the west believe all Africans are impoverished and infected with HIV. Yet the reality is that most countries have stable HIV prevalence of less than 3%. What most people really need are things such as clean water and family planning. Even tuberculosis and malaria get far less money than HIV. In some cases these sectors have inadvertently been hurt by the focus on HIV."

One of Africa's leading health economists, Alan Whiteside, who is director of the Health Economics and HIV/Aids Research Division at the University of KwaZulu Natal, said the flood of donations towards the battle against Aids had also created the conditions for widespread misuse of the funds. Whiteside played a prominent role in bringing the southern African Aids epidemic to the world's attention in the 1990s. He has also advised the United Nations and Aids2031 – an international expert group set up to chart the best route to tackle Aids in advance of the 50th anniversary of the first report of the illness.

"The lure of Aids money has led in some African countries to large-scale corruption," he said, "and the establishment of non-government organisations as an industry. The achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015 depends on us getting our focus on Aids right.

"Where those goals are missed by the widest margins, Aids will have been responsible. The focus on treatment has distracted us from prevention. Solutions need to be tailored to the situation in each country. Money needs to be reallocated based on what we know now, not what we knew then."
submitted by:
Patty Hall
H2O for Life

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Reflections of our Journey-Water is Life

I am never at a loss for words. Never. I always have something to say. However, given the assignment of writing a short recap of the trip that my colleagues and I took to Uganda and Kenya, I find myself struggling to do justice to the experience given the limitations of words. We spent nearly five weeks visiting completed and future H2O for Life projects. We were witness to the impact of the work that our U.S. students have on the lives of students who now have ready access to clean water at school along with new, clean and private latrines and education to learn the importance of hand washing and safe hygiene practices.

We visited nearly 30 different schools and we were treated like royalty by gracioius children at each location. We heard wonderful testimony of the impact of new latrines and clean water and participated in ribbon cutting ceremonies, dances, songs and enjoyed the smiles and enthusiasm of thousands of children. Like our American students, they are curious, happy and enjoy attending school.

We also witnessed devastation. Kenya is going through a two year drought and the land is very dry. Girls are being released from school at noon so that they have enough time to fetch water for home before dark. They must find and carry water to school each morning. Water tanks sit empty not only because of the lack of rain but also due to an inadequate number of tanks to store water during such dry times. Many latrines are full, lack doors or are non-existent.

We hope your school or organization will be interested in joining us in a rewarding and educational service-learning project. We must remind you that there is much work to be done to bring WASH projects to schools. (water, sanitation and hygiene education) Students will see the impact that they can make through the smiles on the faces of their fellow students around the world. At every location we visited we were reminded of a constant theme, "Water is Life." Maybe those are the words that do justice to describe our trip. Water is Life!

Val Johnson

We invite YOU to share a story or comment for our blog. Submit your blog to Pictures to accompany the story are welcome!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Meetings at the Heron

The Heron Hotel has proven to be a central meeting place for our water discussions. Today a Member of Parliament (equivalent to a US Senator) from the Nyarbari Chache constituency paid us a visit. He and several of his staff told us about the need for sanitation and water storage in their area. It is truly a small world. Nine years ago, my daughter, my mother and I worked on a volunteer project in his area. In fact, he lives within 3 kilometers of where we were working at that time.
We hope there may be several school projects that blossom out of our meeting today.

Directly following that meeting, we met with the Water for All Organization based in Nairobi. They shared information about several projects that they have completed that look very promising. They focus on rainwater catchment with a unique sanitation system that on paper looks great. We need to do more investigating.

After meetings through-out the day, we are looking forward to tearing apart our suitcases and re-organizing all of the things we have gathered on this month long journey. Tomorrow will be our last full day in Kenya and once again we have a full schedule of meetings. Although it will be somewhat sad to end our journey, we are also looking forward to returning to Minnesota to family and friends.

The motto of today is: Kunywa maji safi. Drink clean water!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

To the Indian Ocean and back to the city!

We have been out of computer contact for several days. During that time we have covered a lot of ground!
We completed our visit to a family Maasai manyatta of our friend Jacinta LePaiton. She no longer lives the life of a traditional Maasai woman, but her brother and sisters continue to live in mud huts, away from town. The Manyatta consists of several family groups living in a circular arranged community of mud houses. Many Maasai practice polygamy, so there were many children of similar ages assembled. Jacinta introduced me to a baby named Patricia, (after me) but I have a feeling she was only Patricia for the day! We watched as a young woman began preparing a goat skin for market, men building a structure for cows, and children playing in the surround. We were invited into a hut to share a cup of boiled Maasai tea- milk and tea-quite tasty, and hopefully safe to drink. We'll find out!

On our way back to Rombo from the manyatta, we stopped to visit the local health center as it was now open for the day. Years ago my daughter, Katy, and I worked on the construction of this health center. We talked with the nurse on duty and found that much of her work centers around water-borne diseases. She spends many hours educating and leading seminars for women on the importance of safe water and hand-washing. The clinic provides medicine and immunizations and provides service to over 700 people monthly. (mind you, there is only one nurse and a pharmacy tech available)

We had lunch with my dear friend, Monica, who I met when volunteering in MaliTatu. She now is the proud mama of 3 beautiful children. We had a fabulous lunch and visit. The rest of our afternoon was spent with a women's group of Maasai women who discussed plans for community development with us. It was very interesting.

On Tuesday morning, we left by 7:30 for the coast. Our destination was the town of Malindi and Hemingway's Resort for a day of rest and relaxation! It was a long and dusty drive which has become the norm in this drought laden territory. We could see that crops were dried in the fields, and people are suffering. After 6 hours of driving we arrived at a beautiful resort on a beach at the Indian Ocean. We had a lazy afternoon enjoying the scenery and the pool. (What Patty failed to mention is that for us to get anywhere, we spend hours in a hot, dusty car while riding over roads that on their best day are considered impassable by US standards. We were beyond ready for the ocean!)

On Wednesday, we took advantage of our location on the Malindi National Marine Park and planned a "goggling" adventure. (the term used for snorkeling) First, we needed to teach our guide and friend, Christopher, how to snorkel.
It was his first experience! We practiced in the pool, and after a short time he was comfortable with the equipment. He did find it a little more difficult once we entered the ocean. We took a boat out to the reef and spent several hours exploring the coral and seeing the beautiful fish.

Later in the afternoon, we were on to another adventure. We met Madi Mohamed, the head of an eco camp in the town of Malindi. We could tell, that we were in for an interesting few days. He loaded the car with food, packages, and himself- and with enthusiasm and the cue- "We move, we move"- we were off! (we heard that phrase often!)

Madi and others in his community manage an eco island called One Love Island. Their profits are used to help the community of Ngomeni. They help with schools and help to replant and conserve the mangroves in the area. We stored our luggage at Madi's home in Ngomeni and headed for our island transportation. The 10-15 minute transport was provided by a dugout canoe, made from the trunk of a mango tree. It felt very tippy, but they assured us we wouldn't tip. Once again, the look on Christopher's face was hilarious. He told us that it was a "terrifying moment!"
The eco camp is very rustic- no running water, or electricity, but has a beautiful palapa shelter and a tree house for sleeping. It was comfortable and relaxing. We met Chris McKeown, a Peace Corp worker, from Pennsylvania. We discussed the need for water and sanitation at his school, and learned that he was working to help the village develop the marketing and improvement for One Love Island. We enjoyed meeting and talking to him. (his parents should be proud!)

The food on One Love Island was fantastic. Madi's mom is the cook, and her coconut calamari was delicious!
On Thursday, we spent the day hunting for sea shells, and again spending time with our new friend Chris. Around 4pm Madi raced onto the island with his mantra "we move, we move", and we were off on a visit to the Mangroves. We sailed part of the way in a traditional dhow, and then transferred to a dugout canoe to weave in and out through the mangroves.
Madi is passionate about the mangroves, and he and others are working hard to restore the area that has been affected by the salt plant that is located nearby.

Early Friday morning we headed to Mariakani and the Kayafungu area to visit community development headed by Student Movement for Real Change. Their name has recently been changed to "Think Impact". They are exploring ways to get water to the many schools in this sun-parched area. We all agreed that this was the hardest hit area, in terms of water, that we have visited. We met young children that were walking many miles to gather water. We visited a large dam project that was absolutely bone dry. The schools are receiving food from relief agencies, and for many children this provides their only meal of the day. It is truly an area that is in desperate need of water. We hope that H2O for Life will be able to assist with schools as projects are identified.

Today, we are back in Nairobi, preparing to meet with several Prime Ministers, Rotary Club members and others that will further educate us about the needs of local schools and how we may be of help.

Kwa Heri ya kuonana! (Good-bye until next time)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Check out this video of our visit to Uganda,

Monday, September 7, 2009

Visit to Maasai Land

On Saturday night, after watching many animals cross in front of our lodge, we were treated to a private walk by one of the night gurads at Amboseli Serena. We walked quietly to a secluded area adjacent to the lodge to find a group of elephants feeding on the trees and leaves. There was a full moon, and we watched them for quite a while.(We were 15 feet away) They are amazing animals and HUGE! Around 5:45 a.m., I peeked out the patio door, and again, the elephants were there. They stayed very close to us for a nice visit.

On our travels out of the park, we saw a family of lions with several small cubs. They are shy, but we were able to snap a few photos. THEN the dusty ride to Rombo began.

Much of the road has been improved since my last visit, but there was a stretch of road where the dust and bumps were unbelievable. We covered ourselves with our kangas (cloth) but still were very dusty by the time we reached Rombo. Our first visit was to the health center in Rombo. I worked many years ago with Global Citizens Network on the building. The clinic is wonderful, providing services to many people in the area. The facility has flourished due to collaboration between Rotary of Ireland, AMREF, GCN and the local community.

We walked along the river- which is now a very small trickle in many areas, and visited people along the way. The drought in Kenya is severe, and food and water are scarce. People are suffering, and doing their best to survive. Thanks to the help of NGO's, there is access to piped water and kiosks that are available to people in the Rombo area. Many walk long distances to access these water points. There is more work to be done!

We are leaving momentarily for a visit to a maasai manyatta for tea, and then will visit the market in Rombo. We will spend the evening visiting with a woman from Ireland that is doing great work in this area. Perhaps we will find a way to collaborate with schools in the area.

Enjoy your Labor Day holiday! The kids in Kenya are back to school today after a month long break. Tomorrow, for those who have not already started--it is back to school for US students!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Government at Work

Jambo All!

Patty and I have been out of easy Internet range for a few days so we are a bit behind in our blog. In fact, I am attaching a picture of myself using the computer in a field. I had to climb up a hill before I could access the Internet. What you don't see is that a herd of cows and goats had just passed around me minutes before. I'll bring you up to date with this entry.

On Wednesday morning we had a very exciting meeting. We had a meeting with the Honorable Richard Onyonka, MP, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs. He is the elected Prime Minister of the Kissee District and then is appointed by the President to be the Assistant Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs. We went into the meeting hoping to get him to earmark some dollars for the IkoToilet project for schools. He is on board! In fact, he is so excited about the project that we have a follow-up lunch with him on the 14th with the people from IkoToilet and the Minister of Water for Kenya. How is this possible? We are getting to the right people and they are so enthusiastic about what our U.S. students are doing. They cannot say "no." Now H2O for Life will have the Kenyan government as a partner on many of our projects.

From there, we headed back to Christopher's home and village of Kathungu. We would also like to see the IkoToilets compliment the work we have done there so we headed off to a meeting with the village leaders including the Chief (like a state representative) the Counselor, (like a mayor) and the leadership (like a city council.) We never want to force a project on a community that does not want it or support it. We presented the idea of IkoToilets and school and they love it! Now we have to wait and see if they are willing to contribute the 50% matching funds from their CDF funds. (Community Development Funds) If they can do that, we will work to get our schools on board for this exciting opportunity to provide clean water and latrines to the schools! Keep your fingers crossed! We had one more meeting with another District Official who controls CDF funds and just paid a courtesy call on him at the request of the village leadership. There are lots of layers to the approval process in Kenya but everyone we have met with is encouraged that the government will find funds to help in this endeavor.

After all of our meetings, we finally made our way back to Christopher's. In a way, it felt like we were going home. All the kids and women were there to great us. We spent the afternoon visiting. Patty brought along light-up bracelets for all of the kids. In the dark Kenya night, it was fun to watch the excitement on the kid's faces as they marveled at these.

We awoke the next morning to a bit of rain. Kenya is so dry. We shake our clothes out at night to remove the dust. This little bit of rain was welcome but it was not enough to do anything other than to help control the dust.

We had a meeting in the afternoon with the women from the village. They have formed a Woman's Group who are also looking to make improvements in their community. They gave us a request for an addition to their existing dam. Further research is needed but we hope that we can help them find a solution in the coming months. It was an interesting meeting. We always have to have someone interpret for us. Although most Kenyans in this area speak English, it is the kids who know more English than most older adults. Something is said and everyone starts laughing except for Patty and myself. We hear the interpretation and start laughing after everyone else is finished. It is much like watching a movie with sub-titles. We are both very happy to see women start to take an active role in the politics of their villages. They have a long way to go but before we left, we had them chanting, "We can do it!"

The rest of the day was spent polishing the girl's nails and teasing the boys. We also spent most of the afternoon working on a video of girls and their need for water at schools. Once it is put together, we will send it out to all of our schools. Patty is the next Steven Spielberg! We spent lots of time in the kitchen with the women and enjoyed the camaraderie. Both Patty and I took a turn at making Chipati. I am not certain why all the women laughed at my Chipati!? Oval is a nice shape.

We are now in Amboseli Park. Amboseli is a Masaii word that means very dry and dusty. Wow. Did they get that one right for this area. Last night we sat outside our lodge and watched gazelles, a hippo, wildebeests and a herd of elephants walk by. They were only a few feet away from us. It is amazing to witness these sights and I hope that this area can be maintained for many generations to come so that we can forever view the animals in their natural habitat.

We head to the Masaii area around Rombo tomorrow. We will be out of range for a couple of days before we head off to see some of the projects completed by Student Movement for Real Change.

We will think of all of you as you enjoy this last weekend of summer. Get ready for a fun year and continue to work on your H2O for Life projects. Your work is making a significant difference in the lives of these students. The only sad thing that I have witnessed on this trip is that there is so much work to be done but together we can make change happen!

Val and Patty

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Day in Nairobi

This morning H2O for Life members met with Kenya Rainwater Association. They were the implementing partners for the 2007-08 school year on three of our school projects. The US partner schools working through KRA were: Highview Middle School, Irondale High School and Centennial Middle School-all located in Minnesota. Two of the schools were visited by us last Saturday. We hope to visit the third school, time permitting, next week.

Kenya Rainwater has a long history in Kenya. They are experts on rainwater harvesting, and we are very pleased with their project results. We were delighted to see that their June edition of thier monthly magazine has Entonet School on the cover- a project supported by H2O for Life and Highview Middle School. The article has beautiful photos of Entonet students and the water tank and a thank-you note written by a student.

Beatrice Nkeyian, student, says in her letter:
"There before we used to walk for more than 4Km to fetch water and sometimes we even miss school because of water and this may even lead to poor performance but now you have converted the kilometers to some meters. You have pulled us from nothing to something."

We will post the article on our website soon.

We have 5 school projects available with Kenya Rainwater for this year. Let us know if your school or YOU can help!

We had anticipated a visit to a school project, but when we found that the targeted project was a 4 hour drive (one way) over bumpy roads that we had already covered- we decided to forego the visit. We know that we can trust KRA to complete great projects in the future.

Val Johnson and I decided to walk around Nairobi! We stopped to get a city map, and with the help of a young man from Kentan Safaris, we headed to the City Market. Once we arrived at the market, we were on our own! There were rows and rows of shops- all stocked with jewelry, wooden carvings, bowls, baskets, purses- all the crafts available in Kenya in one place. The standard mode of operation is BARTERING! We were strong and only bought the items we really wanted! (I'm sure at an inflated price, but that's ok) We had fun talking to the vendors. I had an "Obama" bag, that was the impetus of many conversations. In the market, President Obama's face appears on batiks, kangas(cloth used as skirts) and paintings. People in Kenya love Obama!

The market sits next to a meat and fish market- the smell was not very inviting. We did manage to take a few photos of the meat slabs hanging in the open air. It will make us think twice before ordering meat tonight.

We stopped at the Norfolk Hotel for a late lunch. It is an historic hotel with many photos of Nairobi in the early 1900's. The lunch was delicious. We decided to walk a few blocks after lunch but found that crossing the streets in Nairobi is a real challenge. The cars careen around the corners, and move very fast! After crossing a few streets we decided our safest mode of transportation back to our hotel was a cab!

Tomorrow we meet with the Assistant Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs. Our meeting was arranged by the Prime Minister's brother, Jimmy- whom we met in Minnesota! It is a small world. We look forward to learning more about the Kenyan Government. Now....if we can only find out what happened to our laundry, we may be able to dress appropriately for our meeting tomorrow.

Ulale Salama! (good-night)

Monday, August 31, 2009

"Changing" the Subject

Today we had the opportunity to meet with an amazing man, Mr. David Kuria of Ecotact. David recently received "The African Entrepreneur of 2009" award, and has also been named as an Ashoka Fellow. His mission is to develop innovative answers to the growing environmental sanitation cry in Africa and globally. He has developed a transformational "toilet" system called the Ikotoilet that is now working in Nairobi and has been completed in 39 other locations. He is currently launching the first Ikotoilet at a school in Nairobi with hopes of providing this design to 1000 schools in the coming years.

We learned many tid-bits of information that we didn't know about the cultural taboos surrounding toilets! David informed us that in much of Africa, traditional tribal language does not have a word for toilet. People make excuses to "disappear" for a moment while taking care of business. Students do not ask directly to use the toilet but sit in agony waiting for a break only to line up with all the others to use the few stalls available. He told us that in most rural schools the boys use the wall outside the choo as the urinal because they cannot wait. His idea to design toilets that are in the "spotlight" is highly innovative! In most schools, the "Choo" is placed far from the school building, and is not particularly inviting. Besides the taboo associated with publicly using the toilet, the antiquated design and smell of a pit latrine is daunting. ( VIP latrines now being constructed have provided a much more user friendly toilet) This innovative technology is a new step up from pit latrines.

David convinced the Kenya Government to let him construct an Ikotoilet in a prominent place in the middle of town on Harambee street in Nairobi. Thousands of people pass by the toilets daily, in fact, the average usage is around 1000 people per day. The kiosk has 12 stalls- 6 available for men, and 6 for women, and also has a handicapped stall available.
The kiosk employs at least 10 full time workers to clean the toilets after each use, provides a shoe shining area, a full time facilitator, and a shop where coca-cola and snacks can be purchased. The cost of using the toilet is 5KSH, which translates to a few pennies. Wow! Taking the toilet, putting it in the center AND bringing the topic of toilets out in the open was a huge risk for David. The good news? The Ikotoilet has been well received and will help to transform the attitude towards use of public toilets in Kenya.

H2O for Life hopes to partner with David to bring this innovative technology to 15 schools in Kenya this year.

We spent most of the day meeting with David and the staff at Ecotact. They provided a wonderful lunch of cabbage, rice and vegetables for us. We will meet with them once again- and perhaps have an opportunity to visit the project at a local school if it is completed.

We have met many talented and passionate advocates of water, sanitation and hygiene on this adventure. It gives us hope that the water crisis around the world does have solutions and that we can all help make the world a better place.

Goodbye Comrades!

In the van---again! Today, Mark, Steve, Chris and Lisa are heading home to the states.

We have had a standing joke throughout our stay in Uganda and Kenya. We have become known as "Patty Hall and team." As we speak at each school, the H2O speaker tends to change the jargon a bit. On occasion the speaker has referred to the team as his or her own team. When Chris Ripkin introduced the team, he gave each of us a promotion --in title only. I like being a member of his team. I became the "Chief Executive Director." We have had fun refering to the seven of us as Patty Hall and Team. Our last school referred to us as Patty Hall and Comrades. It sounds like a bad singing group from the late 70's.

Early this morning we loaded all of the suitcases and Comrades into the van for a trip from Kathungu to Nairobi. Many of us, except Patty and Val bid a final farewell to Chris' family and we started our journey to Nairobi. Chris guaranteed that we would be in Nairobi in an hour. We all found this curious since it took us 2.5 hours to get here. It is Sunday and maybe he knows something that we don't know. We took bets on the arrival time. We weren't counting on car troubles or construction or added truck traffic but it was all there. It was not an hour drive and Steve captured the crown for winning the bet.

Upon arrival in Nairobi we sent the gang out to buy last minute souviners and to check out the city while Patty and I repacked suitcases to send as much home as possible. It is surprising how much you can fit into a cardboard box!

We treated our team to a final farewell dinner at a wonderful restaurant called the Carnivore. It is not a place for vegetarians. We feasted on lamb, ostrich, beef, chicken, turkey, crocidile, pork and many delicious sauces. We then headed straight to the airport and sent them off on a long plane ride home.

On a very special note, we have to tell you how much we enjoyed their company. We all had talents and personalities that complimented each other. We worked hard but had fun. We laughed together and cried together. They all represented H2O for Life and our schools with class and compassion. We are very proud of all of our "Comrades."

Patty and I are on our own for the next three weeks. It seems a bit lonely now but we have lots of work to do and places to be. Everyday is an adventure. We promise to represent the team as well as Steve, Mark, Chris and Lisa did with us over the last couple of weeks.

Thanks Team! Safe travels!

Kathungu Day 2


What a day! After our day of travel this was our day of extreme excercise and sun. After breakfast we started our journey to visit Kathungu and Kwamalelu schools. We decided to walk to burn off our energy stored from an all day car ride the day before. Kwamalelu was our first destination. It was "not so far" away. Right. Every destination is uphill or better said, up-mountain. The country-side is beautiful and the walk is well worth it. We all are feeling energized and great.

The project at Kwamalelu was completed by Centennial Middle school and the project was led by teachers Mark and Katy Domschot. Mark is traveling with us and it was quite a sight to see the school greet Mark and thank him for all of the work done by Centennial students. There was a wonderful sign painted on the water tank thanking "Contennial School." Oh well, we don't spell their school correctly most of the time. Mark made a great speech recognizing the work that Centennial Middle School students contributed and emphasized the rewards that they received by helping Kwamalelu school.

Even though it was a Saturday and students are on break, nearly two hundred students and parents showed up to thank Mark and the H2O team. Students sang and danced and leaders gave Mark a gourd that is meant to hold water as a symbol of the water now held in the tank. He cut the ribbon symolizing the opening of the tank and also a ribbon in front of the new VIP (ventilated, improved, pit) latrines.

The same type of event was held at the next school-Kathungu Primary. This school was sponsored by Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minnesota. Val's sons and niece attend Irondale and she is an Irondale grad so it was a real honor for her to cut the ribbon dedicating the tank to the great work that Irondale did to raise the funds to complete this project.

Centennial Middle School sent several packets of pen-pal letters to be shared with both schools. As students were handed a letter starting with "Dear Friend," you should have seen their eyes light up. We know they will treasure the letters and will hopefully deliver return letters for us to bring back to the schools.

Congratulations to both Irondale High and Centennial Middle School!

We should also point out that every school we go to in Uganda and Kenya, the kids know the name of our president. The kids shout "Obama-Obama!" I wonder how many of our students know the name of the Uganda or Kenya president. Now you have some homework!

Our next destination was "not so far" away.

We walked back to the home of Christopher Mutuku-Muteti. He is the one that suggested our first project- the sand-dam at the Kwa Kasolo river. Many of the community members joined us at his home for a wonderful lunch. They served pumpkin, ugali and sukumawiki (greens) potatoes, rice, a chicken gravy-soup and a variety of fruit. Great food enjoyed by all. After a short rest, we began our "walk around" of the community. Our first stop was to re-visit the Sand dam project as most of our H2O team had not seen it. Again, we did a ceremonial ribbon cutting, and were given testimonials by several community members about the effectiveness of the dam. They told us that they did not know where they would be getting their water during this drought without the sand dam. We are thrilled that the project has made a huge difference for the community. Our next stop was to visit the home of a water project member, Francis. He had an interesting mix of rain water tanks, a fish pond holding Talapia, and is experimenting with the apple mango in hopes of developing a cash crop for the area. He is a very intelligent man and we dubbed him "the scientist". Patty was able to meet his mother who is 93. HIs mother remembered her from the last visit to the village and was overjoyed to meet once again. She makes beautiful baskets which we are bringing home with us.

We then continued our walk to the home of the local wood carver- Maurice. Maurice had many beautiful spoons, walking sticks and other objects for sale. We all chose a variety of wood projects to take home. A walking stick made by Maurice is on display at Highview Middle School in New Brighton, MN as a thank-you from the community.

By this time, we had probably walked 7-8 miles up and down hills over sand that was beginning to make our feet feel like we had been treated to a sand paper pedicure. My friends in White Bear Lake know how much I like a pedicure! (not so much) We were happy when we reached Christopher's home!

Many of the community members stayed for dinner. The women spend all day cooking over wood stoves and a charcoal Jiko to make the many dishes that are served. The kitchen however, is my favorite place to hang out. The women were singing, and we entertained them with songs like "Old McDonald", and "Coming around the mountain"- all with actions of course. Steve also taught the children how to play "Simon Says". They are so eager to interact with all of us, and we have had a wonderful time! After dinner, we brought out a box of light up necklaces that were a big hit with not only the children, but the adults as well. In the dark, dark, yard, the lights are spectacular.

Speaking of the dark- the African sky is a sight to behold. We think we have found the "Southern Cross" and the star patterns are very different from the stars we see in the US.

After a late dinner, we were all ready to head to our beds. We pulled down the mosquito nets, and crawled in for a well deserved rest.

The adventure continues......

Val and Patty

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I will never complain about a Minnesota pothole again.

Friday was a travel day for us. We traveled from the Masai Mara to Nairobi and then off to Kathungu. There is a standard answer when you ask how far it is to a town or destination. "Not so far." How are the roads? "Not so bad." Well, let me tell you that eleven hours-most of it over bumpy, dusty, dirt roads is a long way! We all feel a little tossed around. We passed quite a bit of time by playing another of Mark's games. This time it was a version of Jeopardy. Patty was the winner but her prize of a bag of candy purchased from the hotel was filled with ants. Too bad we didn't discover this until after she had taken a few bites. I've never seen Patty toss chocolate away!

Kathungu is where our friend and driver, Christopher lives. We were all invited to be guests at his home in Kathungu. What an honor! This is an opportunity to really get to see and experience how most of the people in Kenya live. We arrived at his modest farm and were welcomed by his wife Joyce and their three children and many neighbors, friends and other relatives. For you experienced H2Oers, you might remember that Kathungu is the site of our first project. Patty has been here on several occasions and the people are thrilled to see her again.

We settled into our rooms--yes, the family gave up their rooms and found places to sleep at nearby relatives. The action really started as the men started to talk in the house and the women went to work in the kitchen. The kitchen is a very active, seperate room from the house. It is not a very big room yet there had to be 10-15 kids and women all sitting in there and actively cooking the meal while chatting and laughing. Everyone knows their task and they go about it with great efficiency. Ugali (corn flour and water) is cooking on the fire and it has to be stirred often with a big spoon and a lot of muscle. Chapati (thick tortilla like bread) is fried on a small flat grill heated by charcoal (a jiko) and potatoes are peeled and boiled over the open flames. Before long we are treated to a dinner of all of these wonderful flavors along with fresh fruits, chicken, soup and rice. And I thought I was going to lose weight in Kenya. No way!

We also took in a short walk down to the river bed where the sand dam was created two years ago. It is really an amazing site. The area looks like a dry river bed filled with the finest beach sand. Through this sand the river flows down stream. While the river flows down stream it is filtered through the sand. Although there is a faucet on the dam itself, it has been removed because of the drought. The water committee found that people were being wasteful of water during this very dry period when it was so easy to get. The leaders of the community removed the faucet so people have to dig into the river bed of sand to get to water. It sounds harsh but when you see the extent of the drought and listen to the knowledge that the people have about this precious natural resource, you know that they are doing the right thing. I was especially pleased to hear one of the men say to me that without the contribution that Highview Middle School made two years ago to add the sand dam, he could not even imagine where or how far they might have to go to get any water. Highview---be proud! Your work is still helping people today-even more than you can imagine!

Since Patty's last visit to Kathungu, Christopher has added solar powered lights and a shower. The shower is cold water from a tank and hose run into the house but it is a wonderful luxury after the dusty ride. The lights are something that we did not expect so that was also another welcome luxury. We still have to go outside to use the choo. (latrine) Patty, Steve and Mark all got up during the night to use the choo. There were a few tales of being attacked by the huge white goose during the middle of the night. Steve and Mark went out together. Chickens!

Saturday is another day of visiting schools. We are all anxious to see the work that has been completed!

Masaii Village Visit

Hello H2o fans!

We have not been with you for the past few days. We had an chance to see what life is like in a rural village and we were completely out of Internet range. Before I tell you about that I want to bring you up to date as to what we have been doing in the days gone by.

Following our game drive in the early morning we took the afternoon to learn a little about the Masaii people by visisting a a Massaii village. I am certain that most of you are familiar with the Masaii people. They are the people who wear the very colorful red clothes and are know for the piercings in their ears that allow their ear lobes to grow very long with big holes for jewelery. They are nomadic people and raise goats and cows. As a result, their homes are not permanent and they move to where the best grazing land is for their herds. They have lots of rights with the Kenyan government and can graze their herds after dark in the Masai Mara and we have even seen them grazing cows on the grassy medians in Nairobi.

Their huts are built of twigs and cow dung. Doesn't sound pleasant but when you stand inside, they really don't smell so bad. The homes are very small. Half of the house is set aside as a room for new calves and the other half has two bedrooms and a very meager kitchen between the bedrooms. Blankets for the beds consist of cow hides and the kitchen is a fire pit were the women cook with the couple pots that they own.

The people are very hard workers. Boys and men spend the day in the countryside watching over the animals. Yes, even small boys, 7-8 years old are seen herding the cows. There is no such thing as Ninetendo, movies, or even a day off. The kids are on their summer break right now but when school is in session, they go to school during the day and do chores from sun-up until bedtime. Girls haul water. Surprised? Kenya is going through a severe drought and the distances that they must walk is much further and the quality of the water is much worse.

After dancing with the men- Chris jumped the highest- and singing and dancing with the women, we had the chance to shop in their market. They had a variety of gorgeous jewelry, bowls, tools- anything that they normally use. We, of course, purchased more than we planned. It was our hottest day yet of the trip, and the dusty manyatta (what they call their homes) seemed stifling! We were ready to head back to Fig Tree for a dip in the pool.

We did one last game run in the afternoon. Again, the leopard was not seen! I guess we'll have to come back.

On Friday we are heading to Nairobi to pick up a few supplies and then onward to Kathungu school and village, and Kwamalelu school. This community is the birthplace of H2O for Life! We are looking forward to re-visiting our first completed project (June,2007)- a sand dam on the Kwa Kasolo river.


Thursday, August 27, 2009