It's all about water. That would seem to be the starting point for the "Water For Life" project of Groups of Women in Water and Agricultural Kochieng in Kisumu, Kenya. Working with small communities and schools, the staff have as their goal empowering rural poor populations through gospel outreach, enabling maximum availability of safe and affordable domestic water, the enhancement of food security, and the creation of change required to enhance women's economic powers.
These friends of the Global Fund were able to visit Odienya Primary school, one of the neediest of the twenty two primary schools served by GWAKO. Elizabeth, the GWAKO health hygiene coordinator, has structured health clubs for the older students in which she teaches the facts of life, AIDS prevention, and everyday hygiene practices. Global Fund grants have helped support a program for teen girls that includes supplying them with free sanitary napkins when they have this period. This is very important because the girls used to use rags and leaves, which contributed to infections. Because they felt unclean, they stayed home from school, and lost ground in their education.
The school has a student body of four hundred, very basic classroom buildings, including one built from mud and dung over forty years ago, disintegrating daily, and dilapidated human latrines, among the many needs. The water and sanitation needs are especially extreme.
Located only two kilometers from Lake Victoria, Odienya School was built on grounds where the water table is close to the surface. Recently this area has endured heavy rains, creating swamp-like areas within the school grounds and leaving the road close to impassable. Pat, Michal and I, along with Elizabeth from GWAKO, were able to reach the school, thanks to driver Renee's amazing car maneuvering skills. He drove around and through cavernous washed out areas and over three foot high rural "speed bumps" under which water flowed from one side of the road to the other. The van bringing the rest of our group plus a few GWAKO staff members became mired in mud about 1/3 of the way down the access road, though Felix, our photographer and Gideon, project administrator, were able to catch rides on the back of two bicycle taxis passing by. This narrow road was actually a busy thoroughfare for men and women carrying wares -- from baskets of clothes to bags of rice, to and from the market. Two cows passed by tethered to each other, the experienced one backing up the other, guiding it home.
When, at last we reached Odienya, the students poured toward us in droves. Elizabeth told me some of them had never seen a white person before and like children everywhere, they were eager to pose for a camera.
We were shown around the grounds, including an impressive twelve foot high round brick well given by the Kenyan government. Quoting a male teacher, "The government loves our children." If the government loves the children so, why has nothing been done about the state of the latrines, utterly unhygienic with no place to sit, partially tin roofed, and one even missing a door. We were told by the school chairman that $1100 would provide a new, state-of-the-art double-sided brick latrine. Two of them would be sufficient, they felt, to meet the needs of these students.
While we were seated like royalty at a long narrow table under the eaves of a low-slung school building, we were treated to songs and poems sung and recited by member of the Odienya Health Club. Dressed in colorful uniforms - blue jumpers over pink shirts - they performed with intensity and pride. The poems minced no words.The children performed the poems, using arm motions to dramatize the words:
AIDS, oh AIDS,
You sweep our continent
From east to west
From north to south
AIDS oh AIDS
Do you have no mercy on our health?
We all need latrines
To answer the call of nature
To dispense waste
for a clean environment
when inside, the latrine
relaxed like a king
feel free to let go
Keep it off the floor
For a clean environment
For the three friends of GFW, privileged to be present, it was the sharing song that truly gifted us. It will be shared with congregations, family and friends. The children performed the sharing song while standing in two lines, one moving clockwise, the other counterclockwise, each child greeting each of the others with a handshake and smile, all the while repeating the refrain.
We are happy to share
Happy to share
One another's burdens
That's why we are here
You turn around and meet your neighbor
That's why you are here.
The school motto - printed on a sign in Kiswahili, other Kenyan languages and English is,"Education is Light." On one brilliant afternoon on the grounds of Odienya Primary School in an impoverished rural area in the western legion of Kenya, light became grace.