Earlier this year, I visited Kenya’s Narok District, a dry, dusty region where the sunlight is blinding, the Maasai population is sparse and water is scarce.
Trachoma, an excruciatingly painful disease and one of the world’s leading causes of unnecessary blindness, used to be widespread in this area. Trachoma is caused by bacterial infection and spreads easily through contact with eye discharge from infected people on hands, towels and clothing and through direct transmission by flies.
Fortunately, Operation Eyesight launched a highly successful trachoma control project in Narok in 2007, based on the World Health Organization’s SAFE strategy. The project included drilling a borehole 270 metres deep to bring clean fresh water to this parched community.
Used not only for drinking, washing faces and preventing trachoma, the water has also had another significant community benefit: it has more than doubled the local student population.
Before the borehole became operational, most girls were unable to attend classes because they had to walk many kilometers each day to fetch water for their families. When we visited Ongata Boarding Primary School, for instance, I was told that in 2006, there were only 270 students, 100 of whom were girls.
Since the centrally-positioned borehole has made long treks for water unnecessary, the school now has an enrolment of 690 students, 300 of whom are girls. The head teacher told me they expect to grow to 1,400 students within the next two years.
While at the school, we were treated to a presentation of the following poem, written in honour of Operation Eyesight by teacher Susan Maranta.
Recited in English by a class of girls, probably between 12 and 14 years old, the poem illustrates the importance of Operation Eyesight’s investment in this community, and its ongoing commitment to addressing the root causes of poverty and blindness.
As you’ll see, the last verse asks for financial support for other community needs. Operation Eyesight works to build the community’s capacity and independence by helping them identify other sources for funding, including community grants available from the government, other NGOs who support education or even their own financial resources through the sale of cattle.
This is the day,
The day has come for us to rejoice.
The day of joy and happiness,
The day of expressing our gratitude.
The day is today.
Take me to Canaan,
Mama! Take me to Canaan.
Canaan full of honey and milk
Canaan is where I belong to
Ongata is Canaan.
Papa! Take me to Ongata.
Ongata has become a Canaan
Canaan of books and conducive environment,
Canaan of our nice driver Mr. Naikuni
Canaan of academics by our capable teachers
Canaan of support from our parents
Support from all other well wishers
And above all, our very able water donors.
Our water donors, thank you for giving our school water,
Our donors, thank you for your strong support
Our very able water donors, we still request for more,
Our boys need a dormitory,
We need more water pumped to our dormitory yard kitchen.
We know you can, our donors
We promise to work hard
Never to let your effort down.
Read more about Narok in my earlier blog post, “Water is life in Narok.”