Samuel Kutsusha is a dairy and banana farmer who lives and works in the hills of Eshisiru, in the countryside outside of Kakamega Town. While the views from the hilltop home he shares with a co-worker are picturesque, his health was less rosy before he received a LifeStraw Family as part of the Carbon for Water program.
"I once had typhoid for four months,” Sam recalls. “But since I received the LifeStraw my health has been very good." Not only has LifeStraw Family left him feeling better, but it has also brought improved economic prospects for the young farmer. “I no longer lose work days to being ill, and my employer has even given me a raise because of the increased yield that I harvest.”
Sam says that he often talks to his friends about LifeStraw, and encourages them to use the filter on a daily basis. "Many of them use and like their LifeStraws too," he explains. His enthusiasm for the filter has led him to use it to treat the water with which he washes his hands as well as fruits and vegetables.
"I had been sick before, every week," recalls Raziah, who lives with her family of six in Shikomari. She fetches water from a nearby stream that abuts the land on which her family farms maize, sugar cane, and beans.
"But since I’ve been using the LifeStraw I have been well," she says, adding that she is careful that her seven-month-old daughter only consumes water purified by the filter. Raziah looks after a neighbour’s daughter as well, and says that she tells her neighbours about her family’s improved health.
Educator, Shikomari Primary School
"Teachers are so supportive of the LifeStraw project," says Carbon for Water district coordinator Janet Omari. "They serve as ambassadors in their communities."
One of those ambassadors is Aaron Mmboko, a senior teacher who has spent the last five years at Shikomari Primary School. "We tell our students that clean water is important for their health, and our students are using LifeStraw at home."
Mmboko says that while the initial focus of the Carbon for Water campaign was on teaching homemakers to use the purifier, children who witnessed the distribution and training became interested as a result of their exposure.
"We teach the LifeStraw as part of our science curriculum,” he explains. “We talk about contaminated water and how it can impact students’ lives in the form of waterborne diseases. We teach them in the environment club that the environment is delicate—not just trees, but water too. They must care for water. We also teach them about indoor air pollution, and we tell them that billowing smoke in the kitchen can impact their health."
Clinician, Bushiri Health Center
As a clinician, Joel Kuyo sees dozens of patients in his clinic every day. For the last two years he has examined patients there and prescribed plans for treatment. Joel and his colleagues keep a list of the top ten acute presentations of disease at the clinic. Malaria is number one, and for many years diarrhea stayed stubbornly in second place. "Unsafe water is the main cause, the way they collect it," Joel explains. Since the distribution of LifeStraw Family water purifiers in the area, diarrhea has finally fallen in the top-ten list, and is now at number three.
"Earlier today we gave one of our daily health talks, on the importance of safe water," Joel says. "One key thing we discuss is use of the LifeStraw. You have re-emphasize the message. Always we tell them, use the LifeStraw. It will directly reduce the numbers of diarrheal presentations in the clinic."
HIV affects many people in the clinic’s catchment area. "We don’t count HIV among the diseases in our rankings because we are tracking acute illnesses," Joel explains. "But yes, most people who come in with diarrheal illness are HIV-positive. We have each month a special meeting where we talk to HIV-positive patients. It’s called ‘psychosocial,’ whereby all of them come to the facility. We talk about these conditions frequently."
"My life is greatly different from before we had LifeStraw," says Susan Djerumani, a 45-year-old homemaker who lives with her husband Vincent, their child, and several stepchildren. "Before I had LifeStraw, I had to buy firewood to boil my water. Here, we cannot gather firewood as there is none about, so you have to buy it. But now that I filter water, I don’t need to boil it."
Susan explains that she used to buy a small tree for 500 shillings, and would cut it into pieces to use for boiling and cooking. This supply would last two days. Now that she no longer needs firewood to boil, she can buy 200 shillings’ worth of firewood and it lasts her one week. Not only does she save money, but the time freed up by the filter allows her to better tend the family’s maize and bean crops.
"I have seen a difference in my health,” Susan adds. “If you compare the water before the LifeStraw and the water after, there is a great improvement in taste. When they first brought the LifeStraw to me it was difficult, but when they came to re-educate, I learned and now it’s easy to use."
Cecilia Musuna lives in a small hut in Elwhisero with her husband and three children. "I farm crops and also raise cattle," she says, as hens and chicks peck her kitchen floor, where a young calf is also tied up. "We farm maize, beans, ground nuts, and vegetables."
Cecilia is a high-volume filterer, filling three jerry cans a day with water from her LifeStraw Family. It is a critical input to her growing enterprise as a provider of meals to local people who don’t cook for themselves. "I serve the clean water to the people I feed. I cook ugali and vegetables for people who come to my house and eat. And now that I have LifeStraw, the water is clean, and tastes better."
District Public Health Officer
We get all of the condensed data here at the district public health office, and we have seen a gradual reduction in diarrhea figures since the LifeStraw programme began. We get more cases of diarrhea in the rainy season because our water sources are more contaminated at that time, so the filters are especially key in that season.
On our posters and in our outreach, we repeat the message that you must drink from the LifeStraw every time. Some people, especially with big families, have been reluctant to filter because of the time involved, but to them we repeat the benefits—that they will lose time for working to diarrheal illness if they continue to drink unfiltered water. Using the LifeStraw can change that. New ideas take time to catch on, but LifeStraw is doing fairly well.
I’m seeing a change in usage after the first re-education campaign—there has been an increase in the number of families filtering.
We advocate filtering four litres of water per person per day—so we tell families of five that they ought to have a 20-litre jerry can in their home which they can fill once a day. The four litres is not for drinking alone—it’s for washing fruits and vegetables, and hands.
In practice, our people drink different amounts of water depending on the weather. They drink more during the dry season, less during the rains.
The bottom line for us is that they must always use the filter. Because if you take today’s filtered water but don’t take it tomorrow, the net result is nothing. But consistency in taking the filtered water will really keep the illnesses away.
Education has really helped dispel the myths, false beliefs and outright misunderstandings. We have had also to reach out to other stakeholders so that we have the understanding of religious leaders, provincial administration, and others. The clergy really have a forum in which they can pass message to the flock. And this time is really unlimited because these religious leaders have contact with people all the time, not just worship meetings. We have also asked them to be role models. People frequently come visit them, so if the clergy take the filtered water, their faithful would learn from them.
The Ministry of Health recruits community health workers in every village. Some of them are educators in Vestergaard Frandsen campaigns, and each person visits one hundred households. We really need to impress that community approach so that we really get each household.
We have really interacted strongly with the Ministry of Water. There has been a paradigm shift within the ministry, whereby management of water has been shifted from the ministry per se to companies. The fear of the companies was that the filter would take away their market. No, the filter will not take away their market. We were saying, "No, the filter will not take away any market from you. But is your water wholesome? Even the water from the tap, is it wholesome?" That has been the question. We have sampled at times and found that the water was not safe. So I will not discourage anybody from filtering this water.
Change is not easy. Someone was telling me that he has used water from a given stream for a long time and he has never been sick. It is his grandchildren who are getting sick. So I was trying to explain to him the issues of our immunity. We have different immunity levels. I was telling him that he was lucky that he has not had problems. But you cannot be lucky all the time. When you get older, you get weaker. You might get one that will never come out of you. So take precautions now.
Basically, I deal with what you call adherence counseling. If somebody tests positive for HIV, they send them to me. I start telling them how they will experience life as an HIV-positive person. I relate to my own experience and how I was able to make it despite the stigma, and how I came to be where I am and feel comfortable and move along with life.
I am 42 years old now and I knew my status around eight years ago.
I started this work at the provincial general hospital in Western Province. Vestergaard Frandsen’s work has given me a chance to speak about stigma in society and how you can overcome HIV and live your life. There are still dogmas and stigmas so I felt comfortable talking to my own people and since they have seen me—the way I was when I was sick and the way I am now—I feel like being a living example helps me fight stigma.
Being HIV-infected, the immune system is suppressed. So any small thing that comes to you can be a big problem. And water being a basic need, people need to take clean water to avoid the things like typhoid and diarrhea.
We have so many outreach programs to assist the communities. There are three components: the condoms, the mosquito nets, and the water filter. So we went to various areas, telling the people the importance of coming out to learn your status, the importance of sleeping in the mosquito nets, and the importance of filtering your water. I tell people the importance of the LifeStraw and why they should filter their water, wash their hands with filtered water, and wash their vegetables and utensils with filtered water.
I usually go around on a voluntary basis. We have hospitals that have clients who form the HIV support groups. They want to know how I have made it, living the way I am living in the society without even feeling like I am HIV-positive. I’m always invited to so many forums to tell people that HIV is real and how to overcome it. We have all ages in the support groups. From kids, youth, young adults, to old age. We have women’s groups. We have men’s groups.
I can see some changes in places that have water filters. There are those who sometimes were given the filters, and they didn’t know the importance of using them. Those in my support groups who use the LifeStraw tell me that it really helps them. They are getting clean water. The problems they were having with typhoid are no more.
Women Bloggers Deliver Competition Winner: Two female bloggers are following the Carbon for Water campaign, an initiative of Vestergaard Frandsen that will distribute 900,000 LifeStraw Family water purifiers to homes in the Western Province of Kenya. These bloggers were winners of the Women Bloggers Deliver contest and seek to tell the stories of how the Carbon for Water campaign is affecting the lives of girls and women.
It was raining when we got to the Malava Girls school--the loud, heavy kind of rain that makes it hard to hear your own voice inside--and we weren't sure we would get to visit with the girls we came to see. The plan was to demonstrate a LifeStraw Family and to hear what they had to say about clean water and the impact of waterborne diseases on their lives.
But we waited the rain out and did get to see the girls, just an hour or so later than scheduled. And we got to hear about so much more than just water.
They overflowed the area under the canopy where we gathered, and the girls that couldn't fit stood on the periphery with umbrellas in case it started to rain again (which it did). We talked about water: at least half the room raised their hands when asked if they'd ever been sick with a waterborne illness. Nearly as many raised their hands to say it's happened multiple times.
We demonstrated the LifeStraw Family using a bucket of the muddiest water around--and had a teacher of the students' choosing come and drink the purified water, after which the girls went crazy with excitement. Vestergaard's own Elisabeth Wilhelm and a few other volunteer students all did the same, and the LifeStraw water passed everyone's test.
We talked about access to water, and the girls told us how difficult it can be to get even a minimal amount to get through a day. Fiona said she'll wait in a long line for water, and sometimes never makes it to the front and returns home with a still-empty bucket. We talked about carbon emissions, and they clearly understood what climate change is and the potential impacts on the environment and human health. We talked about how standing over a cookstove, which is done for cooking but also for boiling water, is bad for the respiratory system, and so the LifeStraw will save them time and money by not having to boil water, but will also improve women's respiratory health.
But the conversation took a turn we did not expect. Their intelligence showed through in their questions, but unfortunately, so did the magnitude of the issues they face simply because they are girls.
I'm glad we visited a girls' school: the visit illustrated the importance of two of the Millennium Development Goals at the same time, universal education and gender equality. Studies have shown that investment in the education of females brings high returns, including boosts in social and economic progress. But as girls become educated, they are also more empowered and aware of their rights.
Yesterday, they started asking questions they'd clearly had on their minds but had no one to ask or been too shy or ashamed to do so. (We'd requested the schoolmasters to leave the room.) We got asked questions about basic women's health, breast cancer, typhoid and clean water, but also about female genital mutilation, about relationships with their male peers, and about a girl who was sexually abused by her father for so many years and is now a prostitute--what advice should her friends now give to her?
Gender equality has come a long way in some parts of the world over the last few decades, but it's clear from questions like this that there is so much farther to go. Laws have to change, culture has to change, educational and economic opportunities have to change--and people's attitudes have to change.
In the developing world, about 104 million children ages 6 to 11 do not attend school, and 60 million of those are girls. The disparity is even greater in secondary school. In Africa, according to Oxfam, girls attend school for an average of 2.82 years before they reach the age of 16. Malava is a high school, so we were talking with girls who are a lot more fortunate than many of their peers. The girls we spoke with were on average about 15 years old.
We were there to answer questions they did not feel comfortable asking in their own classrooms, but what happens on all the other days, and in all the other schools? And for girls who aren't in school at all? How many girls are questioning their role in an unequal society, but are shushed or scolded or punished for asking those questions out loud, let alone acting on them?
Women perform an estimated 66 percent of the world's work, produce about 50 percent of the world's food, but earn less than 10 percent of global income. With cleaner water, improved health and increased quantity and quality of education, those statistics should start to balance out.
We also got asked questions about maternal health: will a pregnant woman suffering from a waterborne disease pass it on to her child? Should HIV-positive women breastfeed their babies? (No, is the answer to the last question. It's one a lot of educated people thought was well-understood by now, but there is clearly a gap in understanding. One girl had even heard that HIV-positive women should breastfeed their babies because it will make them stronger. The medical knowledge we have available says exactly the opposite.)
All of these issues are connected: better-educated women are likely to have healthier (and fewer) pregnancies and to give birth in a hospital, rather than at home. Healthier women are more able to take better care of their children, and easier access to clean water improves children's performance in school.
The LifeStraw isn't going to solve all of these issues, but if it's one step toward improved health for women by reducing smoke inhalation and for the whole family by eliminating waterborne illness, then that's a population that can start focusing on the next challenge that lies ahead.
Zeddy Ochieng has worked in three Carbon for Water campaigns—the initial distribution in May 2011, and two subsequent education campaigns. His official title is driver, but he plays many valuable ad hoc roles including logistician, translator, and educator. He likes his job because the Carbon for Water programme "because it is out to help the lives of the people," he says. "We are fighting the diseases that affect the lives of people with serious diseases."
Zeddy fondly recalls a particular visit to a woman whose life had been changed by the LifeStraw Family filter she received through Carbon for Water. "In the forest we met a lady who was preparing a local meal called githeri, which is a mix of beans and maize. When she heard that we were from LifeStraw, she was happy. She was happy about a lot of things that LifeStraw has done in her life and for her family. Later, at lunch hour, we were hungry, so she came out with her githeri. She who had so little shared her food with us and filtered the water for us to wash our hands."
While gratified, Zeddy also acknowledges the obstacles he faces in his position. "Sometimes you find very poor households," he explains. "Some of them don’t even have containers to store the clean water. We challenge them to save money to buy containers and help them understand the value of clean water and storing it safely."
Since 2012, clinical officer Jocelyne Makori has run Lurambi’s Emusanda Health Centre, the rehabilitation of which was made possible by Vestergaard Frandsen in 2009. Emusanda consists of outpatient consultation rooms, a lab, a pharmacy, and a maternal and child healthcare unit, operated by a staff of 16. The centre also offers comprehensive care for people living with HIV. (More than 70 people attend the centre’s monthly HIV support group.) Patients pay a nominal fee, and all drugs are provided for free.
"The most common disease is malaria, and we also used to see a lot of typhoid," Makori reports. "With the help of LifeStraw Family, now the diarrheal diseases and the vomiting are reduced." She says that the malaria burden is also noticeably reduced in part due to mosquito nets that the clinic receives from Vestergaard Frandsen.
"Each month we see 1,500 patients," Makori adds. "People from outside have heard about the clinic and they come here. This clinic is different because we give drugs and many services for free. We treat everyone, even foreigners."
Jackson Mwanje Welesi is the father of Anzelma, a young girl featured in the award-winning film Carbon For Water, made in May 2011. One year later, Jackson says he and his family are much more aware of the environmental challenges they face.
Since the film was made, I have realized that collecting firewood, as my children were doing in the forest to make money, leads other people who learn about this to go into the forest, collect the firewood, and that would contribute to the death of the forest. We try to change from firewood collection to other activities, which would conserve the environment and the forest as a whole. I try to talk to my children about the benefits of the forest and the trees. I tell my children and my wife not to go in the forest anymore.
I myself have attended several workshops and learned about forest conservation. These were sponsored by the Kenya Forest Service, the Kenya Wildlife Service, Nature Kenya, and the agricultural ministry. From what I learned in the workshops I started a small tree nursery just outside my house. I can plant one species on my farm and it won’t disturb the crops. I raise maize, beans, cassava, potatoes and some vegetables, and I have two cows which I keep at my place.
I have five children. Anzelma does well in school. I like her very much because she is open, so she can tell me her problems. If she doesn’t understand something in school, I can help, but she’s doing very well in school.
Patrick and Violet Wananda were featured in the award-winning 2011 film Carbon For Water. Here they discuss their lives since the film was made.
Patrick: Since we got this LifeStraw, my family is okay, they are staying well. I have never spent a single shilling [on medical costs related to waterborne illness] since I started using LifeStraw. Those complications are out, surely. And now that is why you can see it from my younger boy to the elder girl – all of them use LifeStraw. They drink some water very early in the morning before they go to school, and after lunch they come back want to drink more from the LifeStraw. I have shown all of my family that when they want to drink, even at night, they simply go to the LifeStraw.
Violet: I haven’t been sick from water since we received the LifeStraw. And the money that I used before to buy some medicine, the money that I used to buy firewood, right now I’m saving it to pay for my school fees for my children. Now I use firewood only for cooking, not for boiling water.
Patrick: It’s interesting for me because I am the one who has been cutting down trees every now and then, for over 15 years. So, I am happy that we realized that cutting trees is not good. So many people have been using firewood for boiling water.
Violet: And I was the one who made him buy a power saw. But we didn’t know that we were causing damage.
Patrick: When I am [traveling outside of Western Province, in places where there are no LifeStraw filters] I cannot take their water because I cannot mix that water with the clean water I drink at home. I know I might become sick because their water is not clean!