Mothers and Water

Beth Oppenheim | May 8, 2015

Photo: Beth Oppenheim

Photo: Beth Oppenheim

Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate and appreciate the mothers and women that form our cities, communities and ourselves. We may get together for a nice meal, or just to spend time with those we care about if we’re lucky enough to live close by.

This Mother’s Day weekend, I myself am 9,000 miles away from my mother, but I’ve just visited some mothers CWS has been working with in Kitui, Kenya. Kitui itself is a town approximately three hours drive from Nairobi. As the bustling and hectic city gives way to beautiful hills and valleys made green from recent rains, it is clear that many parts of this country remain fairly untouched from the rest of the world.

CWS has been working in this area for nearly a decade in partnership with the Osprey Foundation, which has generously supported CWS Water for Life projects that have brought water to vulnerable communities across the region. Alongside the CWS Director of Immigration and Refugee Program, Erol Kekic, and two representatives from the Osprey Foundation, I had the opportunity to visit some of this work in action.

Many of the community members who came out to celebrate our arrival were mothers and their children. Overwhelmingly, we heard stories of how children were more likely to attend school and succeed, and to live healthier lives now that water was an ever-present resource, as opposed to something that would take up to 15 kilometers to reach. In some instances, schools hadn’t existed before water was a more permanent presence because the search for water took precedent over the education of the children. The construction of sand dams and rock catchments have provided both the water itself, but also the opportunity for mothers to take leadership roles in their communities.

Women representatives spoke of coming together to organize construction projects while still managing their homesteads. They spoke about their dreams and aspirations for the future, expressing how much the presence of water has given them the drive to think about what’s next. The leadership roles that many of the mothers of the community took on seemed only natural for them, having been leaders in their own families.

One CWS project site was able to move on from the construction of a large sand dam to the creation and management of a local vegetable garden, empowering mothers to both organize something to benefit the whole area, but also giving them something they can use for further economic gain.

At our final stop, it was late in the day and the rough roads and heat were making us travel-weary. We were invited to sit and enjoy dances that several groups of women had prepared for our arrival. It was impossible not to feel lifted and energized by these community members and their obvious enthusiasm for what was next for them. Three different groups performed, trying to express just how much they’ve gained from participating in these projects. The optimism was contagious.

This Mother’s Day, while I won’t get the opportunity to spend time with my own mother, I’ve gained an entirely new respect for what it means to be a powerful figure in the community. The mothers that I met in Kitui and their families will not only benefit from water; water is the reason and motivation for these women to take on leadership roles and to think about what might be possible next.

As one of the community leaders said, “it’s time now to think about the next step. The door is wide open.”

Beth Oppenheim is Associate Director for Resource Generation at CWS.