Margaret Kariuku is a Kenyan woman who has not had the easiest path to success. As a mother of four, she has struggled to find a stable income to provide for herself and her children.
“Three times, I have had to start again. Three times, I have had to rebuild my livelihood. It all begun in 2005, when I stopped working as a secretary in Nakuru town. I thought that I would get my life sorted, but as fate would have it, this would not be.”
After she finished working as a secretary, she moved to her father’s farm, hoping to re-establish herself as a farmer. At first, her maize crops yielded well. However, as the days passed, her crops went down. By the third year, there was nothing left to harvest, and Margaret needed to decide what to do next.
“I picked up the pieces and decided to set up a milk collection centre. I bought milk from the farmers and sold it to the residents. I also decided to buy a motorcycle. When it was not used to collect milk, it would be a taxi. That way, I had two income streams.”
In the beginning, Margaret’s new business did well. Two income streams guaranteed a stable income. Sadly, after couple months, she realised that her employees were embezzling money from her. She needed to close the business. “I almost got disoriented when I lost my second business. But I collected myself again and set up once more.”
This time, she decided to establish a business on her own. She opened a grocery store which provided just enough income to keep her going. One day, she overheard her neighbour talking about a new source of energy called briquetting. This sparked her interest. She participated in a conference, organised by Practical Action Eastern Africa and SCODE (Sustainable Community Development Services), where she saw a demo of the production process. After the conference, her neighbour suggested a visit to the briquetting production site in the neighbourhood.
Although reluctant at first, she accompanied her neighbour to the site – pretending to be an entrepreneur. At the site, she quickly learned, that she could earn better income as a briquetting entrepreneur than owner of a grocery store. Meanwhile, the costs and availability of the raw materials made it easy to enter the market. She went back home feeling energised and thoughtful.
“My hope was that even if my grocery store was not performing well, I had briquettes. I knew that if I’d start producing them, I would be able to make a better income. So I started to produce them manually. I thought to myself, this is really hard! However, Practical Action and SCODE helped me. They rented me a machine to aide production. I had found my salvation.”
Margaret launched her briquettes business in 2015 and has increased her sales ever since. She has also participated in Practical Action’s training programmes, aimed to enhance women’s energy enterprise opportunities in Kenya. In 2017, she won the Energia Women Entrepreneurship Award – A prize that recognizes individuals that have done outstanding work in the sector.
In the future, Margaret wants to further expand her business and create jobs in the community. “Many young people are jobless, and many women are frustrated because they have no way of getting income. So I can use the prize money to give them a chance, to teach them, and to give them skills so that they can benefit the way I have.”
Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site and meet other inspiring women just like Margaret!
Want to help women like Margaret this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here.2 Comments » | Add your comment
Yesterday I told one of my friends that I was writing a blog for World Toilet Day and he laughed at me! “You’re kidding? There is actually a World Toilet Day? What will they think of next?”
I was left speechless and offended by his response. But I guess he doesn’t understand the significance. He’s never had to worry about having nowhere to go (except being caught short in a traffic jam on a motorway). Decent toilets are just there…they are part of everyday life.
World Toilet Day is an international day to draw global attention to the sanitation crisis. It’s about taking action to reach the 2.4 billion people living without a toilet. Toilets save lives, increase productivity, create jobs and grow economies.
I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact of not having a access to a decent toilet. Many of you will have seen it on TV when watching Comic Relief but nothing can prepare you for what it is really like. The poverty and terrible conditions I witnessed during my visit to a slum called Nyalenda in Kisumu, Kenya, shocked me to the core. It’s hard to describe how utterly terrible the few toilets I saw were, or the stench that lingered in the air. Open sewage ran through the slum and waste lined small paths. The children played near the open sewage and walked around with bare feet. I found it really difficult to deal with and battled with feelings of guilt, sadness and helplessness.
In this slum, only 32% of the population have access to improved toilets; 25% use shared pit latrines and 30% defecate outside.
This is Karen Bolo. Her house has no toilet or running water. Her neighbourhood was hit by an outbreak of cholera and a ten-year-old girl from a neighbouring plot died. Karen says she was terrified that the same thing would happen to her children.
“I have nowhere to go to the toilet at all here because we don’t have the capacity and I can’t afford to buy a new one. I have to ask for help from the neighbouring plots. For our children we have to put down a newspaper and ask the neighbours [who have pit latrines] if we can get rid of it there. It makes me feel awful because it is demeaning to have to ask for this.”
Her neighbour, 65-year-old Patrick Odliambo, said land near to his home is covered in waste and flying toilets.
“Around March/April, the rains come and wash the waste down the paths. Faeces flow with the storm water. During that time there are lots of cases of illness such as diarrhoea and malaria. Help does not come quickly; there are bad cases, especially for small children. Even now, my daughter is sick. She is vomiting and has a headache. This is from the environment. There are shallow wells which people drink from; they are not clean and people get sick.”
Transforming lives with toilets
But it is here that we have just launched a £1 million, six-year project funded by Comic Relief to transform the lives of 95,000 people by improving sanitation facilities in Nyalenda and another slum in Kisumu.
This project will work with communities to provide 1,125 improved toilets. 2,500 new water pumps will also be installed through the pipe network.
I’m really excited to see how the project progresses.
Three years later following another project in Kenya…
We have recently completed another sanitation project in Kenya – this time in Nakuru – to improve the quality of life for 190,000 slum residents by providing access to safe, hygenic toilets and hand washing facilities. And we worked with Anthony and other pit emptiers to improve their health, enable them to provide an essential service to their community and raise their status.
I wrote a blog about Anthony Ndugu for World Toilet Day three years ago and I felt I needed to include him in this one, not only because the theme for this year’s World Toilet Day is ‘toilets and jobs’ because we caught up with him recently to find out how life has changed for him.
Anthony would have to empty toilets with his bare hands. He suffered abuse and discrimination as a result of doing his job. People in his community would shun him and woouldn’t go anywhere near him. The pay was so terrible that it wasn’t enough to take care of school fees, household needs, rent and all his other needs.
As part of the project, his team received a gulper so they no longer have to manually empty the latrines. They were also given protective clothing.
“They are unique to us. We look professional – like a team. The local government has given us a certificate. We get more business and we are not harassed like we were before. My family are so happy; they are fed and my children can get an education.”
I’m really proud about the work we do and I was thrilled last year when a Sustainable Development Goal was agreed to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030 and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
This goal is ambitious. We have a long way to go in achieving even basic sanitation for all, and only 14 years to achieve it. So that’s why we need your help.
I am counting my blessings that I have a nice toilet to use and if you are too please consider helping people like Karen and Patrick get access to better sanitation, improve their health and restore their dignity. You could give a gift that transforms lives – like a life-saving loo!1 Comment » | Add your comment
“I’m so glad that Practical Action didn’t look down on me like everyone else. They picked me up and dusted me off.”
Juliet lives in Kajiado, Kenya and Practical Action supported her by helping her to access a loan to start up her own water business. Juliet no longer has to struggle to earn a living by making charcoal which was back-breaking and dangerous work.
In the mountains and forests where she used to burn charcoal to make her hand-to-mouth living, she encountered wild animals and bandits. She was once bitten by a snake and came close to standing on a poisonous viper. Her most frightening experience occurred when she was pregnant: she went up the mountain and was confronted by a man in a mask. She fled and he followed; “he wanted to rob and rape me”. Hungry and expecting a child, Juliet had to stop running. Fortunately, when she stopped she noticed three other men sat down – “they were my salvation”. The men stood up and ran after the attacker.
Just before Juliet had her baby, she could not make it up the mountain to get her charcoal and it got stolen. After she had her baby, her husband brought the charcoal down from the mountain for her and Juliet then sold it. But it was not making Juliet enough money and so she had to supplement her income. She washed clothes for her neighbours but she still struggled to afford enough food to feed her family. “I reached my end. I’d even decided to buy poison and kill myself because I’d reached my end! No-one wanted to associate with us. I was dirty; I was so black [from the charcoal].” Juliet could not afford water to clean herself and local people said that she would “die soon” as she was so thin. The day after she gave birth to her youngest son, Juliet went out to sell charcoal. No one helped her and no one knew she had had a baby because she was so malnourished.
Juliet recounts having a premonition that she should come back to her local town and start selling water. A friends’ mother told Juliet about a local mentor who was creating awareness of a loans scheme. Juliet carried on living in the bushes for a month burning charcoal as well as doing other jobs alongside to earn enough money for a loan. She stayed in the forests for days on end, to ensure that people didn’t steal her charcoal. She made 200 Kenyan Shillings (KSH) per day – equivalent to around £1.50. When Juliet went to clean for people, she took her baby with her and would have to leave him outside the house, making somewhere comfortable to lay him. Through her constant work, Juliet managed to save 2000 KSH to access the loan. Juliet built a savers group of 10 people – which was hard to build due to her status – and each member had to contribute: their group loan was 50,000 KSH.
Juliet said: “There was no connection from the water company, so I couldn’t fill my tank before I bought it. My daughter and I saved money and we didn’t tell my husband. We got the connection and I surprised him! We managed to buy the water storage tank.”
Once the water tank arrived, Juliet began to sell a lot of water which ensured that her local community had access to safe and clean water. The money she made from the water enabled Juliet to go back to the bank and ask for another loan to buy another tank. However, when they received the loan, Juliet’s husband took 12,000 KSH (almost £1,000) of it, as he wanted to go back to his home town to sell some land. He told Juliet he would buy a motorbike and set up a grocery shop for her to run, but he left her with his debt. “He was away for 2 months and he called me. He asked me for 2,000 more. I helped him because he was supposed to be setting up a better life for us.” Juliet did not hear from her husband for a further month and found out through his son that he had sold the land. When he did call, he was in a disco and told Juliet she was too old for him now. “He is 67 and has no teeth!” Juliet exclaimed.
Juliet’s husband had received money from the land he sold and instructed the new land owner to call Juliet and warn her not to look for him. He went to Tanzania for a 2 week holiday and “surrounded himself with beautiful women because he had money. I continued running the business and saved enough money to buy the second tank”. Julia repaid the loan and now has her own savings.
Her estranged husband found another woman and told her that he had a successful water business, that it belonged to him and that his ex-wife had stolen it. They arrived at Juliet’s home to take the business, but Juliet “chased them away with a machete.” The husband went to the police and reported the business stolen. Juliet went to the police station armed with her documents and explained what had happened. Her husband was told to go and never come back.
Despite her struggle for money and being accused of stealing the business, Juliet is determined to succeed. She has even set up another new business, rearing poultry. “It was good that my husband left. I have gone to hell and back. He tried everything to make my life hell; he even tried to sell my water tanks… My husband left me with debt. He left me with a baby. But I am free, I am happy and I will not stop! I want my own land; I am working hard and praying hard.”7 Comments » | Add your comment
Jack Owino is the Headteacher of a school in Nakuru, Kenya. He has worked there since 2012 and has worked with Practical Action and the Umande Trust to improve access to clean water, toilets and hygiene training for his 765 students.
The students come from the nearby slums and Jack explains their home life as ‘difficult’. Most have little or no access to clean water and decent sanitation at home so it is important to Jack and his staff that the children do not have to worry about going to the toilet and can drink clean, safe water when they’re at school.
Jack knows that having no access to water and sanitation at school affects attendance and he was determined to change this.
“In 2012, it was bad. We had one block of boys toilets and one block for girls. They were in a bad state. We now have two blocks each. Before, children had to run back home to go to the toilet, in the bush. They would run home and never come back.
“Bad sanitation at home meant that children were sick a lot. We now monitor their cleanliness. Water at home is contaminated but they are safe here. They are encouraged to go back to their communities and pass on their knowledge. They are agents of change.”
Water and sanitation is absolutely vital to keeping children in school and it has been amazing to see the change in the students at Jack’s school, they are happier, healthier and many are now going on to further education.8 Comments » | Add your comment
Bondeni Primary School in Nakuru County became a haven for pomp and colour on 15 October as it hosted over 5,000 people – a majority of them school children- to commemorate the Global Handwashing Day.
Themed “Raise a hand for hygiene,” the 2015 Global Hand Washing Day Celebrations reached out to students from 10 primary schools and thousands of people living in densely populated Bondeni informal settlements in Nakuru County. The 2015 celebrations aimed at fostering a global culture of handwashing and raising awareness about benefits of handwashing with soap was organised by the County Department of Health in partnership with more than 10 organisations that included Practical Action.
Educating the public
The celebrations started with participating school children, Nakuru County Government officials and stakeholders congregating at Afraha Stadium followed by a procession of 2,000 people through the Bondeni informal settlement spreading messages of proper sanitation to the locals.
The procession, led by the Nakuru Brass Band, made several stop overs within the informal settlements to educate the public on the benefits of handwashing with soap as a preventive mechanism to diseases.
Speaking during the celebrations, Dr. Joseph Lenai, Nakuru County Public Health and Sanitation Director, called for all hotel operators in Nakuru to have handwashing facilities in their hotels. “We also urge all proprietors of public eateries, schools, government institutions and health facilities to put in place mechanisms geared towards promoting handwashing with soap,” he said.
Lenai also urged headteachers in the area to further educate students on the importance of handwashing, adding that diarrhoea disease is one of the leading causes of child mortality:
“Here in Kenya, diarrhoea disease and acute respiratory infections are among the leading causes of child mortality with about 16% of child mortality in the country attributed to diarrhoea and 20% to pneumonia,” he said. “Handwashing with soap can reverse this trend. Handwashing with soap is a self-administered vaccine against diarrhoea and pneumonia.”
Transforming handwashing into a culture
He said the County Government of Nakuru has rolled out an inter-agency partnership programme comprising of government, private sector and the civil society to promote hygienic standards in the region. “Our county government has put together a partnership comprising Department of Health and relevant departments which include: Education, Water and Environment, the private sector and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to embark on the process of transforming handwashing with soap into a culture. We want to raise awareness among our people that that the simple act of regular washing hands with soap could save more lives than any medical intervention, preventing the spread of infection and keeping children in school,” Lenai said.
Lenai further appealed to the media to educate the public on the benefits of handwashing.
Reducing school illness
Speaking during the celebrations, Janet Ochieng’, Nakuru County Deputy Director of Education emphasised the need for sanitation in schools, noting that handwashing facilities in schools would reduce the number of days children spend out of school due to illness.
During the celebrations, all children were taught how to effectively wash their hands with soap, with five students from each school participating in a handwashing competition. The day also included drama and songs from schools and sponsors with demonstrations on the dangers of improper hygiene dominating the performances.
Dr. Lenai and dignitaries also participated in a handwashing demonstration to teach county staff and teachers on how to effectively wash away germs from their hands using soap.
The World Health Organisation states:
“Diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death among children under five. Diarrhoea causes nearly one in five deaths of children under five, resulting in 760,000 deaths each year. A large majority of these deaths are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. Treating and safely storing drinking water, hand washing, and exclusively breastfeeding young children can prevent diarrhoeal disease.”
Global Handwashing Day is a campaign to encourage people globally to improve their handwashing habits by washing their hands using soap, especially at critical moments like after visiting the toilet. The campaign aims at decreasing disease spread through proper handwashing and raising awareness of handwashing with soap as a key approach to disease prevention.
- Raise awareness of the newly passed SDG commitment to hygiene, but also advocate for a dedicated indicator to measure this component
- Ensure greater funding for hygiene behaviour change and handwashing infrastructure as part of national WASH or health budgets (the GLAAS report in 2014 found that countries are spending less than 1% of their WASH budget on hygiene promotion)
- At Practical Action we are particularly concerned about the significant health risks that the urban poor face as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, leading to health outcomes which are often worse for slum dwellers than rural populations. More needs to be done to address their needs in ways which are adapted to the conditions they face.
- Motivate local champions to carry the messages of hygiene and handwashing throughout the year
Our world leaders are working towards action on climate change – not a grand top down plan but a bottom up approach whereby all countries will set out their intended national contributions on the basis of what’s fair and equitable. The contributions are then pulled together to form the agreement. The intention is that this treaty will be agreed and signed at a meeting in Paris at the end of 2015.
Should we be worried about this? I think so – let me explain why
1. My action’s bigger than your action!
Have you noticed that governments have a tendency to talk up commitments but somehow when it comes to delivery everything is smaller or somehow more difficult? One current example –where there has been confusion at least over funding – is the Green Climate Fund. It’s a UNFCCC flagship programme intended by 2020 to provide by $100 billion a year to assist developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. It started operations this year after three years of planning but so far has been mired in debate about the level of finance to be provided by governments and what can be provided by the private sector. Currently only a fraction of this sum has been pledged so far, mostly to cover start-up costs’ according to Climate Finance and Markets
Today 49 less developed countries (LDCs) are calling for the process towards the Paris meeting to be speeded up. They worry that looking at all the commitments as a whole it just won’t be enough to deliver a maximum 2 degree average temperature rise, protect vulnerable countries like Bangladesh and/or that the timetable will be so elongated that by the time all of the pledges are in there won’t be sufficient time to work out if what’s proposed is enough.
3. What about the poorest and most marginalized people?
Keeping average global temperature rises to 2 degrees will now require urgent and transformational action. However even if we do managed to contain warming the impacts on poor people often living in the poorest and most marginal areas will still be significant. Their voices and needs are not sufficiently heard and represented in the climate change processes. Read our East Africa director, Grace Mukasa’s blog where she talks about the current unreported drought in Kenya.
4. Why now?
Today and tomorrow we could see the EU lead the way – leaders are coming together for a crucial EU Council meeting where they could decide Europe’s climate and energy targets until 2030. They could set ambitious targets supported by binding actions, they could lead the world on climate change action and by their decisions prompt other countries to be ambitious, to make declarations early and to adopt legally binding frameworks.
Paris is still the best hope for global action on climate change. Now is the time to work hard and push for action. But even if we get a deal in Paris we are still likely to exceed the 2 degree rise. So climate adaptation must go up the agenda on the UN and all the countries attending the talks. Practical Action will be pushing for this at the next UN climate talks in Peru in December.No Comments » | Add your comment
I heard recently that Kenya has announced plans for major investment in solar power, with the aim to produce as much as 50% of it’s total energy needs from solar by 2016. The plans involve some $1.2 billion of investment, as reported in the Guardian , which would see the development of nine large solar generating stations. Even if they achieve only half of their plans it would be an amazing achievement.
It’s fantastic that there are more and more of these major efforts to invest in renewable energy. As momentum builds, it’s sure to help reduce costs, and build confidence which will attract future investment for renewables. This can only be great news for global targets for reducing carbon emissions.
These are exciting times, and I am sure few people would argue that more and more solar power plants around the world are anything other than a great thing.
However, there is one thing that I fear remains missing. Most of Kenya’s population are not connected to the electricity grid. Many millions live many miles from a grid, and in current projections, it will be decades before most of them are connected. Mega solar schemes like the one above rarely address this critical issue. There is a well proven answer to this challenge – min-grids, such as this one pictured.
I blogged about one mini-grid which Practical Action are supporting in Malawi, and there are many such min-grids popping up around Africa. Unfortunately, although there is widespread recognition that over 50% of future electricity connections should be off-grid, we’re yet to see major investment in off-grid schemes anywhere in the world. Until we do, then we will continue to see billions of people left without access to modern energy, and held back in their development.
So of course $1.2 billion of investment into mega solar schemes in Kenya is great news. But $1.2 billion of investment into off-grid solar schemes – now that would be brilliant!No Comments » | Add your comment
If you think your job is bad, just read this interview that landed on my desk today from our team in Kenya. It is of a man who empties toilets for a living.
More than 2.5 billion people live without sanitation. Open sewers overflowing with rubbish and human waste run through the centre of urban slums.
Practical Action is working in a slum in Nakuru. There are toilets there – just not as we know them. They are basically just pits which are used by 240 people every day. They fill up quickly!
Imagine having a toilet that you can’t flush and you just keep going and going?! That’s the smell. It’s hard to bear.
There’s only one way these toilets can get emptied
People like Anthony have to empty the toilets – many of them with their bare hands. He has suffered abuse and discrimination as a result of doing the job. People in his community shun him and won’t go anywhere near him.
This is his story:
“We work on the pit latrines, where we use exhausters (pipes through which waste material is emitted) to pull out the human waste. The exhauster sucks out the lighter, biodegradable material. However, there are pieces of cloth, diapers and sanitary pads that cannot be removed using the exhaust pipe. They block the pipes and really slow us down. It forces us to go down into the latrine and pull out the human waste with our bare hands.
“Initially we always did this work with our bare hands and feet. The maggots and filth scared us. We were resented by the very people who created the mess but because the job was so filthy, nobody wanted to associate with us, so we worked at night like thieves.
“The money is not enough to take care of school fees, household needs, rent and all our other needs.”
Practical Action is working in Nakuru to improve the quality of life for slum communities of 190,000 people, by providing access to safe, hygenic toilets and hand washing facilities. And we’re working with Anthony and other pit emptiers to improve their health, enable them to provide an essential service to their community and raise their status.
This World Toilet Day I’m counting my blessings that I have such a fantastic job and if you are too please consider helping people like Anthony and his community to get access to better sanitation, improve their health and restore their dignity.
Please take action and help people access sanitation through a new appeal Practical Action have launched called ‘Safer Cities’. It is being backed by the UK government who will match fund donations pound for pound, helping us to do more vital work to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people living in slum communities. This means that if you can give us £20 the Government will also give us £20, making your donation go even further!
I am sure that everyone reading this will be aware of the awful events still unfolding in Nairobi with over 60 people killed, and almost 200 hundred injured following attacks by an armed group.
On Saturday I was still at home in the UK with a ticket booked for Nairobi the following day. As the first news filtered through, I began to get concerned calls from friends and relatives checking I was not already in Kenya, and asking if I felt safe to proceed with my planned trip. My immediate answer was – “yes of course”. Though I did check with the local Practical Action office that they were still happy to host me.
Having been here for three days now, and with the final stages of the hijacking not yet fully resolved, it’s impossible to understate how horrific events must have been for people involved or their relatives. Thankfully none of our own staff were directly affected. However, at the same time I think it’s important to recognise how much Nairobi, and Kenya is determined to “get on with business”.
Yesterday I was in Nakuru, with two new Board members of Practical Action Kenya, and while they were keen to keep up to date with events, they were also excited to discover our work on the ground. Here we are working in an amazing partnership with local county authorities; water companies; banks; landlords and civil society groups. Our target? To ensure that everyone in Nakuru has access to a toilet. While this may not sound that challenging, when you think that of the 190,000 people living in the low income areas of Nakuru, only 15% currently use a toilet today, you might begin to understand that this is quite a stretch.
In the middle of the day I met Joseph, an entrepreneur who we helped to set up a waste collection company which cleans up low income communities and also makes him and his colleagues a small income.
Having made the decision to come to Kenya, do I still think it was the right thing to do? Yes, absolutely. It has made me realise that while there is terrible news unfolding in Kenya, there are also some really positive stories. Of course the story of Practical Action, toilets, and waste collectors won’t reach the headlines, but I do think it important that people know that there are other things going on.
On Saturday 21st September, between 10-15 heavily armed terrorists invaded the busy Westgate mall, in upmarket Nairobi (Westlands). The mall has several food courts and on that particular day, there was a young chefs competition – which meant, that there were several children at the Mall with their mothers. Al-Shabaab/Al Qaeda groups have claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack was conducted at midday, when the Mall is at its busiest. The official number of deaths currently stands at 68 (official figure) and several others (around 200) with varying degree of bullet/shrapnel injuries. Official reports state a minimal number of hostages are yet to be rescued. The operation is led by the Kenya Defence Forces and the Kenya Police with assistance from Israeli, US and UK advisors. The terrorists have refused to negotiate – they want Kenya Defence Forces to pull out of Somalia. On the fourth day, as Kenya enters a three day period of national mourning, we are all hoping and praying that the siege is over, people can grieve, bury their dead, and nurse their wounds.No Comments » | Add your comment
Over the weekend Practical Action installed a solar powered water pump in Northern Kenya (Click here for more pictures). The benefits for the community will be huge, especially for Meshack.
Meshack is 12 and he wants to be a teacher. However, his chances of doing so had been severely disrupted because he couldn’t get hold of clean water. Listen to a heartfelt account of a boy who has suffered greatly because of a lack of clean water:8 Comments » | Add your comment