Since 1998, International Medical Corps has worked alongside the Ministry of Health in Kenya to implement a variety of programs in underserved communities throughout the country, including health care, nutrition, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS prevention care and treatment, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Using a multi-pronged approach, International Medical Corps’ programs not only provide relief, but also enable self-reliance through education and training.
In 2007, International Medical Corps began work in the semi-arid regions of northern Kenya, including Samburu District, where water is very scarce and women and children walk miles to collect water on a daily basis. Samburu suffers from uneven rain across the district during the four months of rainy season. The people of Samburu are nomadic pastoralists, dependent on livestock and access to water for their livelihoods. Failure to obtain sufficient water for grazing livestock can mean the difference between life and death. The drought and famine crisis in 2011 created an emergency in Samburu, and the region has been fragile ever since. With support from generous donors, International Medical Corps is continuing its work in Samburu District and the region, aimed at improving provision of access to adequate and quality water, improving access to adequate and quality sanitation facilities to vulnerable community members, and improving the health and nutrition status of mothers and children.
In several rural primary schools in Samburu, International Medical Corps is implementing integrated activities aimed at improving the sanitation and hygiene of young children. Lolkunyian Primary School serves 247 students, drawing students from up to a three-hour walk away. Before International Medical Corps’ intervention, the male and female students had to share only three latrines, with no available hand washing stations and no access for disabled students. In response, International Medical Corps recently built two blocks of same-sex latrines, with three to four standard stalls and one stall specifically for persons with disabilities. Additionally, a hand washing station and water harvesting system has been installed to further promote hygiene-related health.
In Donyo Wasin Primary School, which serves 340 students, International Medical School has encouraged the formation of a Health Club to improve the hygiene practices of the students as well as the surrounding community. The Health Club, which is made up of 58 students (30 male and 28 female) from grades one through eight, performs songs and plays which teach sanitation and hygiene techniques for fellow students and the community. As a result of these activities, International Medical Corps has noted significant improvements in beneficiaries’ health, with fewer students visiting the school nurse with complaints of water related illnesses and a decrease in the practice of open defecation in the community.
In Nkutoto, villagers from the surrounding area travel great distances, particularly in the dry season, to reach the only viable water source that is located in the mountains. Unfortunately, this natural spring is unprotected, and is frequently contaminated by wild animal and livestock waste when they use the spring to drink. This contamination resulted in a small-scale cholera outbreak in 2013. After consulting with the community and the Ministry of Health, International Medical Corps constructed a pipeline to bring the water down the mountain, and is currently constructing a cover for the natural spring to protect it from future contamination. With the newly constructed water tap, the community no longer has to walk up the mountain, often with livestock in tow, to reach the water source.
Although the drought crisis has largely passed, International Medical Corps continues to engage the vulnerable population of Samburu District with water, sanitation, and hygiene programs designed to address both their immediate and long-term needs. International Medical Corps’ program is providing schools with improved sanitary facilities and promotion of appropriate hygiene practices, with the help of the health clubs, which will help to improve the quality of life of the children and the teachers, contribute to decreasing school dropout, and reduce communicable diseases such as diarrhea. In addition, the improved water sources, combined with training on how to protect and manage them, will help ensure a modest yet sustainable water supply for the community, improving the lives of mothers and children in this extremely water-scare environment.
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