Par Kasia Mychajlowycz
The grandmothers of the village were gathered in their office at the dispensary, waiting for the baraza (meeting) to start, when we arrived in Piave. It was a sign of trouble; the election to choose new community representatives for the borehole committee was supposed to start in the morning, and it was already two o’clock.
I was introduced to Esther, a small and elderly lady, wearing the same outfit- sweater, headdress, skirt and slip-on shoes-that the other six or seven ladies around us. As head of the Society of Women and AIDS in Kenya’s Piave chapter, however, she stands out; without a salary or consistent funding help, Esther co-ordinates the care of 424 orphans and vulnerable children in her rural township.
Esther and the 23 other senior women are the first line of health care for women and children in the area- the only, for many. ROTH met the group while constructing the Piave Maternity Ward and Dispensary in 2007, and has maintained a strong partnership ever since, helping the group deliver food, school supplies, clothing and basic hygiene products to the hundreds of children it supports. Most recently, ROTH helped secure and co-ordinate the distribution of hundreds of mosquito nets to the community’s most vulnerable homes, thanks to a grant from Sanofi-Aventis.
But the old adage is true: development is hard. A borehole, with an electric pump generously donated by Sonitec, was installed by ROTH to ensure the dispensary had access to clean water for its patients and procedures. The underground reservoir, though, was found to contain so much water, that the clinic was able to sell the drinkable water to the surrounding community, at an affordable cost. A committee was established and endorsed by the Kenyan Ministry of Health to administer the funds from selling the surplus water, saving half of the proceeds for maintenance and replacement of the water pump if needed, and investing the other half in maintaining the clinic building and buying life-saving medicines and supplies for its patients.
Three years in, the money wasn't there, squandered in un-mandated and failed garden projects, the former committee’s response to the recent drought experienced in East Africa. So the community, with the help of ROTH, had the borehole committee disbanded by the Ministry of Health, and on July 29th, was supposed to meet to vote for new committee members. Esther planned on putting herself forward as a candidate, but now the local government official was saying that old committee members had not been properly informed of this election and weren’t in attendance. When ROTH spoke to him, however, it was revealed that the old committee members need not be present for an election; rather, the problem was that there was not a quorum, enough people to have a valid voting procedure. There were less than forty people waiting in the rain outside the dispensary; the official told us 200 voters were needed for the election to go ahead.
So Frédérique, long-time supporters and friends of ROTH Sheila and Nik, and I set out to the main street of the town. We tried to coax people from their businesses and the bars to the dispensary with our limited Swahili, while Sheila turned out to be the pied piper of Piave, exhorting to everyone, “Imagine that these people [ROTH] who have given you the bore-hole have come here and gave you the power to elect the people to run it and you don’t come to the meeting!” Slowly, slowly, people trickled out of the town towards the dispensary. When we arrived back twenty minutes later, there were more people, but nowhere close to 200. According to the registration list, in fact, there were 104. The official called his superior to ask for the election to go ahead anyways; she replied that someone had called her and said there were less than 50 people there, misinformation from the old committee, the people decided. After some pleading, the official called the superior again and confirmed the real number of people, and got her approval. The election was going to take place.
Esther put herself forward for the position of chairperson; standing with her hands humbly folded, her legion of grandmothers lined up behind her to cast their vote for her, while Esther’s opponent and his supporters formed another line. Everyone craned their necks to see who’s line was longest, and when Esther was proclaimed chairperson, there were ululations and tears of joy from her long line of supporters, both men and women, young and old.
The rest of the 7 people were elected: three women, one [male] youth leader and two men, all from the community. Along with two Ministry of Health representatives, they are the Dispensary’s Board of Directors; two of them will be elected to be on the three-person sub-committee that will administer and save the funds gained from selling the borehole’s clean, potable water (at an affordable price, with free water for the poorest of the community).
Sustainable development is not a project that takes only as long as it takes to build a dispensary, drill a borehole well and paint the maternity ward’s walls. It’s an ongoing learning process, involving the community, local government and development groups foreign and local. ROTH is committed to this process, as shown by its ongoing involvement in the communities it has touched. But it’s people like Esther and the grandmothers of Piave who will make a lasting change in their communities, and we are thrilled that they are now an integral part of the Piave Maternity Ward and Dispensary.
(Photo July 2010)
MWEDO Girls Secondary School 2012
- Anne-Marie Chagnon Jewellery Workshop and Sale for the benefit of ROTH
- Our New Logo
- Medical Elective in Kenya
- Few Words from Gilles
- Gilles’ 100 miles in Colorado