Last year, the Monarch Foundation and our charity partner Just a Drop asked teams of up to six employees to raise money for a special project to bring clean and safe water to Matha School in Kenya. Money raised would go towards the construction of a rain water harvesting tank which would help to transform the lives of students for the next 30 years.
The school is based in Makueni County, around three hours from Nairobi and serves over 300 pupils from the local community. Frequent droughts meant that every day children had to walk long distances to bring water from the river to the school.
The new tank harvests water from the school roof during the two Kenyan rainy seasons and the project also provides sanitation and hygiene education with three hand washing stations near the toilets.
Fundraising staff at Monarch have recently returned from visiting Matha School in Kenya to see how their fundraising has made a difference to the community. Emma, one of the top fundraising team members, gives us an insightful account of her journey!
Saturday 18 March Heathrow – Nairobi
When running the British 10K back in July never did I imagine that I would now be sitting in Heathrow airport, on a wet Saturday morning, drinking coffee with four colleagues preparing for a trip of a lifetime. As we did the usual airport tick list – breakfast, money exchange, newspaper & sweets every so often there would be a “what have we let ourselves in for”, “have you packed this or that” from the group. There was an overwhelming feeling of excitement and anticipation.
At the boarding gate we met Jamie our Just A Drop (JAD) host who instantly put us at ease. Within the first 10 minutes of meeting Jamie his passion for JAD and the work they do was apparent, an employee of Thames Water he uses his annual leave and additional unpaid leave to support and monitor JAD projects, to me this speaks volumes.
The flight to Nairobi was seamless. Our arrival at Nairobi airport was surprisingly calm, we people-watched and patiently waited for our visas to be checked and passports stamped. We were then transported to our home for the night, Mvuli Hotel, and there we sat outside in the rain toasting our arrival with a cold Tusker before calling it a night.
Sunday 19 March Nairobi – Wote
Feeling refreshed and ready to rock we set off in the direction of Makueni County. Boys in one vehicle, girls in another and with us were employees of the African Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF). ASDF are Just a Drop’s s local partners who oversee the projects and communities on a daily basis. As our knowledge of sand dams was limited we were first of all taken to see two sand dams – one that was in its early stages and another that was well established, when visiting projects supported by the Monarch Foundation later in the day this was really useful as it helped us understand what the communities were aiming for.
JAD and ASDF don’t just give out money to anyone that asks, communities are expected to put a committee together, what is known as a Self Help Group and they are given a probationary period to demonstrate how they work together, where they will source the building materials from and how they will ensure that the project is sustainable. When we arrived at the first Monarch Foundation project – Kyambezi Sand Dam, the whole committee was there waiting for us (this is something we would get used to as the trip went on), it was hugs and handshakes all round, even from the Head of Discipline!
The sand dam has made a massive difference to this community, previously they would walk 4 hours each way just for water meaning that they had no time or energy for anything else. Now collecting water takes just a fraction of this time and they have even started to grow crops as they have time and water to spare. It was starting to sink in that we had really helped make a difference. However, when desperately needing to use their bathroom I was brought back to reality, whilst water for daily survival is no longer an issue there is still a long way to go…
Our home for the evening was Kusyombunguo Guest House, here we chilled out and made use of their wifi, we didn’t have the normal Sunday evening blues and we wanted our family and friends back home to know it 🙂
Monday 20 March Wote – Tsavo
We knew that today was going to be a long day and we couldn’t wait to get going. We visited a few Just a Drop projects first thing before making our way to Matha Primary School. Now this is what motivated us to do all that running last summer. We just couldn’t wait to get there but none of us were prepared for the scene as we arrived, a vibrant sea of faces all dressed in yellow and maroon, the older children running after our jeeps as though we were celebrities, the younger children stood on a wall not wanting to miss out on the action whilst the teachers trying to keep some control of the situation.
We visited as many classrooms as possible, the older children in a maths lesson desperate to show us that they all knew how to convert centimetres to metres, over 30 faces desperate to be the one chosen to write on the blackboard.
The water tank has of course changed the lives of these children, they no longer need to get up early to collect the water before school and they don’t have to think about carrying 5 litres to school as there is enough water for them all on site. The Head Teacher told us that there has been reduced sickness at the school because all the pupils have access to the clean water, the school has been transformed.
A school assembly formed part of our visit and as the Head Teacher told us that they pray for us on a daily basis and that they all hope that someone does for us as we have done for them. For me, this was the moment emotions took over, the sunglasses were strategically put back on and I held it together until I was safely out of view of 300 happy, seemingly carefree children. Those words will always be with me.
Our second Monarch Foundation project of the day was Kwa Maiu Sand Dam and it was massive in comparison to what we had previously seen, this community had found the perfect spot for their dam. We spent time with the committee members and explored the area surrounding the dam but I’ve got to admit, by this point I was exhausted. I have no idea what the temperature was but it was hot!! In the UK we come to a standstill if it’s too hot/cold/windy/wet… This community not only built the dam but also sourced all the materials in the blistering heat.
We were drained by the time we arrived at the Tsavo Inn, little did we know that we were in for an eventful evening…. There were no other guests, power stopped within about 10 minutes of us arriving, dinner took several hours to arrive and our rooms were.. urm… basic. However, it gave us something to talk about for the rest of the trip and made me realise just how lucky I am.
Tuesday 21 March Tsavo – To Goodbyes
An interrupted night’s sleep wasn’t going to stop us from enjoying our last day. After breakfast (still no power) we drove a short distance to Kasue Girls Secondary School. Here we were met by the Head Teacher and wow, she was an inspirational lady. Clearly very proud of what she has done with the school. In an area known for its drug use this school has in effect saved several young ladies. With over 400 boarders, thanks to the new water tank and 10 taps each girl can now have a daily wash, something of a luxury. Tomatoes were also growing in a makeshift green house, a welcomed addition to the school dinner menu.
Some of the pupils at this school were in the middle of sitting exams and it was heart-warming to know that the girls were going into the exam room in a much better place than they would have done prior to the water tank being installed. We have helped them get the best possible start to adult life.
We left Kasue feeling uplifted yet deflated, our trip was coming to an end… We left Jamie and the ASDF Team at this point, they were heading off to audit more projects whilst we were having free time before our flight home.
What an experience, memories that will stay with me forever. The photographs say a lot but to be actually given the opportunity to see for myself what a difference the money raised by the Monarch Foundation has made was a once in a life time opportunity. It was a thought provoking trip, made me realise what I take for granted… Diving in the shower each morning before boiling the kettle. Going to the car wash and watering the garden, things that are considered a chore when we don’t really understand how lucky we are.