Santa Monica nonprofit The Samburu Project celebrates World Water Day with its annual fundraising walk

By Michael Aushenker

When Kristen Kosinski left a high-paying career at Paramount Studios to build wells in Africa, her parents thought she had lost it.

However, the longtime Santa Monica resident —founder and executive director of Main Street-based The Samburu Project — could not deny a calling that had been nagging at her since age six.

“I always had a desire to work with African women,” said Kosinski, 44. “I was always interested in empowerment.”

Eight years later, The Samburu Project marks World Water Day (observed by the United Nations on Saturday) with its 5th annual Walk for Water & Pancake Breakfast fundraiser in Hermosa Beach on March 30.

After finishing college in the early 1990s, Kosinski spent two years as an instructor for Teach for America, for which she taught in low-income school districts in Houston and South Los Angeles. She then jumped into the world of entertainment, spending four years in casting and as a talent scout at Paramount before graduating to a position as a creative executive in programming for the Melrose Avenue studio. Part of her job was overseeing day-to-day production on programs such as “JAG,” “Girlfriends” and “Becker.”

As her interest and involvement in empowering women abroad began to rise in 2005, so did turmoil on the Paramount lot.

“That year, Paramount was taken over by CBS,” Kosinski recalled, “They had fired a lot of people and I was one of the last people left. They offered me a contract. I decided to leave and didn’t sign the contract. I said to myself, ‘You know what, I’m gonna go!’”

Go, as in, go to Africa.

“I had my goodbye lunch and, that night, I got on a plane to Africa,” she said, landing in Kenya, which “seemed like a place that I could navigate on my own.”

A car picked her up at the airport and took her to Samburu, located 435 miles north of Nairobi.

“Three days later, I was sitting in the bush with women,” she said.

Listening to the plight of numerous African women who repeatedly complained about a dearth of clean drinking water, Kosinski embarked on the adventure of her life lining up capital and capable hands to build the wells these villages so desperately needed.

“It was definitely naïve and purely passion driving me,” said Kosinski, who returned to Los Angeles with partners in Africa, formed her nonprofit, used entertainment industry contacts to raise an initial $10,000, and returned in 2006 with the $65,000 she needed to build four wells in Samburu.

Now 63 wells later — each costing $17,500 and serving 1,000 people— Kosinski these days occupies a different psychological place as a single mother raising son Adrien, 5. Looking back on what she achieved, Kosinski said she can’t believe the gumption she employed to accomplish her goals. And yet, she had no choice: the entertainment industry spiritually became a dead end for her while 4,500 children were dying daily worldwide due to unsafe water.

“In my heart, I wasn’t connected to [Hollywood],” Kosinski said. “I knew that’s not why I was on the planet. I yearned for more.”

If anything, she said half-jokingly, “I had to prove this would happen just to get my family off my back.”

The Samburu Project’s 5th annual Walk for Water & Pancake Breakfast takes place from 8 to 11 a.m. on a four-mile loop from Hermosa Beach Pier to Manhattan Beach Pier and back, beginning at American Junkie Restaurant, 68 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. To register, visit walkforwater2014.org.

michael(at)argonautnews.com

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