The Samburu Project’s month-long virtual event raises money for clean water in Kenya

By Katie Lulla

The Samburu Project is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit whose mission is to provide access to clean, safe drinking water in the Samburu region of Kenya. Credit: Mamen Saura

The Samburu Project (TSP) has been providing clean water to the Samburu people in Kenya since 2006 to improve health, increase education and empower women.

This year, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit is hosting #doitforwater, a month-long virtual event where people can come together for multiple activities to support safe drinking water. The event kicked off on World Water Day (March 28) and lasts through April 22. The last 10 days of the #doitforwater challenge are dedicated to doing what people do best, whether it’s a stroll along the beach or a walk around the neighborhood – each step is taken in solidarity with the women and girls of Samburu.

When TSP founder Kristen Kosinski went to Kenya to start a women’s empowerment organization, she learned that water was one of the greatest challenges that people faced out there. She partnered with a local woman named Mariama Lekwale and started TSP to drill wells and increase clean water accessibility.

“We’re partners with the community,” said Linda Hooper, TSP executive director. “We want to provide this resource to them and give them the tools for long-term sustainability. So far, TSP has built 126 wells.”

TSP has an office in Wamba with a staff of three Samburu County locals. Every year the team receives 20 to 30 applicants, who they then visit for a needs assessment. The applicants range from schools and women’s groups to settlements with hundreds of people.

“We weigh all those factors and then we hire a hydrogeologist to come from Nairobi, [the capital of Kenya], and take a pass through again for his assessment,” Hooper said. “Some [locations] he won’t know right off the bat if there’s probability of water and some he will.”

After selecting the communities, TSP helps them work with the Kenyan government to complete the necessary documents. The organization has to document the number of people in the community, provide a letter from the community leader allowing them to drill on their behalf, and obtain a building permit, among other forms.

“The whole process, from the time someone comes through our door and applies for water relief to there actually being a well pumping clean water, takes around a year,” Hooper said.

While the well is being built, TSP brings together a group of three people from the community, one of which has to be a woman, to oversee the well and understand the well’s functions.

“The locals who are using the well have to understand how it works, where the water comes from and how the water is filtered,” Hooper said. “We also instill in them a sense of hygiene.”

The local team passes by the well locations two to three times a year to check on the well maintenance and view community improvements such as more children in school, vegetable growing and the opening of small businesses.

“We are so successful because we work in a small area and the staff that serves the community is from that community,” Hooper said. “At this moment, we are pretty busy doing what we’re doing. We aren’t looking to expand [to other parts of Kenya]. We’re more looking to expand services in Samburu.”

The #doitforwater event was started in 2010 by a Woodside board member who wanted to spread water awareness to her local schools.

“She thought it was a great opportunity to involve children, to act locally and impact globally, and teach children about empathy and the world water crisis,” Hooper said.

The #doitforwater events have spread to San Francisco and as far as New York. They have also garnered local support from local middle and high schools in Los Angeles.

“This year, as we are still in this pandemic situation, we thought to really expand these efforts since we have followers all over the United States,” Hooper said. “Our events committee and our staff thought to broaden the walk for water and reach a larger audience, and involve a lot more activities than just walking.”

Before the pandemic, TSP hosted 14 events a year. Hooper and her assistant would go to every event to engage the community and rally supporters. Hooper said that she didn’t know how she would have gotten to every city if the in-person events had grown. As the events are online, TSP is using Strava, an app for runners and cyclists, to track the results of people’s various activities. Apple watches and Peloton bikes can be linked to Strava as well.

“Within the Strava community, you can look for our hashtag and see what people are doing,” Hooper said. “We’re hoping to get some friendly competition going. We’re looking to spread the word about #doitforwater, because so many people know about us and have been participating in our events for years and years. It’s still going on, just virtually. So go to our website, do a little beach walk, wear your PSP T-shirt and join the cause.”