John Hoffmire: A road less traveled: Rotarians, community in Kenya work together to drive change

Published: Tuesday, April 16 2013 1:05 p.m. MDT

An elephant-proof water tower in Mosiro, Kenya.

John Hoffmire

The road to Mosiro is long, uncertain and difficult to navigate in many ways. Sometimes you will cross rifts in the road that could have been called valleys; some places the track is washed out and you must detour through the savanna.

Life is also hard on the savannas of Kenya for the Maasai people. Life was made many times worse when drought arrived and lasted and lasted and lasted. Then people with some resources came into their lives; they brought good, clean water from the earth; they made it possible for children to attend schools. They literally made it possible for some to eat; to be clean and free of diseases like trachoma.

Successful projects in this part of the world take planning, money and empathy. It is the latter that will ultimately make or break a project though. Like any undertaking in any community anywhere, the people must want it; they must decide what it is that they need. This is where Rotary International is at its best.

Mary Poole is a professor at Prescott College in Prescott, AZ and she has spent 10+ years in Maasailand, Kenya. She shared with members of Rotary International in Prescott about the dire need for water in Kenya. Her message was heard by one man in particular, Tony Terrasi, and he organized a small team of Rotarians from Arizona to visit Kenya and meet with community leaders.

Meetings were held over several days with the village elders. The people of Mosiro had a plan, a vision for their community which to you and me would seem modest. They wanted clean water; reduction of diseases; their girls to go to school along with the boys; a school to be proud of and the birthing clinic to have a doctor. Not much really. But, those things are hard to get in Maasailand.

Water is the key to almost everything in Maasailand; without it, nothing else matters. The water was some 250 meters below and it needed to be piped to three schools and the clinic. Then, after that was accomplished, how would it be maintained? The community had planned for that as well. They collected small amounts of money from those who took water and the council allocated it for future repairs, diesel for the pumps and electricity.

The Rotarians returned in 2012 to see what had been done and what else could be accomplished and they found much, much more. Craig Wilson, a District Governor for Rotary in Arizona and a director for Progress Through Business, accompanied the group, here is what he said:

“…It took us some time to reach Mosiro; you see the roads still are not real good. We were hot, tired and dirty by the time we saw it…the new water tank atop sturdy scaffolding. We also saw the school, the children, the people and their livestock. Our hearts leapt. Hundreds of people came out to welcome us. They came to see us, to share their good fortune and together we gave thanks. Here, in Mosiro, it is the gratitude and love that overwhelms you.”

The road to Mosiro may never be easy; you may never travel it. But, Mosiro is a stronger more viable community because some work has been done. The community defined its own needs and participated in the project every step of the way. Today, 51 percent of the students are girls; enrollment has more than doubled; there is no trachoma and the birthing clinic has permanent medical staff.

John Hoffmire is director of the SaÏd Business School Venture Fund at the University of Oxford.

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