Pre-Med Student Works to Improve Access to Safe Water in Kenya
Some 16 million Kenyans depend on “unimproved” water sources, such as rivers, shallow wells and ponds, according to nonprofit Water.org. Nearly half the country’s population of 50 million lack access to basic sanitation.
In addition, UNICEF calls the collection of clean water, which often falls to women and children, “a colossal waste of time.” In sub-Saharan Africa, one round trip to collect water takes an average of 33 minutes in rural areas and 25 minutes in urban locations.
“For women, the opportunity costs of collecting water are high, with far-reaching effects,” UNICEF writes. “It considerably shortens the time they have available to spend with their families, on child care, other household tasks or even in leisure activities. For both boys and girls, water collection can take time away from their education and sometimes even prevent them from attending school altogether.”
Pre-medical studies student Michele Ganz saw this water and sanitation crisis up close. During fall 2019, he spent several months working at a health clinic in central Kawangware, a slum in the capital of Nairobi.
Ganz heard about the lengths people would travel for safe water and saw the diseases caused by drinking tainted water, including cholera, malaria and dysentery.
“I started to think of ways I could help,” Ganz says.
Through the clinic, he connected with area nonprofit Marafiki Community International, which works to build sustainable communities throughout Kenya.
After discussions with the company’s CEO, he established We Still Alive in collaboration with Marafiki. Part of Ganz’s mission focuses on raising money to construct water towers and develop infrastructure to increase efficiency of water services and allow more people to have access to clean water.
So far, his work has contributed to several towers built in Maai Mahiu and Maasai Mara, Kenya.
“Children can go to school now because these towers provide water closer to their homes,” says Ganz, an aspiring cardiac surgeon who will begin med school in his native Italy next year. “It makes me very happy, but there’s still a lot to do and a lot to grow.”
The complementary second part of We Still Alive’s mission highlights the lives of Kenyans and offers a snapshot of the people Ganz met while working there in 2019. (He hopes to return next summer.)
In one story, Ganz talked to a high school biology teacher named David. He recounts the pollution in the Ondiri Swamp and the recent improvements to the area.
“I see the uprooting of eucalyptus trees and the reimplantation of new indigenous ones,” David shares. “They help conserve the biodiversity in the area and conserve clean water, releasing it during the dry season. I see illegal water pumps from private owners being shut down for a long time now. I see plastic and more garbage slowly disappearing.”
Ganz says, “I want to help people understand what’s going on here.”