Alice Rutto, with members of the Total Mau Summit task force during a site visit to inspect the construction of a storage tank (CESPAD)

Women and Water: The Story of Alice Rutto

Women take on leadership roles to improve water and sanitation services for all

When Nakuru Rural Water Service Company (NARUWASCO) and the Dutch NGO WaterWorx picked Total Mau Summit in Nakuru as the base for the Total Mau Summit ‘Water for Life Project’ in December 2017, Ms. Alice Rutto, had no idea it would change her life. Now, Alice and the other residents of Total Mau Summit in Nakuru County, Kenya, no longer have to walk long distances every day in search of clean water from the Silibwet Spring, or pay unscrupulous water vendors exorbitant prices to access the precious commodity.

Alice explains while showing us the spring:

‘We used to line up here to fetch water from the spring for hours, and in the dry season, sometimes fights would occur because we didn’t have enough water. But now, with this water project, we can now look to the future and also focus on other things.’

Alice is one of more than 15 million people in water-scarce Kenya on the fringe of water services, dependent on sometimes distant wells, ponds, water bowsers and water vendors or rainfall for farming or personal use. With the introduction of the ‘Water for Life’ project which supplies water to 17,000 people along the Nakuru – Eldoret highway A104, she benefits not only from the safe drinking water and improved health, but far more.

It all started when Alice was recruited as part of the 25-member Task Force team of men and women mandated to assist in monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the project. The Centre for Social Planning and Administrative Development (CESPAD), WIN, and NARUWASCO supported the Task Force with training on integrity and transparency and helped them acquire the-know-how to monitor the project.

Her new role forced her to grapple with longstanding gender disparities. According to Alice, management is traditionally seen as a man’s job; therefore, the women here found limited access to the information on water management. Nevertheless, when it comes to water issues, women feel the pinch the most as they are the ones who are directly impacted.

Alice increasingly saw the importance of women’s role in protecting water sources. She slowly found her voice in the team and eventually ended up leading implementation. Today, Alice is the main guard of the Silibwet Spring. She monitors the construction of the water storage tank, ensures that the materials listed in the bill of quantities are what is provided, and educates the community on the importance of protecting the stream from over-exploitation. Alice is also campaigning for yard taps to be placed in strategic locations and negotiates with farm owners to allow for their installation and use.

 

Ms. Alice Rutto, taking notes during a budget process training

Photo: CESPAD

 

Like many other women who have recognised their critical role in the sustainability of water projects, she now ensures that more women in the Total Mau Summit area are stepping up and getting their voices heard. Recently, she formed a group of community members living near the spring to restore the riparian land and to stop the drawing of spring water, especially during the dry season. This group is mainly made up of women, but also includes former members of the Task Force. With the trust and relations built in the trainings with WIN, they are now able to lobby for more infrastructure from NARUWASCO and the county government.

Before this project, if you had have asked me what I thought of water management issues, I would have sent you to the MCA,’ says Alice. ‘I never, in a million years, would have thought I would be on the frontline of solving water issues. As long as I had enough for me, my family and my farm, I was ok. I did not realise how powerful I was; how my voice was relevant and needed. I would watch as people exploited the spring, and I would grumble to myself but leave it to someone else to solve the problem. Now I know it was and always will be my problem. If anyone exploits or contaminates the spring, I am responsible for it; and it will be a problem I will pass on to my children if I do not solve it now. Now, I have a voice and a platform, and I will use it. I will get other women to use it too. Water issues are women’s issues. The moment we accept that and rise up to the challenge, that will be the moment, we begin to achieve SDG 6’.

The Task Force was disbanded with the completion of the ‘Water for Life’ project in December 2019. But Alice, along with her team members, now know how to hold themselves, the community, NARUWASCO and the county government accountable for equitable water supply in the small town of Total Mau Summit.

 

Alice is now the guardian of the Silibwet Spring

Photo: CESPAD

 

Alice and other women in Total Mau Summit now have more time to focus on other income-generating activities. Alice’s farm is thriving, and she has more time to deliver her products to the market. For sustainable development of the Nakuru county, Alice urges the government and non-profits to involve more women in technical skills training so that they do not have to look for technicians to repair water pumps or fix a broken water pipe. These skills, she says, will help reduce delays and will give these women, most of whom do not have formal education a sustainable source of income to improve their livelihoods.

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