“We would get sick all the time, but we didn’t know what was making us sick.” Edna Mastamet is sat cradling her grandchild in her small mud house in western Kenya.
The 53-year-old shakes her head as she recounts how bad conditions used to be in her rural village.
“It was so dirty, people would just defecate anywhere they could,” she explained, pointing towards a nearby road that doubled up as a toilet.
“No one had toilets, there were a few makeshift structures, but nothing proper.”
When you arrive at Edna’s house, the first thing that strikes you is how quiet it is. A tethered goat bleats away. Two chickens chase each other across the grass, while Edna’s grandchild lets out an occasional wail.
Having just spent an hour rattling around in the back of a 4×4 along bumpy dirt roads, the silence and calm offer a refreshing breather.
In the distance, rolling hills smattered with tea plantations and crop fields frame a verdant vista.
This is an idyllic part of Bomet County, but it is not without its problems when it comes to toilets and clean water.
Very few households in the area have toilets; even fewer have hand-washing facilities. Poor sanitation can lead to a number of diseases.
To improve the situation, the Bomet County government identified 14 villages with particularly poor hygiene levels – Edna’s village of Chemengwa was one of them.
The Kenya Red Cross is working in these villages to educate people about the importance of toilets and washing hands.
The work is part of a wider water and sanitation project by the Kenya Red Cross and the county government.
“There used to be a lot of diseases such as diarrhoea in Chemengwa,” said Joyce Kirui, a Kenya Red Cross volunteer.
“When people get sick, they waste a lot of time and money going to hospital to get medicines.”
Joyce, 38, is a so-called ‘natural leader’. Her role is to teach communities about health issues, help them find solutions and make sure hygiene standards are maintained.
“We go to every house in the village, three times a week – there are 48 households,” she said.
“When we started doing this, only 15 households had a toilet. Today, there’s only one that still doesn’t have a toilet. That’s very good progress, people have responded to what we tell them.
“People don’t get sick like they used to before, but there’s still more to do. Next we want every household to have hand-washing facilities.”
Edna needed little convincing to take up the advice and information given to her.
“One day there was a meeting in the village,” she recalled. “The Red Cross told us how human excrement can contaminate water sources and make us sick.
“We didn’t know this before. We were quite scared. I rushed home and we decided to build a toilet as soon as possible.
“Now all my neighbours have toilets, but there are some villages that are still practising open defecation. We have seen the importance of toilets, so we are telling them to build toilets as well.”
- The Kenya Red Cross has partnered with the Bomet county government to undertake a water and sanitation project that will benefit around 55,000 people in the county
- The project is being supported by UK government funding made available through the British Red Cross’ Clean Start Appeal
- Thank you to everyone who donated to our Clean Start Appeal, which raised £6.5 million. Your support unlocked £5 million from the UK government to help fund safe water and sanitation projects for 255,000 people across Kenya and Bangladesh.
- Read more: Clean water and toilets – it’s child’s play in Kenya
- Read more: Kenya’s dirty water – three simple steps, one huge difference
All images ©BritishRedCross/RiccardoGangale