In Chepoyotwo village in Kenya’s West Pokot County, daily life revolves around the quest for water.
Already, 5-year-old Cheru knows this.
A first-year kindergarten student, Cheru walks with her older siblings and other children to dig for dirty water to carry to school. On the way home, she stops to fill her tea kettle with water to carry to her mother.
She walks more than 6K (3.7 miles), the average distance women and children walk for water in sub-Saharan Africa.
Getting water every day falls mainly on women and girls, who worldwide spend the equivalent of 200 million hours, or 22,800 years, in one day walking to get water. Not only is the water contaminated with life-threatening diseases and the walk hazardous, but the time spent walking crowds out time that could be spent learning or earning.
That’s a lot of 6Ks for girls as young as Cheru!
“It is so hard for Cheru to get water,” says Monica, her mother. “When she gets to the water and when she climbs the hill [on the way home] she starts crying because it’s so hard to lift the kettle. She cries and cries until someone comes to help her.”
Cheru often suffers from headaches and diarrhea caused by the dirty water she drinks. She tires easily, says Monica, but following her mother’s example, Cheru is learning to stoically carry her load.
Twice a day, Monica digs in the sandy riverbed, scoops and pours water to fill her 20-liter jerry can. She lifts the 44-pound load and balances it on her head for the walk home. During the driest times of year, she’ll walk further, dig deeper, and carry water more often to make sure her family has enough for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and watering goats and chickens.
Cheru and the other children seem destined to follow the same unchanging, unforgiving path in life: to walk a barren riverbed to fetch water.
Now there’s hope that Cheru’s life could take a very different turn from her mother’s. World Vision plans to extend a water line into her area.