Mary Walker: Local Rotary Club helps Kenyan girls facility

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Mary Walker

Editor's note: Routt County resident Mary Walker works at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker's updates from Kenya appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

My formal responsibility for the girls at the Rescue Centre is administering the nonprofit college fund that assists them with post-secondary education and job training. But when I am at the centre itself three times a year, I become involved in the day-to-day operations of the centre and the challenges for all of the girls there - young and old - including their education, physical health and emotional well-being. It is unavoidable.

When I arrived in Narok at the end of March, the annual rainy season should have been in full downpour. Instead, wheat crops were failing, cattle were dying and there was talk of a mass exodus of Maasai people to the Maasai Mara where there was some rain. The Rescue Centre relies on rainwater to meet its drinking, washing, cooking and cleaning needs for the 50 or so girls living there. One of the 23,000-liter water tanks at the centre sprung a leak in December and sat empty when I arrived. The other large storage tank had collapsed from years of girls climbing atop it to fetch water; these tanks are not designed to be climbed on.

Their purpose is to collect and store water that is pumped to smaller tanks that gravity-feed water to various spigots around the centre. But because water is so scarce, the tanks are often almost empty; the pipes to the pumps too high up the walls of the tank to do any good. Most of the time, girls must fetch water out of the top of the tank with a bucket and rope.

So, the Rescue Centre had no storage capacity for water with 50 girls in need of up to 1,000 liters of water a day. Needing to find a solution quickly, I contacted the Rotary Club in Steamboat Springs in hopes that they would donate some of the money needed to purchase and install a 16,000-liter tank at the centre. Rotary has a long tradition of international service, including clean water projects throughout the world. As it turns out, Steamboat's Rotary Club donated 75 percent of the money needed for the tank. Global Relief Resources, the 501(c)3 organization that holds the Tasaru Scholarship Fund that I administer for the girls' post-secondary education costs, raised the rest.

Now, the center has its rainwater storage capacity back. And there are new and improved gutters on all of the centre's buildings to collect every drop of rainwater possible. And there is a tap in the lowest possible part of the new tank so that girls can collect water from there rather than climbing atop.

There is a song in Kenya with the words, "I need water, I need everlasting water" - in Swahili, that's "nipei, nipei maji, maji uzima." This donation from Steamboat's Rotary Club is the most direct and real type of charitable donation possible. The outcome is immediately measurable. No administrative costs, delays, surveys, overpriced consultants or feasibility studies - just quick action by a group of compassionate people to solve a real-world problem. The girls living at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya, are fighting many things - female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage, for their right to an education, for the respect of their fathers, and to have futures of their own choosing. How wonderful that for now, the continual struggle for clean, safe water will not overshadow their many other challenges.

On their behalf, to the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs - "ashe oleng," in the Kimaasai language, and "asante sana" in Swahili.

Thank you. Very much.

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