PROJECT: MATUNGET PROJECT
DIRECTOR: ABRAHAM KOSGEI
Water is a precious resource in Matunget Village – a Kalenjin community in Kenya’s rift valley. Women must travel 3-6 kilometers to the Torok River to fill 20-liter containers for all their cooking and cleaning needs. The water is quite unsanitary, since the river is also used by many cows who urinate on its banks. This has been a hardship for a long time, but recently things have gotten much worse. Around 2012, a worker for the utility company convinced villagers to plant Eucalyptus trees along the river so they could serve as utility poles for bringing electric wires to the village. The trees grow quickly and could also be harvested to raise money for school fees and medicines – needs that are normally out of reach for members of a subsistence agricultural village.
We are actually impressed with the creativity and resourcefulness of this unknown employee, but there were serious unintended consequences. Eucalyptus trees consume enormous amounts of water, and within five years the Torok River had all but dried up. In fact, almost no water at all now makes its way to the lower escarpment levels where other villages also rely on the river for their water needs. Yet the villagers on the upper level were unwilling to cut down the Eucalyptus trees which they saw as their only hope for a brighter future. The situation might have been bleak but for the existence of one of Matunget’s greatest resources: the Kosgei family. To fully appreciate this family, we will need to back up in time.
The children of Matunget Village used to be at a great disadvantage when starting first grade because they had no preschool to teach them basic skills. When they were old enough to travel to the closest primary school 6 miles away, they couldn’t keep up academically with the other first graders, and they often dropped out of school as a result. In 1966, one woman, Margaret Kosgei, decided to change the fate of the Matunget children by starting a preschool, Kipkalwa School, in a one-room, tin building with no electricity. For 40 years she was the sole teacher for about 75 children, her only pay being gifts of food from the parents who were subsistence farmers. When she retired in 2006, one of her daughters, Emily Kosgei, took over the job and is still paid with food. Despite the poverty of this village, the government recognizes the Kapkalwa School as the best preschool in the district.
Margaret Kosgei was a strong role model for her own children. The Kosgei family comes from the Kalenjin Tribe of Kenya’s Rift Valley– a tribe which produces some of the greatest long-distance runners in the world. As a young man, her son Abraham was a particularly fast runner, and she urged him to “run for her”. Named to the Kenyan Olympic team, he competed in races around the world. When he finally returned to visit his village, he was disheartened to realize how the hard village life had prematurely aged his classmates. The young men and women who weren’t quite fast enough to “escape” village life had suffered very difficult lives. He is determined to change the fate of current youth by transforming Matunget Village into one free from oppressive poverty – into one with hope and opportunity so it is no longer a place from which villagers want to escape. Global Pearls is partnering with Abraham to turn this dream into reality.
Abraham’s first goal for 2017, to honor his mother, was to help the Kipkalwa School. Typically, families in Matunget Village can only afford to eat one simple meal per day so nutritional deficiencies are common. A school meal program greatly enhances the nutritional health of the children, so that was the first help we gave. In addition to funding the meal program for 2017, we wanted the school to fund the program in the future without continued dependence on us, so we purchased a tractor in the U.S. which Abraham shipped to his village. The tractor can be rented out to generate funds for the lunch program and other school expenses. Desired enrollment for the school doubled when the lunch program was announced, however the original rickety school building cannot accommodate more children, so building a new preschool will be a future project!
Meanwhile, his second goal is to provide clean, running water to the school and households in the village. A hydraulic ram will harness river power to transport water to storage tanks at a higher elevation with no need for electricity. Pipes will then carry water, using gravity flow, from the storage tanks to the village. Villagers will provide all the labor to lay the pipes and will supply their own pipes that will tap the main line to feed their houses. For an estimated $15,000, running water will become accessible to more than 9,000 people!
There is still the problem, however, of protecting the river for villagers on the lower escarpment levels. The Eucalyptus trees need to be removed, but to convince the villagers on the upper levels to cut down the trees they need a new source of income to take the place of the trees. Abraham is working on two projects to do just this. The high altitude of these villages is perfect for coffee, so one goal is to replace the trees with coffee – a crop that is grown at a greater distance from the river and fed with rainwater. A second project is to capitalize on the international running fame of the Kalenjin tribe by creating unique tourist camps which combine running training with cultural experiences. We are working collaboratively on this endeavor with another non-profit, Crooked Trails, which specializes in community-based tourism.
Part of the income from these projects will go into a community fund to finance future projects serving the greatest needs of the community, whether it be education, healthcare, or additional income-generating projects. A local community group will manage the funds and decide how they want them applied. Thus, our long-term goal is to no longer be needed! Meanwhile, there is hope amongst all the villagers, and the Eucalyptus trees are coming down!