Remote Kenyan high school supplied with water
March 30, 2009
GARISSA, Kenya, Mar 17, 2009 - The Garissa Boys' High School in Kenya has a new water system, thanks to the efforts of the Kenyan government, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, military engineers, and a civil affairs team from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).
A dedication ceremony on March 7, 2009 involving Civil Affairs Team 5 from the A Company, 414th Civil Affairs (CA) Battalion, a dozen local schoolmasters, local clerics and the Honorable Aden Duale, the Dujis constituency's parliamentary representative, was held to officially dedicate a 200,000-liter concrete cistern, a pump house and a tower supporting a pair of 10,000-liter holding tanks.
"The system itself is an enormous improvement," said Harun Mohamed Yussuf, the school's principal, "because before, there was not running water. That was a problem, especially where the boys could not shower or bathe here and had to go elsewhere. This will make the boys more able to concentrate on what it is they are doing here, and that is learning."
The Garissa School complex is spread over several acres of mostly arid land, with water pipes and electrical conduit buried less than two feet into the native clay. Each existing pipe section or wiring conduit is surrounded by broken-up concrete and gravel, and covered with a mixture of dry clay and sand. Effective maintenance had become an issue and the existing infrastructure needed more help than the school could afford by itself.
There are trees and brush here, but the majority of what grows naturally has been parched for as long as the Garissa School's current class of students has been alive. The school's geographic surroundings resemble the high desert of the American southwest, and civil affairs reports say the desert is populated by nomadic peoples who live on what they find to eat or drink day-to-day.
U.S. Army Major Andrew Rocky Raczkowski, the civil affairs liaison for Kenya, said the North Eastern Province has been subjected to drought conditions for nearly two decades. Raczkowski was part of the first civil affairs visit to Garissa more than five years ago. He said the annual December rains have been short, making life difficult for the nomads, the people of Garissa and the North East Province as a whole.
The school's immediate water concerns were met by the American Embassy in Nairobi and the military engineers working for CJTF-HOA because of a three-phase approval process. In order for a project to receive U.S. assistance, Raczkowski said, it must be reasonable in scope, sustainable by the local population after the initial construction team has left, and it must help to promote regional cooperation and partnership.
Raczkowski, who spoke at the dedication, and Captain Omar Robinson, the civil affairs team leader in the district, have helped to develop the project past the idea stage.
"It was a great honor, especially to see the work that the civil affairs teams are doing out here in the North East Province," said Raczkowski, who delivered his speech in the Somali dialect spoken by the Dujis people. "It's great to see all the work they're doing here in Kenya, building the projects and the relationships that we were sent here to build. It's really heartwarming for me, especially coming back to this region after we opened up this area (for Army civil affairs teams) five years ago.
"The 'Three-D' term that we use is, first, development from USAID, followed next by diplomacy from the U.S. Embassy. We (civil affairs teams), the defense "D," come in and take the lead from the U.S. Embassy with the security capacity which allows us to succeed."
The Garissa Boys' High School has a celebrated history, according to Minister Duale, of giving young men strong educations and a sound sense of Kenyan nationalism. Duale is himself a graduate of the school, and he credits a solid education there for helping him get into college.
"I can tell you that the last time I visited, the way that water system was and what that water tank looked like ... looking at it today is, to me, like a dream," said Duale. "I remember I approached the civil affairs team that was here when (Garissa School's water system) first got my attention, and asked them to help. Today, I am grateful to the ambassador's office, to the civil affairs team and through them the U.S. government for the contributions they are making to this province through water and education."
The water system was constructed by Kenyans under the auspices of CJTF-HOA engineers and contracting officials. The scope of the project, considering the drought-stricken area it lies in the middle of, is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Functionally, according to Navy civil engineering officer Navy Lieutenant (junior grade) Tim Marinelli, projects like the one at the Garissa School have to be of an easily-maintained design with capacity to be sustainable in a desert environment a long way from repair parts.
"The way this design works is pretty simple," said Marinelli, CJTF-HOA's country engineer for projects in Kenya. "When Garissa has electricity, water from the village is pumped here to the school. The school used to put water in a tank that was a few feet off the ground, and then they would let gravity pull water into the pipes they have going to all the buildings."
The new cistern and higher platform for the two new holding tanks will provide enough water volume for the entire school.
"With the support that was shown today by the minister of education, the local leadership and the United States through the participation of the civil affairs team, it is going to encourage everybody to do his bit to attain the necessary levels to access university education," said Principal Yussuf. "This is the world helping my students. This is the best moment for them. They have all of the support of the international community, and the government of Kenya, local leadership and all the partners.
Abdullahi Noor, a 19-year-old senior aspiring to become a journalist, said he hopes that the ability to turn on tap water here makes things better for future students.
"Today, the students here are celebrating what the Soldiers and engineers have given us; this water system. When the water system was not there, we had to go looking elsewhere for water. Even, we had to go to other schools, and the town," Noor said. "Water is life. It gives us our lives; to wash, to take a bath, for cooking and to drink. This means everything."