Clean Water Mission to Kenya with LifeStraw

Photos by Dylan H. Brown

It’s hard to believe that only a few short months ago I was on a trip that would forever change my life. I realize how cliche that line sounds as I’m saying it, but I’ll own it. International travel just has that effect. Heck, spending 15 hours on a flight will have that effect.

When LifeStraw invited to me to join them in Kenya to celebrate their #LifeStraw1Million campaign, I knew it was going to be an eye-opening experience, but I didn’t understand that it would introduce me to a world, and a group of people, that would leave a lifelong impression on me. With the exception of a school trip to Paris that I hardly remember as a teen, I had never been this far from home. My taste for world culture extended to tacos, margaritas... and that’s pretty much it.

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We were in Kenya for reasons much more important than the usual wanderlust fix though: We were celebrating the efforts of LifeStraw’s clean water project – the installation of a community water filtration system that had provided 1 million students clean water for five continuous years.

If you’ve lived the majority of your life a sheltered American like me, the gravity of the phrase “clean water crisis” carries little impact without seeing it first hand. We hear about it in the news, we read about it online, but If you can’t see the crisis and its impact, it’s hard fully comprehend.  

Having grown up in Colorado, I have been no foreigner to draught or the importance of water conservation. But someone who’s had to be conscientious of its safety and fearful of its drinkability? Rarely. In Western Kenya – as most developing 3rd world countries – every time a person brushes their teeth, washes their hands after using the restroom, or takes a sip of water they are at risk of developing waterborne illness and disease.

Part of my job on this trip to Kenya was to go into the schools with the LifeStraw Kenya team to install the water filters, educate the students on the importance of clean water and bring awareness to the importance of clean water. I was on one of 10 teams – made up of roughly 10 people each – who were spread out over the Kakamega region of Kenya, visiting four schools a day. Each group did this for four days and met over 40,000 students over the course of the week.

Each school we visited was different: some more rural than others, some with only a few dozen students, while others swarmed with over a thousand. The thing all these schools had in common was their excitement for education, visitors and a gratefulness for clean water – something I take for granted everyday. The students listened intently on how to assemble and use the “Community”, named appropriately for its ability to provide clean water to an entire community. The tank can serve 100 children each, eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day for approximately 5 years before needing to be replaced. One community tank was installed for every 100 students at each school. We sang songs with the children that were educational, laughable and all in a different language.

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Although we were there to educate and serve these students, they taught me a universal lesson of grace. Their childlike curiosity, attention and playfulness reminded me of what it’s like to live a life without judgement or prejudice. But I could’t help feeling insecure upon entering the school. I was lovingly tipped by a teammate that the children might express intense curiosity in me. Not because I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Mzungu, but because I also have only one arm. Most kids with disabilities never attend school because it isn’t cost effective for the parents to pay for school supplies if they feel their child will never use their education to the fullest. But there I was, hoping to show the kids that even with only one arm, there is opportunity! The kids were curious… And then just like that, they weren’t. They saw me, they giggled (A response I grew to love) and then they grabbed me by the hand and lead me into their classroom.

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When I was asked to lead the assembly demonstration, I clammed up with fear for having all their eyes on the one thing that made me different. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate drawing any unnecessary attention to myself and would rather take a seat on the sideline. For this demonstration, I was worried the students would be distracted by my difference and not pay attention to the thing that I had been hired to do! I couldn’t have been more incorrect. As soon as I began the demo, I was greeted to the floor with a “welcome teacher Sarah” in thunderous unison – and made my heart sing. I completed the demonstration and for the first time EVER, I didn’t feel like anyone was looking at me as someone “different.” These students with far fewer experiences, belongings or opportunities taught me about unconditional acceptance. These students made me feel seen and equal - regardless of our skin colors, limb differences or similarities, or our backgrounds.

I went to Kenya to help teach children about clean water – and we did that – but the children taught me so much more. They opened my eyes to the severity of the water crisis, yes, but they also showed me how with so little you can have so much. It’s been three months since my visit to Kenya, but I think about the kids, and the educators that I spent time with almost every day. Trips like this make it so hard to summarize in a post, but I can boldly say I’ll be returning to Kenya again someday.

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I’m so greatful LifeStraw extended this incredible opportunity to me to celebrate their remarkable milestone. If you’re interested in learning more about LifeStraw and their products designed to give back: here’s what I did that you can do, too:

  • Follow LifeStraw social media

  • Sign-up for our e-mail list on Lifestraw.com

  • Purchase LifeStraw in support of our campaign – for 30% off use coupon code: LifeStraw1Million

  • Donate to our 501-c3 Safe Water Fund at http://www.lifestraw.com/engage/

sarah herron