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Arena-sponsored AMREF water projects welcome former Olympic champion Kirsty Coventry

Tolentino, 12 September 2011 – On September 6th and 7th the communities of two Kenyan well construction projects enthusiastically welcomed two-time Olympic swimming champion Kirsty Coventry in her show of support for the Water = Life initiatives of the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF). Acting as an ambassador for project sponsor and global swimwear brand, Arena, Coventry visited Mutito and Ngelani Matia in the Kitui District some 200km (125 miles) east of Nairobi.

Singing and dancing greeted Coventry as she arrived at the Uwu spring project on the first day of her visit, after she had been briefed by the AMREF team on project progress. The completed initiative now protects a previously contaminated spring, and distributes water via a 12.5km gravity-driven distribution network to four water kiosks. The construction effort was achieved as a partnership between AMREF and the local community, whose 15-member Water Management Committee was trained as part of the process, and is now responsible for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the water supply system. Over 4,500 people in the market centres of Uwu and Mutito are now benefiting, along with 1,305 children in their two primary schools. The project not only provides clean, safe water to its beneficiaries, but also saves the community’s women and children the need to walk over 5km to collect water, thereby releasing them to perform more productive tasks and to attend school. In order to fund its ongoing operation and motivate efficient use of the resource, community members pay a small fee of 2 Kenyan Shillings (approx. 1.9 Euro cent, or 2.5 US cents) per 20-litre container.

Ngelani Matia, visited on the second day of the trip, is a borehole water project currently in progress that will ultimately provide clean water to around 2,700 people, including three primary schools and a dispensary. The borehole and its 10km distribution system will pump 192,000 litres of water daily to four water kiosks, and reduce the need for women and children to walk over 8km daily to collect water from hand-dug wells in dry river beds. The borehole has been drilled to a depth of 140m, where plenty of water has been found. Community participation has been enthusiastic, mobilizing to provide local resources such as sand, ballast, and hard-core for the construction of the pump-house, and coming in numbers to help with trenching for the pipeline.

“When Arena asked me to do this I immediately accepted,” said Coventry. “I’m from Zimbabwe where water is a problem, and I want to learn more about this because maybe I can help to transfer the experience and help my own country.”

She continued: “After the visit I’d like to convey a message to Europeans and Americans and those countries where water is not a problem – when we perform a simple action like turning on a tap or taking a shower, we need to recognize that these simple actions are almost unheard of in those parts of countries like Kenya where water is a problem, and we need to convert that recognition into helping these populations that are so much worse off than we are.

“We also need to recognize that these efforts need to go further than simply getting water to the communities, it must be clean water in order to reduce the incidence of disease that often arises from contaminated water. I also believe in the AMREF approach of giving the responsibility of building and running the well to the communities, so that they have a sense of ownership and empowerment to help themselves.

“On a social level, the water projects also bring the community closer together: from these visits to the Arena-AMREF water projects in Kenya, I could literally see and feel the community’s happiness and energy, it was remarkable.”

AMREF is the leading private health and research organization working in Sub-saharan Africa, and implements health development projects in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Southern Sudan, South Africa and Senegal. Arena is an AMREF partner and a key sponsor of numerous water projects, and also sponsors Coventry as a member of its Elite Team of swimming champions.