Venus Williams' Kenya Trip Diary


Nov. 5, 2012

Venus Williams' Kenya Trip Diary image 1
During her first trip to Africa, Venus Williams, right, and Dr. Greg Allgood of Procter & Gamble's Children's Safe Drinking Water Program, left, clean river water with P&G packets at a school in Kenya while visiting humanitarian organization CARE's programs. © 2012 Erin Lubin/CARE

It's the night before heading out to visit some of CARE's programs in Western Kenya, and I just met with some of CARE's staff to get an overview of what we'll see tomorrow. I'm trying to listen intently but my mind is racing with incessant questions and excitement.

I have reason to be excited. It's my first trip to Africa. As an African-American woman, I'm trying to process the significance of what it means to finally be on the continent. It's also the first time in my life that everywhere we go and on every street we walk down, the people all look kind of like me.

I'm eager to see CARE's poverty-fighting programs. For a long time I've wanted to use my position to help improve people's lives. Now, I'll get to see first-hand how CARE does exactly that. CARE's approach is to attack the root causes of poverty instead of just addressing the symptoms. Hearing CARE staff talking about it reminded me of when we were growing up and our dad would lead family sit-down meetings. He'd ask us questions like "Why is it that when you do something for someone it doesn't work as well as when you help them help themselves?"

Nov. 6, 2012

On the road to Hawinga, a small town in western Kenya near Lake Victoria and the border of Uganda, we passed the Equator! That was definitely worth a picture and we stopped to snap one.

The road was rougher than I anticipated. For much of the two-hour drive from the nearby provincial capital, Kisumu, there was no road at all – but a lot of mud. Instead of driving straight, our driver had to carefully swerve left and right across the road to avoid the huge, mud sinkholes.

Along the way we saw women and children walking, some carrying baskets on their heads. Cows grazed nearby. I noticed a group of children carrying long, green sticks. Some were swinging the sticks in a carefree gait; others were chewing the tops of the sticks. "Sugar cane," our driver told us; a popular snack.

Finally, we arrived at the Hawinga Health Facility. The clinic is a small white house with a wrap-around porch. Behind the house is a peaceful river out back. It's the community's water source.

At the clinic we heard from Greg Allgood, head of Procter & Gamble's Children's Safe Drinking Water program. Clean drinking water is critical to helping people in poor communities live healthier, more productive lives, he explained. Then a mind-blowing statistic: More than 2,000 children die every day from diarrhea caused by unsafe drinking water, more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

CARE and P&G have teamed up to support local mothers and children with 53 clinics in the small towns like Hawinga that surround Kisumu. For nearly 5 years, they've been providing clean water to prevent waterborne illnesses. CARE and P&G provide the communities with P&G water purification packets that transform unsafe river, creek and well water into safe drinking water. And CARE provides comprehensive community education in hygiene and proper sanitation.

Beatrice Nafula, a health worker at the facility, demonstrated a hand-washing technique. Then we followed her to a bore hole, or a well - a quick three-minute walk- to fetch water. Nearby, I heard screaming babies. It was vaccination day at the clinic and the babies were clearly not enjoying their shots. Greg told us that clean water is an incentive for moms to go to the clinic so they can receive other critical services including immunizations or even giving birth.

We walked next door to Beatrice's house and watched her clean the water. I asked her what life was like before having access to clean water. While stirring the purification packets in a large plastic bucket of water, she told me how she contracted typhoid fever from drinking contaminated water. She got so ill that she slipped into a coma. She also told me about the time one of her kids got a nasty burn while boiling water to purify it. One of her neighbors, Janet Meda, told us her children got diarrhea two or three times a month before they had access to clean water. With the purification packets, the people have easy access to safe water. They're healthier and life is a little easier.

From the clinic we made the short drive to Goro Primary School, where students learn hand-washing techniques and how to purify water.

Wearing green school uniforms, the students welcomed us it with a song and dance. The lyrics to the song – in English - were fitting: "Bye Bye Cholera, Typhoid. Kids are now healthy and wise."

I joined them for a dance. I couldn't resist.

On the drive back, I kept thinking about Janet and Beatrice. Their experiences underscored the vital role of women as household stewards in rural communities. Given access to the proper resources, in this case access to clean water, they make sure everyone around them is taken care of.

I'm encouraged that something as simple as clean water can save and improve lives and that I was able to witness it.

I can't wait until tomorrow.