Engineer uses skills to help save lives in Kenyan slums

Engineer uses skills to help save lives in Kenyan slums

Haki Water, an African diaspora organisation based in London and Kenya, is working to deliver sustainable clean water and good hygiene practices for the Nairobi slum community.

British-Kenyan engineer Yolanda Chakava, created Haki Water after her work as a water expert brought her to Nairobi’s slums. Asked to volunteer her engineering skills for a water pump in the Kayole-Soweto slum in 2006, Yolanda was shocked when she visited the project and learnt of the true state of her homeland’s slums.

Around two thirds of Nairobi’s population live in slums, where the amount of people without access to water is staggeringly low and water points can be difficult and expensive to fix. As a PhD student and a qualified civil engineer, Yolanda was keen to use her expertise to make a difference and in 2009 she set up Haki Water.

She has now secured funding from Comic Relief’s Common Ground Initiative, which is co-funded by the Department for International Development, and works with African diaspora organisations in the UK run by people of African heritage with strong emotional, cultural and political links to their country.

Through Yolanda’s professional and personal contacts, Haki Water has an extensive network of motivated Kenyans and other Africans committed to its mission to make a sustainable difference in Nairobi’s Kayole-Soweto slum.

Yolanda explains: “Being Kenyan and British means I understand both cultures. I can use my skills and education to do something that’s meaningful. We are using the best of both worlds to make a change.

“Going to a slum for the first time is a shock. You get all these emotions that you can’t prepare for. It’s a shock that it’s the reality of people’s daily life. Access to water is a basic human right.”

Yolanda credits the success of the project, its promotion, research and funding to the diaspora community: “The support from diaspora has been great. People with good jobs and busy lives still put time aside for Haki Water.”

The importance of the work of Haki Water cannot be underestimated. Each year, 3.5 million people die globally from waterborne diseases, often spread from contaminated water pumps. These waterborne diseases like typhoid fever or diarrhoea can spread with devastating consequences. Almost 700,000 children die each year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, killing more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

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