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October 15, 2008

The Samburu Project: Clean Water for Kenya

Samburu Wells
Samburu women pump clean water
from a new well in their village.

Photo: The Samburu Project

by Julia Bainbridge

The Samburu Project (TSP), an organization that builds wells in East Africa, just celebrated its third anniversary in September. In three years, the nonprofit has donated 22 wells, bringing clean, safe drinking water to more than 20,000 people.

"Women used to spend their days looking for water," says Kristen Kosinki, founder of the project. "They had no time to do anything else, like start businesses and generate income. If you can't generate income, you are beholden to your husband or father." In a country where HIV runs rampant and female genital mutilation is still heavily practiced, Kosinski says this reliance on men is no good. But with water comes change: "Now they can start making their own choices: who they marry, who they have sex with, et cetera."

Interested in African women's empowerment since she was a little girl (she credits her grandfather's subscription to National Geographic with inspiring her), Kosinski traded Tinseltown for Kenya in 2005. The same day she left her position as a Paramount TV executive, she hopped on a flight, landed in Kenya, hailed a cab, and told her driver to take her "where the indigenous people live." So they traveled to Samburu, to a women-only village, starting a series of talks with women all over northern Kenya. After hearing their stories, Kosinski found a glaring solution to so many of their problems: clean, accessible water.

She certainly hasn't forgotten her LA roots, though. TSP's headquarters are there, and old film friends are helping Kosinski reach her news goals. (Jeffrey Katzenberg, among others, is a big supporter.) And next spring, the LA-based shop Intuition will launch a TSP T-shirt line by Mighty Fine.

Beyond wells, TSP has helped women create self-sustaining (and income-generating) gardens, it has given families mosquito nets, and it has plans to work with local schools. "With water, development happens," says Kosinski.

Further reading:
* The Samburu Project
* Find out how you can help here
* Bicycles for female empowerment
* Actress Ashley Judd, a spokesperson for Population Services International, gave an amazing clean-water demo like this one at the 2008 World Savers Congress. Read about PSI's safe-drinking-water initiative here.

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