Water: one of the four sacred elements which sustains life on our precious Mother Earth. A resource which most of us in the Western world take for granted, as we've been raised in homes where running hot and cold water have always been available at any given time, in whatever quantities we've needed. Most of us reading this have never known a life without this basic necessity, a necessity that every being on this planet has a right to simply because they exist. In other words, most of us simply wouldn't know how to function without our running water. One of the greatest gifts we as humans possess is our imagination. Imagine for a few moments: what would your life be like without access to clean water? Not only to bathe and wash your dishes, but even to drink? Imagine living inside of the outer crater of a dormant volcano, where the sun beats down on you, your land and your livestock, day after day, showing no mercy or recognition that water is not readily available for you and your family. Imagine not being able to bathe yourself or your kids when you want, drink a glass of water when you or your kids need it, or supply your only source of food (livestock) with the water they need to grow and lead healthy lives. I've just given you a very basic overview of what life is like for the Maasai tribe in Mount Suswa, an absolutely stunning but very harsh landscape, where there is currently no access to water sources of any kind. There are about 3,000 people living across the very hot and dry plains of Mount Suswa. While the baboons, leopards, hyenas and other wildlife manage pretty well, the villagers must walk 5-8 km every day or two to the nearest water collection site. Sometimes, they are able to drive "into town,' which takes about an hour each way (or four hours walking each way), not to mention costs for fuel and the water itself. On average, they can collect around 5 gallons of water for the whole village to use for as long as possible, sometimes making it last for a few days. They use these minimal amounts of water to drink, to cook, to do laundry when they can and to clean their faces in the morning... They don't have the luxury to use it for anything else. The Maasai generally have no source of income. They are quite self sufficient in most things, like building their own homes called Manyattas, which are made from cow dung, mud and sticks (and are excellent for keeping cool on hot days and warm on cool nights!). Their livestock is their wealth, and they trade this for food and other necessities when they can. The men and women both are excellent with beadwork and create some of the most colorful and beautiful pieces of jewelry I've ever seen, which they proudly adorn their bodies with each day, creating the signature Maasai look. Sometimes tourists come to stay a day or two in a Manyatta, and may purchase a bracelet or necklace, which supplements their income a bit - but this is in no way guaranteed. I learned all of this within my first couple of weeks in Kenya. I've wanted to come to Africa for such a long time, and finally made the decision to do so on a whim in November. I knew my heart was calling me to this land, and I wasn't exactly sure why, but I was confident a deeper meaning and purpose behind my trip would reveal itself. Once I arrived in Suswa and spent some of the most beautiful days of my life with the Maasai (especially the kids!), I knew what that mission and purpose was intended to be. Here, I found a community who immediately took me in as family, despite my obvious privelege being an American woman traveling through Africa. This is certainly not the first time I've experienced this. Living in Southeast Asia for such a lengthy amount of time, I encountered the most beautiful, humble, loving and generous souls time and time again. Though by Western standards these communities had "nothing," they have a level of intimacy, connectedness and warmth in their hearts that is unmatched in more developed societies. In short, these people are HAPPY. What I've realized is that while most Westerners use their time and energy accumulating THINGS, the rest of the world who lacks 'things' have no choice but to spend their time and energy on EACH OTHER, building very strong and tight knit families and communities. Upon arriving in Suswa, I was once again received with love, kindness and respect... and have had the honor of spending time with some of the most joyous people I've ever connected with, despite their daily struggle for basic necessities. Daniel, also known as Nanu (almost every Kenyan has an English and African name - and the Maasai each have about 15 names!), is who I have learned the most from about the Maasai way of life, and who I remain in contact with nearly daily when I'm not in Suswa. During our first trip there, he showed us another village who had built a water system which traps the steam that escapes from the ground (remember, they are living in a volcano) and converts it into water for the village to use. This system was designed by the local women (how amazing is that?!) and is quite efficient in supplying a few gallons of water per day. A system like this, while simple by our standards, is completely revolutionary for the Maasai and will change their lives on every level. Once I saw this system and how it was used, I knew that we (me + a couple other friends who came with me) had to help raise the funds to get more of these systems onto their land. Shortly after, I sat Daniel down and told him we want to help him and his family, which he was absolutely thrilled about. His main focus as of late has been securing enough money to provide the kids with new clothes for Christmas (you can see in the photos here that they are in desperate need of clothes, as well as books, school supplies and obviously water), while building a water system for his family remains a distant dream of his. Daniel is such a special man. Kind, open-hearted, a great storyteller and lover of all people. He is quite forward thinking, more so than the average Maasai, making it very clear in his words and actions that he is always thinking of new ways to help his village and uplift his commmunity. Not only this, but he has many dreams, including one day opening an orphanage for Maasai kids from nearby villages. Those of us directly involved with this project (me, Mario Scmitt and Deepak Hirji) have made it our personal mission to help Daniel achieve his dreams. If you know me well, you know that one of my goals in life is to one day open an orphanage in Indonesia. You can imagine the excitement I felt when Daniel told me about his desire to build one dusing our sunrise hike to the top of the inner crater of Mount Suswa! While most of what I've written has been about water, once we've built the systems needed, we want to give the rest of any donated funds to Daniel so we can start building his orphanage. He doesn't know that we want to do this, so it will be quite a surprise for him. A surprise we can't wait to deliver! At this time, our initial goal is to have enough clothes, books, school supplies and ALL supplies for one water system to deliver to Mount Suswa by Christmas. This is just a few weeks away! Here is a breakdown of costs for the supplies we will need for one system: Four inch waste pipes x20: 1150 KSH each, or 23,000 KSH total Pipe elbows x20: 105 KSH each, or 2,100 KSH total. 1 liter of glue: 1,253 KSH. 3,200 liter water tank: 21,600 KSH Fencing chain and link, 18m roll x2: 2,580 KSH each, or 5,160 KSH total. Barbed wire, 220m: 3,600 KSH. Posts x30: 400 KSH, or 12,000 KSH total. Box of 2 inch nails: 70 KSH. Bag of cement x10: 700 KSH each, or 7,000 KSH total. Labor: 30,000 KSH. TOTAL: 105,783 Kenyan Shillings OR $1,038 USD (based on current but fluctuating exchange rates). *These costs are estimates based on pricing from local hardware stores.* Other costs we have not received pricing for yet: Sand Transport of supplies (the village is quite remote, so we probably won't know until the day of.) We estimate the total cost of ONE water system will be at least $1,200 USD. I will be here in Kenya until February 2017 (and plan to return once I've taken care of some things in the States), so I will personally be able to follow through with and document every step of the building process of both the water systems and hopefully the orphanage. To all who have shown interest thus far in donating, we THANK YOU SO MUCH! I am fully confident that we can raise the necessary funds for at least one system (or more!) by Christmas. While donations are obviously crucial for the success of this campaign, equally as important is SHARING the campaign with your friends and loved ones. So, please, don't be shy... Share this cause far and wide! Also, please, please don't think that ANY donation amount is too small. Just a few dollars can go a very long way here in Africa. Sending love to you all. All photos Copyright Mario Schmitt.