Water Blog - WaterStep

Saving Refugees in Nigeria: Part Three

Part Three of Saving Refugees in Nigera By Chris Kenning

nigeria-post-three-3As dawn broke over a camp of thousands of refugees in their own country, a crowd of Nigerian women gathered at a raised concrete water tank with yellow plastic buckets and ropes.

Roosters crowed, Islamic calls to prayer were sung in the distance and smoke from early morning cooking fires drifted over the thatch and blanket shelters of 24,000 hungry, thirsty and sick residents, pushed from their homes by the Islamic insurgent group Boko Haram and its fight with the army.

Atop the tank, I watched Sulaiman Gumi shine a flashlight on an “internally displaced person” volunteer, who he’d trained to measure out bleach the created the night before with a WaterStep device. After pouring it into the tank and waiting for it to work, he was taking a measurement, squinting at the test results to be sure the water was now safe.

As soon as the word was given, the crowd rushed the tank amid the sound of buckets splashing into water as dozens lined up containers.

We were in Mongonu, located northeast of Maiduguri, less than 20 miles from the border of Chad and Cameroon. Here, WaterStep’s Portable BleachMaker is making water safe for 24,000 residents with just a car battery, table salt and a team of volunteers. It’s all organized by Sulaiman’s Nigerian NGO, Victims of Violence, which is partnering with WaterStep to help bring relief.

Along with sanitation training, the BleachMaker is reducing the risk of waterborne illnesses from cholera to typhoid in a region where a humanitarian crisis has left millions in severe need of food, clean water nigeria-post-three-1and shelter – leading the UN to warn that tens of thousands of children could die in the coming months.

“When a child is already weakened by malnutrition and illness, a waterborne illness can kill them,” Sulaiman said, something reinforced when we came across a boy camped under a tree with his mother sick and unable to even stand.

The chlorination also ensures that water stays clean after being collected, instead of being contaminated immediately after because of poor sanitation, dirty collection points and open defecation in some areas of a camp.

It was one of the projects installed by Victims of Violence, who were trained and equipped by WaterStep after a visit to Louisville last year.

Another is in Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram and the capital of the war-torn Borno state.

There, a sprawling IDP camp was carved out of a civil service housing project whose construction was halted to house internally displaced persons. Here, many homes are made of sturdier wood and plastic sheeting.

In a school for 2,700 students – including orphans – Victims of Violence trained IDP teachers at the school to use WaterStep’s M-100 chlorinator, salt, and a car battery to purify a large tank that leads to taps exclusively for use of the children.

During one break on a hot morning, children rushed from the UNICEF tents used as classrooms to the water source, packing tight lines and jostling for a chance to cup their hands and drink.

Nigerian Army Captain Mohammed Lawal told us it’s helping reduce waterborne illness and, as a result, reducing absences from school.

nigeria-post-three-4On one day, Sulaiman trained volunteers at the camp’s other school, which serves 2,000 children, to use an M-100 to purify their own water.

But the need here is as big as an ocean. We came across an impromptu camp of rural farmers who were sick, living under scraps. An Army soldier pointed out the trench they’d dug to use in case of attack from Boko Haram, and residents were stomping out the remains of a thatch hut that had caught fire in the hot desert wind.

They had a well but it wasn’t chlorinated. And many still got their drinking water from a standing water used by cattle and for residents to bathe.

Not long after, Sulaiman was using paper to sketch out a plan for tanks, taps, pumps and pipes.

“I think we can help,” he said. “If we can bring them water from the riverbed, close to them, and chlorinate it, it would have a big impact.”

But all that takes time and money. Please consider helping.


If you have been inspired by Chris’s Updates from the field, please consider making a year end donation here.

Saving Refugees in Nigeria: Part Two

Thank You, Chris Kenning! This is the 2nd post in a series where volunteer Chris Kenning is documenting WaterStep’s work to save refugees in Nigeria.  Click here to read Chris’s first report.

chris-kenning-2We passed countless Nigerian Army and vigilante checkpoints before we pulled into Maiduguri, just before the city was sealed off for the night to guard against attack by Boko Haram. Even so, suicide bombers    would set off multiple explosions here before we left.

We’d arrived in the birthplace of Boko Haram in northeastern Borno state, after 12 hours of spine-crunching potholes in a Toyota Hi Lux loaded with WaterStep’s M100 water chlorinators, bleach makers and other humanitarian supplies. The landscape grew flatter and drier as we went toward the Sahara.

Driving was Sulaiman, the son of a renowned Nigerian Islamic leader and a mother with royal tribal roots.  He was taking time from his job as a civil and water engineer to lead the non-profit Victims of Violence.  It’s a group of several hundred Nigerian professionals who in part provide volunteer medical help, education and water aid to Nigerian’s humanitarian crisis.

The Army has recaptured a number of towns from the Islamic insurgents, who have killed more than 20,000 in recent years, abducted women and laid waste to the region. But now nearly 2 million are displaced from their homes, living in dusty, overburdened camps or impromptu settlements where shelters are made f branches and plastic scraps.

Millions, including some returning home, face severe shortages of food, clean water and shelter. Amid “famine-like conditions,” the UN has warned that 75,000 more children could starve to death in the coming months. And disrupted access to clean water is a breeding ground for disease like cholera and diarrhea.

Sulaiman and I had to get a military escort in order to drive to Mafa, where Boko Haram had attacked but was now in control of the government. We joined a convoy that included military trucks with soldiers carrying AK-47s on the back.  Along the way, we saw a charred tank and a truck riddled with bullets. Roadside trees had been cut and burned to reduce the chance of an ambush.chris-kenning-4

We found a ghost town, its large school turned into a camp for “internally displaced persons.”  Around the grounds were smoke from cooking fires and lean-tos made of branches or woven grass and blankets or tarps. Women lugged yellow plastic buckets to a water pipe set in mud, trash and bacteria. Others were getting water from a contaminated open well. A nurse from UNICEF told me that waterborne diarrhea was an issue, a problem that can mean trouble for an already weak and malnourished child.

We met locals who had returned home after the Army flushed out the jihadists only to find their town decimated, their homes destroyed and their crops and animals gone. One woman said that her plastic bucket was all she had left.  Her youngest child was malnourished and sick, she said.

Soon Sulaiman was hatching plans for tanks, pumps and new and cleaner sources of water to help.

“This project could really help here,” he said.

chris-kenning-1Along the road on the way back to Maiduguri, we stopped for some women and children who were indicating they were desperately thirsty.  We handed over the rest of our water. They were fleeing Boko Haram, they said.  Sulaiman said we’d take them to the next military checkpoint. They climbed in the bed of the pickup.

“I checked them for suicide bombs,” he said as we got back in the truck.

At the checkpoint, the soldiers chided us for taking such as risk.  Many women had exploded bombs. And indeed, a couple of days later, suicide bombers struck that very outpost.

Read more about WaterStep’s work in Nigeria soon.


Encouragement for the Soul & Clean Water for the Body

embracing-the-race-photo-2A BIG Thank You is extended to Lisa Preuett for donating part of the proceeds from her book Embracing the Race to Saving Lives with Safe Water.  Embracing the Race encourages wisdom, determination and perseverance  through 40 inspirational devotionals. Runners at all levels will be awakened to powerful parallels between running and the Christian life!  To purchase Embracing the Race, click here.


And, remember that when you purchase Embracing the Race – you are SAVING LIVES WITH SAFE WATER!

Saving Refugees in Nigeria: Part One

We are never at a shortage for thirsty communities contacting us, requesting assistance for safe water. This year, WaterStep intentionally focused on developing sustainable relationships through multi-phase projects with well-vetted partners. International partners have to complete applications, proving their dedication to the long-term project, and agree to continue to provide data on the outcomes of WaterStep’s water, health, and sanitation solutions. Currently, we are working with 14+ partners, and hope to add 10 more in 2017.

One of these partnerships is with an organization, Victims of Violence, in Nigeria. Victim of Violence works to provide aid and relief to refugees who are fleeing for their lives from the Boko Haram insurgency. These are some of the world’s most vulnerable people. WaterStep has been training Victims of Violence through our Virtual Classroom, eliminating the cost of travel, which allows us to send more technology and provide support when needed.

This is a very special project and partnership. What good is it to flee for our lives, only to die of unsafe water? Louisville’s own, Chris Kenning, is currently in Nigeria, gathering the stories of these refugees, and their journey for longer, fuller, healthier lives. This his first report:



It’s been called one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters – millions of Nigerians in makeshift camps, homes destroyed by war and crowded into host communities without enough aid.
And it’s the latest global hotspot where Louisville’s WaterStep is working to save lives with safe water.
From half a world away, WaterStep is training and equipping a Nigerian charity to bring safe water and sanitation to camps for the displaced, and former war zones, torn by Boko Haram’s Islamic insurgency.
My name is Chris Kenning, and I’ve written about WaterStep’s response to disasters in Haiti and the Philippines as a Courier-Journal reporter. But this time, I’ll be visiting Nigeria as a WaterStep volunteer – helping WaterStep document its own story.
This month, I’m accompanying WaterStep’s Nigerian partner charity, Victims of Violence, to towns like Maiduguri, Bama, Mongonu and other hard-to-reach areas near the Cameroon border, where they’re looking to install sustainable water chlorinators that can provide 10,000 gallons of safe water a day, and disperse bleach-making devices for sanitation to a population in dire need.
The Nigerian military’s 2015 offensive has gained ground against Boko Haram, which has been terrorizing Nigeria since 2009. Most people know them from the 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls, which sparked the “Bring Back Our Girls” movement. Recently, the military has declared many once-inaccessible cities and towns in the northeast part of the country to be liberated.
But last month, the Washington Post reported that in its wake “more than 3 million people displaced and isolated by the militants are facing one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters. Every day, more children are dying because there isn’t enough food. Curable illnesses are killing others. Even polio has returned.” Underfunded aid groups are struggling to meet the need.
More than a million are living in camps, bombed-out buildings and burdened communities, receiving minimal supplies from international organizations, the Post reported. Twice as many residents are still inaccessible because of the Boko Haram fighters, who control their villages or patrol the surrounding areas, the report said.
Clean water and sanitation are a big problem, per charity groups in Nigeria. WaterStep has begun to help with simple, sustainable and small safe water devices, which are helping by sidestepping the expense and logistics of transporting massive amounts of bottled water into remote areas.
It’s part of WaterStep’s belief that the best, most sustainable solutions to water, health, and sanitation problems are rooted in simple tools and effective training."


Please follow along as we post updates at www.facebook.com/WaterStep, and stay tuned at www.waterstep.org throughout the rest of the year for stories and photos about those WaterStep is helping in one of the globe’s high-profile trouble spots.

And here’s how to help: http://waterstep.org/donate

“I want to do my part.”

WaterStep is well-known for the work we do internationally. But, what often goes unnoticed is our local impact. WaterStep is dedicated to the cultivation of young people, challenging and equipping them to change the world and serve others. Not only are you saving lives in the developing world, but you are a part of shaping the valuable, young minds of our future. For this month’s Works of Water, it is our honor to introduce you to Rachel.


unknown-1“Hi, I’m Rachel. I am from Louisville, and graduate from Assumption High School.  When I was young, I really never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. All I knew is that I wanted to travel the world and help people. Girl Scouts and my mom instilled in me ideas of compassion and the importance of seeing, and helping those around you. My passion for helping others, and desire to understand new cultures, has been a fundamental part of my life for as long as I can remember. 

In January 2016, I had the opportunity to travel to Uganda for a month. The most meaningful part of the trip was the village home-stay. No documentary or textbook could prepare me to actually experience someone else’s life. It was there that I met Rachel. She was the same age as me, had the same name as me, goes to college, likes boys, and does chores too. It was interesting to experience the similarities, but also be faced with the reality that she gets water with jerry cans from the well. This trip gave me a personal, firsthand connection in cultural understandings, as well as the experience of limited access to water. I was reminded of why I want to do my part in creating a better world. 

In high school I had the opportunity to be a WaterStep Ambassador. It was WaterStep’s first time piloting the Ambassador Program. Despite my involvement fizzling out, I never forgot their awesome mission. Five years later, I wanted to find a summer opportunity where I could gain experience in the Public Health field. It was this past summer that I made my way back to WaterStep, and once again, fell in love with the mission.

WaterStep gave me more than I could have ever imagined this summer. This opportunity allowed me to be surrounded by passionate individuals, innovative technologies that solve real world problems, and to observe successful, international partnerships.

WaterStep also gave me direction and skills that I know I will value in my future. Just wanting to help people isn’t enough to create change. I need skills and experience, and working at WaterStep strengthened in me new areas, such as Development. Having a fundamental knowledge of ways to bring safe water and sanitation to communities, paired with Development skills, means I can begin bring change in multiple ways, both to the field and behind the scenes. Being at WaterStep helped me develop my passion, skills, and goals, better preparing me for my next step, and my future.

I am currently interning in Washington, D.C. for Women of Peace Corps Legacy, and Health Volunteers Overseas, and will graduate from Centre College this spring. I have decided that I wanted to pursue Public Health as my venue for creating positive changes in communities, both close to home and abroad. In one month I will begin the year-long process of applying to the Peace Corps. I hope to volunteer in a health posting for 2 years. I fully anticipate that water and women’s health education will be an integral part of my future, especially since working with WaterStep.

I want to continue to explore the world, and gain new experiences that open my eyes to different perspectives. I want to continue to change and grow as a person, so I can better help others.

Thank you for supporting me. Without your support of WaterStep and the work they do in developing communities, I would not have had this valuable experience. I consider you an agent of change in helping me develop the skills I need to see and bring change to the world around me. Thank you.”