In her native country of Kenya, Mercy Kazaya saw water make people sick, people she knew and cared for. Children cried, and adults were in agony. They knew the water made them sick, but they had to use it anyway. There was no other choice.
She was one of the lucky ones. Her family cleaned their water with chlorine, but other families weren’t as privileged to have that chemical on hand. This was a problem she was determined to help solve.
Mercy recently completed WaterStep’s Internship Program in Louisville, Ky., where she used her childhood experience and natural desire to help others to bring WaterStep’s mission to life.
As part of her internship, she wrote a business plan for monetizing a WaterStep product that produces bleach, a valuable chemical in Kenya because it can be used to sterilize hospitals and other places where bacteria can live. The business plan will teach schools and communities how they can start their own businesses by using the WaterStep BleachMaker to create bleach they can then sell locally, making the chemical more readily available.
Mercy also spoke to students from Lanesville High School about what it was like to live in Kenya and how something as simple as clean water greatly impacted her and her community.
As a girl, Mercy was in charge of fetching water for her family each day. She walked miles in the sweltering Kenyan sun and waited in line as much as a half an hour at the stream. When it was her turn, she collected about 20 liters of water – weighing more than 40 pounds – and carried it back home.
Even after she returned home, the water wasn’t safe to drink or use for cooking and needed to be cleaned. Mercy still had other chores and homework assignments to finish. But her family relied on her, and she relied on herself.
“If I were sick, no water,” Mercy said.
She stayed up late many nights using the frail light of an oil lantern to finish her homework because she didn’t have time to complete it during the day. Many girls in her village neglected their homework because they were too exhausted from doing chores all day.
“Other girls failed to go further because of that,” Mercy said.
Mercy was determined to become educated, a rarity among women in her culture. With financial help from her sponsor in Kenya, Mercy now studies public health and business at University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, and is using her internship to fulfill her lifelong dream of helping people.
She has returned to Kenya to visit her family for the summer but will come back to Kentucky to finish her senior year of college in the fall.
Mercy uses her experience as motivation to give back to those in need. After college, she will return to her community to empower other girls to pursue their education and better the world just like her. She credits her faith for giving her a strong desire to help others.
“God has been by my side,” said Mercy.