The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) has given safe drinking water to 2.4 million Africans. 23,000 are women in the city of Naivasha, Kenya. 157 of those women were empowered by RAIN to provide water for thousands in their community. One of them came to Atlanta to tell her story.

Viginia Gicanga used to call her 10-by-10 foot house in Karagita, Kenya a “self-confused room.” It was her kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, sitting room, and only room.

The only thing that made her home seem bigger was the fact that it was empty. Viginia and her husband had separated. Even her own children preferred to stay with their grandmother in Naivasha, where water was readily available; living with Viginia in Karagita, a few miles south of Naivasha, meant walking to the lake to wash their clothes and gathering water to use at home. Viginia had moved to Naivasha herself after the separation, but couldn’t find a job with enough pay to support her children. After working at a hotel with a friend for a year, she moved to Karagita with hopes to start her own business.

RAIN Progress

A boy poses at a WaterHealth Centre, a part of the Safe Water for Africa (SWA) program in Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. RAIN and Diageo are working with WaterHealth International  (WHI) to install WaterHealth Centers (WHCs) throughout West Africa. WHI works in partnership with communities to determine the appropriate and affordable usage fees for the water purification service. Over time, the increased adoption of the service is able to cover the cost of the operation and maintenance of the facility, allowing it to become sustainable. 

It was tough, Viginia says. People who came to her shop usually didn’t have cash, so they’d agree to pay her back within the next week. Or two weeks. A month. Probably never. Most evenings, she was closing down a shop with low stock and little cash to show for it.

During that time, Viginia remembers a friend who was a doctor reaching out to her and uplifting her.

“She told me, ‘This is not the end…I’ll help you,’” Viginia recalled. “’But I need you to help other women who are going through the same thing you’ve gone through.’”

"The bottom line is if the project had not started, we would not be the people we are today." - Viginia Gicanga 

Soon after that, life in Karagita started to change.

In 2007, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), one of TCCAF’s partners in RAIN, began operations in Karagita. At first, there was plenty of skepticism about the project among locals. Viginia and others in her community thought this was just another institution arriving in an impoverished area of Kenya to take some dramatic photos to profit from the community’s problems. But this group stuck around, educating the community about the importance of consuming safe water and ensuring access to it.

Viginia saw an opportunity.

“This is the time I’ve been waiting for,” she remembered thinking. “This is the chance God has given me to start my life again.”


 

Transformation in Karagita

As part of RAIN, WSUP began working with private borehole owners to make water accessible and affordable. It also began treating the water for fluoride contamination, one of the primary dangers of the local water supply in Naivasha and surrounding areas. Water with high fluoride content turns consumers’ teeth brown and can cause skeletal deformation.

The organization then began setting up water kiosks to provide easy accessibility to safe water in Karagita. When this phase of WSUP’s development began to take shape, Viginia jumped at the opening and got a job working at a kiosk, selling low-fluoride water for 3 shillings and unpurified water for 2. She also opened up her own shop inside. The business skills she spent years developing with training from WSUP and RAIN started paying off, and Viginia began training and empowering another woman from her community to work at her kiosk.

But Viginia hadn’t forgotten her friend’s advice: she supported the women around her who had started running kiosks and shops, forming a group of women who provided loans to those who needed to restock or expand. Working together, they kept each other’s businesses healthy and running. She also financially contributes to the education of other girls in her community.

RAIN’s impact in Viginia has stretched beyond her own success, touching the lives of the ones she loves most. Viginia has now made enough money to send her firstborn daughter to college. She (her daughter) was a little late, Viginia says, but at least she’s there. She’s been able to empower her son, who always struggled in school; now he has a full-time construction job. She’s been able to educate her younger daughter. They can now come to her house confidently.

“The bottom line is if the project had not started, we would not be the people we are today,” Viginia said.


Elizabeth is an economically empowered entrepreneur who is providing clean water access for her community in Kenya.

 

RAIN

In 2009, TCCAF made a commitment to improve sustainable safe water access for Viginia and 2 million other Africans.

“It’s not as if the world was in the most prosperous of times in 2009 when the decision was made to proceed,” Global Environment and Technology Foundation (GETF) Chairman Tom Harvey said at a RAIN event at Coca-Cola’s global headquarters in August. “It took a lot of courage to say ‘we’re going to commit the resources to one of the most significant problems in the world.’”

Individuals within the TCCAF network, GETF, Coca-Cola’s Global Water Stewardship Team, and other partners gathered in Atlanta in August to recognize RAIN’s success as the project continues to expand at a steady pace. The goal was to reach 2 million Africans by the end of 2015, which TCCAF accomplished in November 2015. To date, RAIN, TCCAF’s flagship water initiative, has provided safe water access to more than 2.4 million people.

GETF is RAIN’s program manager and develops partnerships for the initiative, and its CEO Monica Ellis has been working with the Coca-Cola Company in water stewardship since 2004. In 2008, she and her colleagues received a special assignment from TCCAF: Develop a strategy to address water challenges in Africa and TCCC’s ability to address them.

“The facts were clear – Africa was the only continent that would not meet the Millennium Development Goals on water and sanitation,” Ellis said. “In fact, Africa would lose ground against the MDGs. More than 300 million people lacked access on the continent with sub-Saharan Africa suffering the most.”

RAIN Progress

A water kiosk operator in Naivasha, Kenya, patiently awaits her next customer. Working with Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), this RAIN project supported the expansion of the peri-urban water network by building the capacity of the local water utility. RAIN is helping WSUP scale-up demonstrated successful models that directly contribute to tackling the growing urbanization challenge. As a result of the project, women were able to find new job opportunities as water kiosk operators and trained in job functions. 


GETF and TCCAF brought RAIN to Africa with the understanding that the absence of water supply and sanitation affects every sector of social development: economy, health, government, food security, education.

“If you have water close to your home as a child, you’re most likely to go to school instead of hauling water,” Ellis said. “And if you have access to water and sanitation at school, you’re more likely to stay at school…it is the foundation of human potential. Water is what defines the human experience.”

No one knows that better than Viginia. RAIN’s project in Naivasha alone has reached over 23,000 women with safe water access. TCCAF and its 140 civil society partners, like WSUP, are working in 37 countries, aiming to reach 6 million people with sustainable safe water access by 2020.

“Water is life,” Gicanga said. “I can attest to that.”