The Maasai women and children gathered at Olmoti Clinic were warm and welcoming as always when clinic founder Diane Raleigh came to visit in November 2015. But something was different this time.
As Dr. Raleigh stepped from the jeep to the familiar dusty ground, she looked at the kids milling around, some with toddler siblings on their backs. She saw the women sitting on the bench in the clinic breezeway, waiting to have their eyes checked by Dr. Richard Nkambi and his team conducting a vision clinic.
The scene was remarkable not so much because of what was there, but what wasn’t. Dr. Raleigh realized she was seeing not a single fly. No flies on the children’s faces. None on their clothes. None circling the babies’ heads. She looked closer and saw something else missing—the layers of grime and dirt that tended to cover the kids’ legs and clothes.
Here was the remarkable transformation that had occurred in the six months since Olmoti Clinic completed its new pipeline, bringing fresh, running water to the community for the first time. Faces and clothing were washed, and new sanitation practices keep the flies at bay. Flies are not just an annoyance. Flies transmit disease, including trachoma, the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Vanquishing flies is a crucial health advance.
“It’s all about the water,” Dr. Raleigh said.
Olmoti’s brand new water pipeline, built with the help of Engineers Without Borders from Santa Barbara-Ventura, California, opened its spigots in June 2015. At the same time the clinic launched a hygiene education program, with multiple sessions for community members and school children.
Profound changes quickly began. The women of Olmoti say their neck and back pain is eased for the first time. No longer must they walk for miles bent beneath the crushing weight of plastic water containers. The clinic nurse reports a dramatic difference in cleanliness. Patients arrive bathed, wearing cleaner clothes, and free of the familiar unwashed odor.
More broadly, and importantly, the women are liberated. They have more time to spend with their children, even ensuring they get to school. They are cultivating gardens. Their cattle and goats remain nearer, eliminating the need for family members to walk for miles several times a week to water them. Family units are closer.
“There’s not a person without a smile,” Dr. Raleigh reported.