Sister Cities: Water for Mombasa
By Dianne Anderson
Water, that nearly invisible thing that nobody thinks about until it’s gone, is the catalyst behind Phyllis Venable’s mission with Sister Cities of Long Beach, and their Mombasa affiliate.
Currently, the east coast of Africa leads the world in babies dying from waterborne diseases.
It’s what keeps Venable up at night.
Their Sister Cities water project started with a Gates Foundation grant about eight years ago in hopes that they would eventually get more money to replicate water purification in other areas of Kenya.
“As part of that grant, we put a portable water filtration system in front of the public health clinic. Technology is a big thing, but water is it. Folks have got to live,” said Venable, president of Sister Cities of Long Beach Inc.
Last spring, Sister Cities held its trade mission during World Trade Week involving the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, with ministers of the Kenyan government attending. That two-day event pulled 147 participants with a focus on housing and sanitation.
Kenya is seeking contractors to help further those two industries in the movement to get clean water to the people. With the Sister Cities’ last Mombasa trip in 2013 while finishing up their Gates grant, the water project was in the beginning stages. It’s taken a long time to get to this point.
She said they are now venturing out on their own, continuing the work with the Soroptimist International in Kenya, and a Christian contractor out of Alaska who has success in water purification technology, something she said he does for a hobby, not profit. He is well known for his cisterns.
With the help of the Mayor’s office, their Sister Cities also secured a grant finalized last November from the Port of Long Beach for $100,000.
“It’s a start. We need to use it to parlay more, and we’ve been in talks with boards and meetings,” she said. “We have a grant that we’re giving to committees that qualify. If you have a project or program, we can help.”
Last week, their project conducted testing in the Village of Kisumu, the home of President Obama’s father. The opportunity presented itself when she was contacted by a professor from a major university in Virginia.
“He said I was born outside of the village of Kisumu, that among the conditions when I was there still exist today. Water is a big thing, and he asked can you help me?” she said.
Venable then connected with Roanoke, VA, which has Sister City there with Kisumu. She said their new venture is in the process of sending a water tester to two schools there, along with another village in Mombasa.
It’s all been a circle. Recently, their affiliate company in Mombasa also secured a business license. She said their contractor in Alaska is making sure he has the units and the parts for water purification that they will try to sell to support the cause.
“We can use the proceeds to help the villages in the areas that can’t do anything for themselves,” she said.
In addition to being president of the Long Beach Sister Cities International, Venable has been tapped to be on the Kenyan Country Team, which coordinates all U.S. Sister Cities with sister cities in Kenya, one of 17 affiliates.
Expanding their projects related to water purification and increasing access to housing to be replicated in other Kenyan cities is the priority. Right now, she said Kenyans can access some Chlorine kits through the government, but she said it’s extremely hard for the rural community as they don’t have transportation to the city. They have to walk many miles.
They also have several other programs and projects with Mombasa, including shoe drives for the kids.
“In the meantime, they want to build a school, they’ve got the land, they just need money,” she said.
The coastal city faces deep poverty.
Her projects are inching closer to working with contractors to expand purification systems. The good news is that despite COVID, she said the professor from Kisumu had no problems with flying to Kenya, renting a car, getting to the location. She knows of a couple of friends in Johannesburg that had COVID during the spike in cases, but they were vaccinated so the symptoms were mild.
Venable, who has visited Mombasa numerous times since 2010 on the African Urban Poverty Program, said that in the months ahead with continued support from Sister Cities International, they are planning the first-ever conference in Africa for 2023.
“We’ve never had an international conference on the African continent, that’s sad and a terrible thing to realize,” she said. “If COVID lets us, we’re banking that we’ll be able to do this [in] Capetown Africa. We’ll see.”
For more information, see https://sistercitiesoflongbeach.org/