“11 years ago when I commissioned Daaba Centre (one of Well Aware’s first projects); it was a no-go zone, guarded by the locals armed and ready to fight. During my second visit, the area was a war zone; I had driven alone through the woods because guards from the hotel I stayed in declined to come with me and never informed me that clashes had broken out in the region. I had no prior knowledge of the situation until I arrived at the school to find four wooden structures posing as classrooms. The school was used as a feeding center for over 100 men all armed with guns. I found the chief with 5 armed young men cooking tea with very big metal containers. The chief was surprised how I got there! In 20 minutes, over 100 young men all with guns came singing war songs, took the hot tea and disappeared again to the woods. After finishing my business, the Chief assured me it was safe to drive back to the hotel since his men had seen my van!“
This is one of many memories my dad has of the birth and origin of Well Aware. My dad, Mike Mutuku, is popularly known as the “Maji Man” and Well Aware’s Director of Projects, but first, he used to be a taxi driver. Over a decade ago, my dad landed a volunteer job with an organization that I didn’t know much about then. He’d talk about “Wazungu” (Founder, Sarah Evans) and all we knew was that he picked up “Wazungu” and ferried her to different locations within Kenya. Pole pole (slow in Swahili) is what he called the organization in the beginning. It started making frequent occurrences in our dinner conversation, and we then learned that my dad had joined Well Wishers to help and support Kenyans in need of clean water. He was elated about his new mission – I dare call it so because it was not a job, rather a service or a calling that he was passionate about. My dad is crazy about driving and crazier about community development.
When he joined Well Aware, life was not a bed of roses. I remember he’d tell us stories of some of the places they’d have to stay in for weeks at a time before a successful new borehole well was sunk. The organization barely had enough funds for the wells, let alone extra change for fancy accommodations and food. Sometimes, they’d live on snacks to pass the day. It is the zeal he saw in Sarah that kept him going. I remember he once told us:
“This young ‘Mzungu’ has given up her house, her career and even left her young baby to come help our people have access to clean drinking water. And if she can do this, then we need to give ten times more so that our people can benefit and their children’s children can enjoy this great sacrifice.”
My dad became Well Aware’s first paid employee. Then, block by block, person by person, this zeal grew and took hold in others. Even me. Now, Mike continues to nurture and transfer that same zeal to the rest of the Kenya team – reminding us that through patience, hard work, and selflessness, Well Aware can grow to be what it is, impact thousands of lives, and that this legacy we build will live even beyond our days here.