WHILE the Tweed and Kenya might be worlds apart, access to safe drinking water is bringing the two communities together.
For 12 years, Tweed Shire Council has been reaching out to its partners in the Siaya district of Nyanza province, western Kenya, to provide assistance in building water purification stations for the local community.
Every year, council staff fundraise and volunteer their time to assist Tweed Kenya Mentoring Program. Their fundraising efforts are then matched by Tweed Shire Council, which on average allocates about $18,000 a year to the project.
Having recently returned from one of the safe water projects, TKMP volunteer Nigel Dobson said helping the local community secure safe drinking water not only helped establish better health outcomes but also provided a sense of community between the two regions.
"It's a big community effort,” Mr Dobson said.
"It gives them ownership of it and makes them feel involved rather than something that's just been handed to them.
"They form a local committee to manage it, operate it and form a governance process around the use of the dam.
"TKMP just gives them the assistance to be able to achieve something that they just can't achieve on their own.”
Mr Dobson recently visited one of the four safe water sites to assist in repairing a dam damaged by a combination of heavy rainfall and silt erosion.
"The old dam which we drew the water source from was basically silted up, constantly running out of water or (had) very bad water quality,” he said.
"You've probably got a three-month window for the dry season over there. You've got to drain it, then get in to build it.
"It's all up and running, the filters are producing safe water. The dam is full.”
Not only does the program provide the Siaya communities with better access to safe drinking water but it gives council staff and community groups - such as the Murwillumbah Football Club, which has donated soccer jerseys in the past - an opportunity to take stock of what they've got in their own backyard.
"Part of the idea was to give council staff and the broader community a bit of perspective on what really is important in life and to get a better appreciation of what we actually have here,” TKMP volunteer Scott Green said said.
"By going over and helping these communities and being absorbed into these communities you get a better appreciation of just how good we have it here and what other communities have to deal with.”
TKMP volunteer Bob Hanby said helping the Siaya communities access safe drinking water allowed them to seek a more sustainable way of living in an area that's prone to extreme dry seasons.
"In Australia when we have a drought we have water restrictions and we just limit the water or the way we use water,” he said.
"In Kenya, when they have a drought you don't have water, it's as simple as that. (There) you literally walk 12-20km with a 20-litre drum to get dirty water and bring it home. A round trip can be up to 20km.”
Mr Dobson said there was already a clear difference in the attitudes of the Siaya communities, which were able to access clean water again.
"In March it's dry season, the dam's been drained and emptied so they're all fairly discouraged,” he said.
"Where now they've had a bit of a wet season, the dam is full and they've got plenty of water so they're all happy and excited and feel like they've got a bit of a future.
"The majority of people are dehydrated, which is something the Kenyan Health team noticed just purely because there's a lack of water.
"Even drinking isn't a priority for them.
"When you go and get 20L of water and you take a couple of mouthfuls, then the rest of the family has a little bit, then you cook with a bit and you give a bit to the cattle, 20L doesn't go far.”
Mr Green said the project also offered education into proper sanitation practices.
"There's no point having clean water if people aren't educated on sanitary issues and vice-versa,” he said.
"There's no point knowing how to wash your hands if you haven't got clean water to do it.
"You have to tackle it from a few different angles to make a difference.”
Mr Dobson said TKMP would continue to work closely with its Kenyan counterparts to ensure clean water was a top priority for the Siaya region.