In 2018, Jonathan Munyany made a pivotal trip to Makueni County, Kenya, where a wealthy businessman asked for help exporting meat to the Middle East. As Jonathan toured the man’s many vast and flourishing properties, he couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast to the persistent poverty and destitution in the villages between these prosperous ranches. There was so much need for food, and yet the meat was to be shipped thousands of miles away.
What struck Jonathan the most was the lack of young adults in the villages — the strong, ambitious, vital group who bring the lifeblood needed for the development and improvement of any community. Where were the youth? Jonathan went to shopping areas in the villages, empty except for a few elderly shopkeepers. Where were the customers?
Women in the villages told Jonathan that the young people long ago left for towns and cities where they could find jobs and have reliable access to food and water. That said, in Kenya’s towns and cities, workers from the villages are the cheapest laborers, and the majority live in slums in houses built with polythene papers. Despite their low wages, daughters return to their homes monthly to bring food, water, and money to their families, staying only for a few hours before leaving again. Without this help, parents are lucky to have one meal a day. And for some parents, their children do not visit.
When Jonathan did find some young men in the villages, he found that many suffered from substance abuse issues and had little hope for their future. When asked how they planned to find wives with no women their age around, they replied that they will marry young girls (as young as 9 or 10), which was a custom in the area.
These dire conditions led Jonathan on a journey to learn more. He visited Nairobi, searching out the young people forced to leave their homes to find work. He asked why not work to develop the areas where you were born. The answer — there is nothing there to develop. “In our villages, there is no water, no resources, no food.” Women and children walk 15 km and more to fetch water in containers. People in the drylands search for nearly every meal.
The youth said if their villages had water, they could return home and farm their family land. Parents said if our villages had water, their children could return. And in that statement, Jonathan knew what he had to do. Water was the key. Start with building water access directly in the villages, continue with farming projects to bring food security and help people prosper, and finally improve education and health to empower these communities. With these advancements, villages in rural areas, drylands, and slums can begin to break a 100-year cycle of devastation and abandonment.