Today I visited the desert of Marsabit, Kenya. The last time I was here was early 2011 when water was already a challenge, and the drought of 2010 simply flaunted its severity. The rain tanks sat empty. The earthen dam was dry, and the animals lay dead upon its crumbled surface. The expected rainy season passed over northeast Kenya without a drop to share. The following rainy season simply did the same.
I remember flying away from Marsabit in a small missionary plane, dumbfounded by the cruelty of the earth and by the limitation of man. As we left, we had encouraged everyone to continue the work, but it honestly felt futile. Why would you build a rain tank when you have lived a year under cloudless skies? Why would you teach your neighbors how to properly care for water when there is simply no water to care for? Why risk the fool by believing in a good God when the earth continues to stand dry? I looked out the window into the desert and wondered if the tears of the dying were the only drops of water that would come. I prayed, but with disbelief.
Today, I flew back in that same missionary plane and saw a land different than when I had been here 18 months before. And what I have seen in the process of such hardship is the enduring belief in the ability to hope and to take responsibility for one's situation regardless of circumstance. Day in and day out, the people of Marsabit continued on with utter resilience to survive. They faithfully built the tanks and repaired the dams as dust devils swept across their land. They developed health and hygiene clubs, dug pit latrines and carried on with a commitment to improving their lives regardless of the circumstances that they could not control. Many people in the US would consider an empty rain tank a failure, but the actions of these communities prove greater success than most places I have seen. Poverty gets the worst of humanity when it tells people that they are without any hope or dignity or ability.
The rains had finally come last October. Like manna from heaven, the rain filled the tanks and the dams. And because the people of Marsabit had worked through the drought to construct the catchment systems, they were able to collect every drop. We visited schools with rain tanks, and the children sang songs about the importance of clean water and hand washing. They were thankful to God that the drought had subsided, and they proclaimed how they were stronger together by enduring through it.
Progress comes in ebbs and flows, and it shows itself in stops and starts. We wish for change to come quickly, but more often than not, it comes slowly and gradually. It is a lost cause to judge success by rain or drought. The magic of development is in the spirit and belief of communities who work diligently together through times of both scarcity and plenty. I am so inspired by our friends in Marsabit.