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Residents of Habaswein (Abdi Ahmed, second from left)
Residents of Habaswein (Abdi Ahmed, second from left)

The language of water


by Sunita Raut and Alan Channer

Habaswein, in northeastern Kenya, is arid and its inhabitants are poor. There is little water for anything to grow. Mukhtar Ogle is a son of this land. He is also a Senior Advisor to the President of Kenya.

Mukhtar Ogle, Kenya

Far away in India, the organization of Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), under the leadership of Dr. Rajendra Singh, has worked for decades to restore the watersheds of Rajasthan. Known as ‘the waterman of India’, Dr. Singh has helped bring water to thousands of villages. Interestingly, the climate of this part of India and the climate of Habaswein, in Wajir County, Kenya are similar. Given that knowledge, one could theorize that what worked in India could work in Kenya.

In August 2019, Dr. Rajendra Singh from TBS and Sunita Raut from Four Rooms of Change, a group as well as a methodology that supports innovation, met with Rishabh Khanna and Hassan Mohmud from Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace (ILLP) in Sweden. Water connected these three individuals, as they intuitively knew that bringing water to the arid lands of the Horn of Africa is what they all needed to do. At the time, nobody knew how that would happen, but they had hope in their hearts and, more importantly, determination.

In February 2020, Mukhtar Ogle gave a keynote speech on environment and security at the Towards a Humane World conference at Asia Plateau, the Initiatives of Change conference centre in India. He also visited the pioneering work in watershed management of Grampari, a rural development NGO inspired by Initiatives of Change.  And he heard more about Dr. Rajendra Singh.

‘Bring this to Kenya,’ said Mukhtar, ‘and we will transform the region’.

Rishabh, Sunita and Hassan were ready to deliver Dr. Singh’s land and life-restoring methodology to northeastern Kenya. But COVID-19 had struck and the prospects of engaging with a remote town in northeastern Kenya seemed impossible.

That’s when Rishabh and Sunita initiated a Whatsapp group, linking Dr Singh with Mukhtar. The two men had conversations after that point, and the thought occurred to Mukhtar to take online sessions in Hindi from Dr Singh, and to then create an online training module in English from those teachings. Rishabh and Sunita decided to devote their spare time to do it – and so ‘The Water Warriors’ training programme was born.

Mukhtar was also not deterred by the difficulty of learning Hindi or of undertaking this initiative.  He spoke with the community in Habaswein, nominated Abdi Ahmed to be their spokesman and told them that they would get participatory online training from Sweden.

Vegetable gardens in Habaswein

And so, in August 2020, the first online ‘Water Warrior Training’ was conducted with the Somali-speaking community of Habaswein by three trainers sitting on a sofa in Stockholm, frequently joined by Mukhtar in Nairobi, at his desk in the Executive Offices of the President in Kenya.

Together over Zoom, the trainers in the first three days taught the basic principles of Watershed Management with aspects of Geo-, Hydro-, Agro-, Sciences and Community Building. Then came the ‘Water Lab’, where they examined videos and photographs of the vegetable plots near Habaswein’s seasonal river. They compared and discussed what they were seeing and learning with Google Earth maps of the terrain and did an online community mapping exercise of the watershed. 

Sunita and Rishabh also facilitated a module in how to release inner blockages and to harness, like the flow of water, the flow of life, both within oneself and in relation to others. For ‘The Water Warriors’, helping to strengthen trust and collaboration in the wider community is a vital part of the programme.

This was perhaps one of the first interventions of its kind involving both the head and the heart, and where geographical and language boundaries were overcome. Technology has given a new meaning to ‘field visits’. 

The vision of ‘The Water Warriors’ now is that before the next rains, the community in Habaswein will work to construct check dams and johads (percolation ponds), to hold back rainwater and start recharging the aquifers. The programme facilitators will accompany the community online throughout this process.

One of the most wonderful aspects is that the Habaswein community is so excited at the engagement coming from across the globe to their doorsteps in real time. Listening to Hassan Mohmud speaking in Somali with villagers near the Kenya-Somali border, while sitting together on a couch with people from India in Sweden, has shown us all that water connects people in a way that minds cannot comprehend. What else can be expected? Each one of us is, after all, 70% water!

We are inspired by the Habaswein community members who speak excitedly to each other every day about restoring water to their land.  Now, the mission is to find partners and resources so we can deliver the three-part Water Warrior Training. together with the half-day Water Action Lab, to more and more communities where access and availability of water is a real challenge.

Everyone has the dream of seeing year-round water. The mere thought of it fills our heart with love and brings tears to our eyes.

Dr Rajendra Singh (centre) with The Water Warrior facilitators in Sweden.

Photos by Water Warriors


As a programme of Initiatives of Change International, Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace contributes toward our focus area of ‘sustainable living’ by living our values and empowering others to follow their calling as it relates to the preservation of our planet.

They organise the annual Caux Dialogue on Environment and Security (CDES) and co-organises, in partnership with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, an annual Summer Academy on Land, Security and Climate.

Would you like to help us to combat desertification, train other regional groups, and help others to understand the importance of sustainable living? Contribute towards IILP today by visiting our donate page!

To learn more about Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace or the Water Warriors training, please contact Rishabh Khanna or Sunita Raut.