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The Happiest Hour

Mama Maji Co-Founder Discusses Clean Water Initiatives at Wayward Owl Brewing Fundraiser

I wandered into Wayward Owl Brewing on Thursday night a little thirsty, considering the subject that had drawn many young and old, heartfelt philanthropists around the ales and saisons that dotted the chic esthetic of this gutted Mid-City movie theater turned hip brewery. A local group called Mama Maji hosted iNight at the brewery to raise funds for their programs that liberate Kenyan women by bringing safe and accessible water to their communities in tandem with Drink Local Think Global


New Orleans and Kenya's water problems are two very different sides of the same troubling coin, Kenya being too dry and New Orleans being overwhelmed by water. However, the solutions to effectively manage water are the same. Kenya's conditions reflect what many women experience in much of the developing world, where women collectively lose 152 million hours every day collecting water. Water collection is seen as a women’s task, and Mama Maji is not only dramatically reducing the length of a women’s work week, but is also supplanting this time with business and leadership skill-building programs and opportunities.


When I asked Brian Manning, Director of Operations and Co-Founder of Mama Maji, about the parallels of establishing water management programs in Kenya and New Orleans he awarded me with this lengthy response:


BM: To quote one of my favorite engineers in Kenya, when he was on a panel for us at one point, they kept asking him about different water systems, and asking him if things worked in Kenya. He covered the mic, and he turned to me,” Brian, can I just answer honestly?” And I’m like, "uh yes.” And he looks up and says, “fluid dynamics and physics are the same in Kenya.” It doesn’t matter what country you’re in. Water is water. Our systems here, the water filtration systems we use to filter water from the Mississippi, and to get the city’s water here — absolutely the same kind of a of system we’d like to see in a water treatment plant in Kenya. The wetlands program that we have here, learning how to manage a wetlands environment, are exactly the same as what you want to see on the shores of Lake Victoria. Gravity-fed water systems are one of the main things in the US. The Jefferson water tower, the huge water tower that’s out there-- we use that one as an example when teaching students about water systems. One of our biggest water projects in [Kenya] uses gravity and a pipe system to maintain pressure. It’s the same.


Mama Maji is much respected in halls of Tulane’s Payson Center for International Development, and addresses many concerns that are being brought to the forefront of international development debates. For instance, when attempting programs that are designed for women, what is the role of men? 


BM: Our main focus is the women. But we work with men as well, so they become women’s allies in the community. In Kenya, in particular, and a lot of African countries, it’s so patriarchal that if I went into a village, and said, “I’m going to teach these women how to learn this,” I would get so much pushback. Because that is going completely counter to what they believe is possible. But by saying that we’re working with the women around building a water business— water is something that’s already women’s responsibility. They get to learn the business. And there’s also men, about 50-50 for every workshop, that can come in and learn business as well. And they become the allies for those women in the community.


And to what extent should we be attempting to develop our own communities?


BM: So, the really interesting thing is that if you go to a university, and you start talking to a bunch of women, and say, ‘Well I’m working in Kenya and we’re training women in how to do public speaking, business skills, leadership skills’; at the end of the conversation there ends up being a whole bunch of women asking you “When do I get to learn that?” We’ve also worked with school projects [in NOLA]. Like Jefferson Parish has an overflow school, and we’ve actually worked with them to develop a water program for their students where they were learning about water management through the integration of a rain garden. And the flip side of that is they were also raising funds for a garden in Kenya. So, that worked out beautifully. They got to learn about water management in a New Orleans context, and then look at water management in a Kenyan context…. if we weren’t here physically building relationships and working with different groups, then communities [in Kenya] wouldn’t have that bridge that they need to people that actually care about making a difference there.


If you’re into drinking beer and talking with international development-nerds, iNights are occurring every second Sunday this summer. In this case, 10 percent of all beer sales went to fund Mama Maji. Mama Maji will be hosting another drink-for-water-management event in Septemer at Broad St. Cider & Ale. Learn more here

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