Posted by: Wasrag | February 11, 2011

The Remba Island PPP Team Trip

In early January 2011, a group of volunteers undertook the first PPP (Project Planning & Performance) Team trip, to Remba Island, which is located in Lake Victoria, Kenya, right on the north-south border between Kenya and Uganda.  It is a small and densely populated Island whose economy is totally dependent on the fish that are caught in the Lake. The 10,000 inhabitants of the land are mostly fishermen, 2,000 of which are transients and leave Remba Island for other locations as the available fish migrate though the Lake. The transient nature of the population has a significant impact on the health and hygiene of the Island.

Getting on the boat for Remba Island

Remba Island is a 2 hour boat ride (16 passenger boat with a 40 hp engine) west of Mbita, Kenya. It is located south and west of Mfangano Island, right on the border with Uganda as the border passes north-south through the Lake.

The inhabitants of Remba Island obtain their water for drinking and cooking directly from Lake Victoria, which is highly polluted predominately by E. Coli. Also, they bath and wash their cloths in the surrounding Lake.

Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, after Lake Superior and it supports Africa’s largest inland fishery. Due to the increased


demand and availability of fish in Lake Victoria, the population of Remba Island has grown dramatically during the past several years.  It is estimated that the current population is 10,000 and includes a migratory population of 2,000. There are more than 2,000 households and the Island is densely populated.

Densely packed houses

Remba Island currently only has 15 private latrines that are kept locked by their owners and 2 public latrines at the public primary school. The two public latrines are simple pits dug into the earth covered with a concrete slab with a hole cut out in the middle covered by a small corrugated metal structure. There is no toilet on top of the hole and the smell is overwhelming. Therefore, most of the population defecates on the open land, usually at two locations on both ends of the Island.    During the rainy season, the feces are washed into the surrounding Lake, which causes widespread pollution.

Fishing nets drying

Although the Island is densely populated, there seem to be numerous new houses, continually being built on the limited amount of land with no master plan evident.  There is no design of pathways throughout the Island, so they meander around throughout the Island and many are extremely narrow.

Gathering water from the lake

Transient fishermen, who are predominately Kenyans, Ugandans, Tanzanians, and Somalia’s make up about 20% of the population. The fishermen come and go, traveling to and living on other nearby Islands, depending on where the fishing is good. The large amount of transient fishermen has a significant impact on the economy, the schools, the crime, the culture and the cleanliness of the Island.  “No one washes a rental car”.

The economy is totally dependent on fishing, which in high season runs day and night. Other businesses on the Island are run by individuals and exist to service the fishermen. The majority of these businesses are run by women (e.g., sellers of clothing or food, bars, hotels, and commercial sex workers, etc.).

Most of the boats are owned by absentee owners. The owner receives 70-80% of the catch with the fishermen splitting the remaining 20-30%. If the boat has no gear, the fee is lower and often paid monthly. Owners can own more than one boat; for example, one Ugandan woman owns 30 boats. As far as we could assess, no boat owners fish themselves and none live on Remba Island. The absentee boat owners also own a lot of the housing, which they rent to the fishermen at a cost of  1,000-1,200 Kenya shillings (KSh) per month (Note: 80KSh = US$1.00).

No system for collecting garbage

It appears that there is no current waste management collection system in place.  Literally thousands of plastic bottles cover the landscape.  In addition, all matter of garbage and other debris are scattered everywhere.  During the rainy season, much of the plastic bottles and debris are washed into the surrounding Lake. During our last visit to Remba Island, on January 7th, we brought large plastic garbage bags and sanitary gloves in order to demonstrate how the plastic bottles and other debris could be easily picked up from the landscape. Members of our team, the Island’s WASH committee and even the Chief, who came from nearby Manfangano Island, all walked through the Island and quickly collected 8 large bags of garbage.

The 12-member team met in Kisumu, Kenya on January 4, 2011 and conducted a six day assessment that included two days of travel, two days on Remba Island, one day on nearby Ringiti Island and one day of examining water systems in areas outside of Kisumu. The Assessment Report will be ready shortly, and from that, will come a list of endorsed projects to assist the community in addressing the water, sanitation and hygiene education needs of Remba and nearby islands.

Day 1: January 4, 2011

The team met at the Nyanza Club, Kisumu, on the morning of January 4, 2011.

After the meeting everyone drove to downtown Kisumu to purchase supplies for the trip to Remba Island. We then drove to Luanda Kotieno and took the ferry south across Lake Victoria to Mbita, a two hour trip. At Mbita we checked into the guest quarters at ICIPE (International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology) where we stayed for four nights.

Day 2: January 5, 2011.

Sixteen of us left at 8:00am for a 2 hour boat ride west across Lake Victoria to Remba Island, arriving at 10am.  We met at the Beach Management Unit (BMU) community hall for approximately two hours with the members of the BMU committee as well as the Islands WASH (Water and Sanitation and Health) Committee. They then took us on a three hour walking tour of the Island.

We left Remba Island at 3pm for the boat ride back to Mbita.  In the evening we had a one hour meeting to discuss the events of the day and to outline the sections of the report.

Day 3: January 6, 2011

We left at 8:00am for a 2 hour boat ride northwest across Lake Victoria to Ringiti Island. At Ringiti we met with their Beach Management Unit and then toured the Island.  We left Ringiti at 2pm returning to Mbita.   In the evening we met for 2 hours to discuss the events of the day and to discuss the comparison of the two Islands and the various sections of the final report.

Day 4: January 7, 2011

We again left at 8:00am for the boat ride to Remba Island.  There we met with the BMU and the WASH Committees of Remba Island. The Chief, who lives on nearby Manfangano Island, also attended the meeting. We then toured the public school and had lunch with the Remba Island committee members. We left Remba Island at 2pm for Mbita. In the evening we again met for 2 hours to discuss the writing of the final report and our recommendations.

Day 5: January 8, 2011

We checked out of the ICIPE Guest House and took the 7:00am ferry north across Lake Victoria from Mbita to Luanda Kotieno. From there we drove north to Nyang’oma Kogelo and met with President Barak Obama’s paternal step-grandmother. Then we drove east to Siaya to visit a water treatment facility at a school. We then drove to Kisumu and checked into the Nyanza Club.

Day 6: January 9, 2011

The teams met for the final time at 8am for two hours at the Nyanza Club to discuss our recommendations for Remba Island and to finalize the procedures for finishing the final report.


  1. Hi, Could you send me a copy of your PPP report?

    • Rodger, did you get a copy of the report? If not I can send you one,


      • Nancy,

        I would also like a copy of the report. I am with the Gardendale Area Rotary in District 6860 (Same district as Rodger Qualls). I am the Water Chair for District. Thanks.

        Richard Bradley

      • Dear Nancy,

        I’m a student and now I’m doing my thesis about sanitation in Mageta Island. Is it possible to get the report? Thanks


      • Hi Nancy, could you pls send me a copy of the Remba Island report? I’m working on Rusinga and will also continue on Remba, Mfangano too. I’m completing my MA on Rusinga – the info would be really useful. I’m a Rotarian from Dublin, Ireland.

  2. Thank you for your fascinating (and somewhat haunting) account. I visited Remba in 2009 as I was doing work with Education Beyond Borders to facilitate teacher workshops in Mbita. We were able to visit Mfangano, Kibougi, and Remba Islands, and were also able to visit with Mama Sarah as you did. (A few photos are here, if you’re interested: Thank you for the work you’re doing in the Suba region to improve the quality of life for its residents.

  3. Am really happy with your trips to remba and ringiti island . good job . I would like to volunteer but I don’t know how to go about it.

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