Posted by: Wasrag | March 5, 2011

Do Dreams Come True?

Many would say no. Nicholas Syano would beg to differ. He came to Wisconsin with a dream as a new student at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point.  With the training and the encouragement he received there the dream grew, sprouted and blossomed into something not even imaginable for his community in Kenya, potable water and reforestation.

The Villagers

Nicholas Mutuku Syano was born, grew up and still continues to live in Maiuni, Africa, in the Makueni district of Kenya. He has witnessed the natural woodlands of his community be decimated over the years for charcoal which in turn sustains their livelihood. “This practice destroys the habitat and community,” he says. “The nearby streams have dried up, and the frogs I used to listen to when I was young have disappeared as a result of the desertification caused by deforestation and global warming.” said Nicholas. Tiny Maiuni has no electricity or water source. Women and children walk nearly two miles carrying a five gallon container on their back with a strap wrapped across their forehead to a polluted river for water. The water must be boiled for purification to protect villagers from disease. Since the river dries up for part of the year, its water is not always available.

Nicholas grew up in extreme poverty and was raised by a mother with eight siblings. Despite hardships, he worked hard in primary school to win a scholarship from “Save the Children Fund”, which paid for his secondary education. He continued on for University training in Kenya. After which he worked at the Kenya Institution of Organic Farming, training poor, small-scale farmers on environmental protection through organic farming practices while creating much needed food security for families in their community.

Nicholas received his degree in May of 2008 from UWSP for Natural Resource Management with an emphasis on small gardening systems for impoverished communities worldwide. He was the first international student to receive “Masters Student of the Year” from the College of Natural Resource at UW-Stevens Point.  He has worked on a USAID project, training HIV/AIDs patients to set up small scale Organic farms to supplement their compromised diet, by growing local nutritious vegetables to support a healthy immune system.

Nicholas is currently working as the Project Manager of a sustainability based orphanage for children who lost their parents to AIDS in Nyumbani Village-Kitui, which is close enough to his home village in Kenya so he assist with water and forestation projects in that area.

Deforestation is a huge problem in many third world countries. Trees are used to warm homes, cook meals and to purify water for consumption. Each brings a challenge to areas where trees are harvested to near extinction.

A crisis is brewing in the dry lands of East Africa. Population growth continues to outpace the environment’s capacity, straining natural resources and increasing the pressure on its people to engage in unsustainable land management practices. In an attempt to meet the need for fuel and income, subsistence farmers cut down the surrounding forest for firewood and charcoal. These lost forests acted as natural soil and riverbank stabilizers. Once gone, rivers dry up, soils erode, and less water and fewer nutrients are retained in the soil that remains. This action is compounded by climate change, which manifests itself as less overall rainfall and more rainfall variability. Agricultural productivity continually declines as well. As crop yields fall, farmers are forced to even further exploit the forest.  Kenya has lost over 90% of its forest land and agriculture. The majority of the remaining forest cover is in National Parks and Preserves.

Water Tank

As Nicholas Syano trained at UWSP he began to share the natural resource challenges of Kenya and his village with members of churches and organizations throughout Central Wisconsin.  Joanne Marshall, a Wisconsin Rapids Sunrise Rotary member, invited Nicholas to present his ideas and the plight of his country to her group.  Not only did they listen, they were inspired by his dedication, plan and sustainable goals.  And so the Cistern Project was born.  An initial commitment of $1200 was approved for one cistern.

Community Meeting

Group members being trained

Once the Cistern Project had been given approval by the Wisconsin Rapids Sunrise Rotary, Nicholas started the selection process in Kenya. By their unanimous community decision it was decided that names of all families committed to working with the cistern and reforestation projects would be placed in a hat.  (Approximately 50 families were involved with 8-10 members each.) A child from the village would draw the name of the family receiving the first cistern. As monies are received for additional cisterns the same process will be followed allowing each family an equal opportunity to be picked in a fair and transparent process. For a sense of ownership and to strengthen the social fabric of the community the members also unanimously agreed that they would all work together in collecting the sand, gravel and provide the unskilled labor necessary for every cistern installed.  This commitment not only cements the village in the venture but also lessens the cost of construction labor for the project.

Installed Cistern

Because the source of cistern water is rainwater, once the water is captured it will not dry up as it might in a well.  Harvesting rainwater is strongly encouraged in small villages due to the low-tech nature of harvesting, the sustainability of these projects and the life transforming affect of potable water. From start to finish, the project of building a cistern takes approximately one week, and is seen as a miracle in the eyes of the villagers.

On September 12, 2010 the Wisconsin Rapids Sunrise Rotary was informed that the first cistern approved for Nicholas’ village had been installed. The process is quite simple, a base is built, cistern placed and gutters are attached to a home to catch the rain water and direct it toward the cistern. The actual cistern is made of a black plastic type material painted white inside. The cistern has guaranteed life of 20-30 years.  Cistern installation is most effective in the months of during the dry season, but can take place during the rainy season as well; the process just becomes more challenging.

Second Tank

On October 30,, 2010 Sunrise Rotary received notification from Nicholas that the second cistern which they had supported, was in place and operational.   He informed them that the rainy season had started on October 23rd, but assured them that both cisterns were working wonderfully. Rains are expected to continue until late December at which time both cisterns will be full and contain approximately 10,000 liters of water each, which will take care of a family of 8-10 people for 6-7 months.  This area of Kenya has two rainy seasons (October-December) and (March-April), so the families with the cisterns will enjoy clean and safe rain water throughout the year.

In addition to the Cistern Project Nicholas has also instituted a reforestation project through a non-profit organization, (NGO) registered in Kenya, known as Dryland Natural Resources Centre. Currently 5,000 saplings have been planted in this area. The Cistern Project has sparked interest in Nicholas’ community to this reforestation.  Each landowner has committed to planting at least 10% of their property with trees.  Not only does the Cistern Project supply severely needed potable water to the village, but it also supports the replenishment of trees to a severely deforested area of the world.

Nicholas Syano, a Rotary member of the Machakos Club in Kenya has touched the lives of many back here in Central Wisconsin. At the time of this article’s composition, the Wisconsin Rapids Noon Rotary Club had also pledged to provide one cistern for the project through their local foundation.

The Miracle of Clean Water

Fetching Safe Water

For more information about the Nicholas Syano’s Cistern Project, or an involvement opportunity within  your organization, community or family contact Wisconsin Rapids Sunrise Rotary members Sue Siewert, at  715-325-3660, or or Nancy Mischnick at or 715-421-0282.


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