When Lydia Wanjiru stood to speak to a crowd of community and business leaders more than three times her age, the poem she shared spoke of hope beneath the despair. It told a story of her aspirations for a better future and a wish to access safe drinking water earlier in life.

The young pupil lives just an hour’s drive from Kenya’s bustling capital, Nairobi, in a town famous for its scenic beauty, internationally acclaimed flowers and the source of its name, Lake Naivasha. However, beneath the beautiful scenery lies a painful truth that many of the town’s residents, including Wanjiru, live with every day. Dental fluorosis, though not debilitating, is serious enough to result in loss of employment opportunities and more sadly, self-esteem in both children and adults.

“I have so many questions. Why do I have brown teeth? Our teacher told us that to be a Police Officer or Bank Manager, your teeth must be white. I wonder…will I ever be a Bank Manager?” - Lydia Wanjiru, Rubiri Primary School in Naivasha, Kenya

In one of life’s ironies, people whose lives have been defined by their proximity to a fresh water lake have no access to safe drinking water. Years of offloading effluent into the lake have polluted the fresh water, forcing residents to turn to boreholes. Although plentiful, this water has high levels of fluorine, a mineral that causes browning of the teeth and weakening and deformity of the bones. Further, few can afford teeth whitening, a dental procedure out of reach for many.

Wanjiru’s short poem reinforced Naivasha’s Senior Assistant County Commissioner, Michael Kioni’s remarks, “We know the effects of fluorine on the teeth and bones, but the community cannot afford bottled water,” he said. “Many of our young people have been rejected by the military when they come to town for their recruitment exercise. They’re told they don’t make the cut because their teeth are discoloured. What do you tell your child after he is turned away, when the government keeps saying that it is offering equal opportunities for all?”

Thanks to efforts by The Coca-ColaAfrica Foundation (TCAAF), Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), Vitens Evides International and local water service providers, over 45,000 residents of Naivasha town are expected to benefit from water projects, which will see water kiosks built to supply the population with defluorinated water.

Speaking when he launched the second phase of the US $500,000 two-year initiative, Patrick Pech, the General Manager for Nairobi Bottlers said the project was the beginning of a journey that would Open Happiness and restore the smiles of Naivasha residents.

Women can now spend time to productively improve their livelihoods and that of their families.

Children can expect to grow with whiter smiles and better opportunities

“We understand that scarcity of safe, quality water is a global issue. Women in Naivasha spend up to 25 per cent of their time in search of clean water. This time can be spent productively to improve their livelihoods and that of their families. We want your children to join the military if they want to,” Pech said.

In addition to providing safe drinking water, TCCAF is working with stakeholders to educate more residents on the dangers of drinking unfiltered water. The Foundation has enlisted the help of local community health workers who use performing arts to communicate messages through short, hilarious but educational skits.

For Kariuki Mugo, WSUP’s Country Project Manager, the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) project is sustainable because it uses methods such as bone-char filtration to rid the water of fluorine. “We are tapping into local skills and easily available materials to ensure that even after we leave, the people of Naivasha will continue to have access to safe drinking water.”The initiative, in line with Coca-Cola’s global water stewardship efforts, has so far benefitted over 30,000 residents through phase 1, with the strategically located water kiosks selling defluorinated water for less than US $0.10 for 11 – 20 litres.