Across our properties, Virgin Limited Edition has always believed that supporting the local community and taking care of the environment is of vital importance and benefits all in the long term. Our teams are continually looking to identify new methods for recycling, energy saving and waste disposal and support a wide range of local initiatives and organisations focussed on sustainability and community-led projects aimed at improving the lives and well-being of the people, the environment and wildlife in the region.
For World Water Day, we are shining a light on the efforts at - Mahali Mzuri, our tented camp in the Maasai Mara ecosystem - and the Eve Branson Foundation in collaboration with Kasbah Tamadot, our luxury mountain retreat in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains - to provide access to clean drinking water for the local communities.
The 2023 theme for World Water Day is "Groundwater - Making the Invisible Visible". With groundwater an integral part of the water cycle, the Eve Branson Foundation in partnership with Kasbah Tamadot has funded the construction of two ground wells in remote Berber villages, often struck by droughts, to ensure there is access to clean drinking water at all times.
Eve Branson at the well in Imskar
Water scarcity in the Atlas Mountains
The Eve Branson Foundation is a non-profit organisation set up by Sir Richard Branson's mum Eve in 2005 with the mission of making a meaningful difference to the people and communities living in the Atlas Mountains and has, since its inception, worked closely with Kasbah Tamadot in Asni on collaborative programmes.
In 2013, The Eve Branson Foundation became aware of the serious issue of water scarcity for many of the Amazigh (Berber) villages in the region particularly during the hot dry summer months and were keen to tackle the ongoing challenge of access to clean water.
Several well-building missions by local associations had not reached completion due to lack of funds and difficulty digging beyond 20 metres to reach a water source. With droughts more frequent, many locals had to face water supplies being cut off in their villages for weeks at a time forcing them to collect water from neighbouring villages. The effect this had on agriculture was also devastating.
Berber village of Imskar
Funding wells to access clean water
The Eve Branson Foundation stepped in and funded the cost of completing the construction of two wells. Wells here are often dug by hand rather than using machinery to ensure precision in locating the water source and to ensure durability of the well.
The first well was constructed in Imi Oughlad in 2015, about 4 kilometres from Kasbah Tamadot, which was at the time, one of the worst-hit villages by the drought with temperatures reaching nearly 40 degrees and the nearby river-bed completely dry. It reached 30 metres deep.
Well in Imi Oughlad
The other well was constructed in Imskar in 2018. Eve herself often visited the well at Imskar and was in the village when water was finally reached at a depth of 35 metres. The well now serves the entire village population.
The Eve Branson Foundation also put in place a drip irrigation system on land surrounding the Tansghart Woodwork Centre (where it provides young men with carpentry training).
Making a difference to the local community
Today these wells provide a much-needed water source for local families and small enterprises in these more remote and harder to access villages. They run water up to 10 litres per second and are connected to the local villages through a water cleaning system, making water available to all villagers with less incidence of illness brought on by ingesting dirty water during dry season.
In addition, provision of water access decreases the burden on women and girls to travel far to collect water from local sources and canals. A dedicated water source also helps supply small local agricultural enterprises during heavy droughts and in turn keeps down the cost of vegetables and fruit.
Fertile land near Kasbah Tamadot
For over ten years, the team at Mahali Mzuri, our luxury tented safari camp in the Maasai Mara ecosystem, have invested in projects and been working with local organisations such as The Maa Trust to provide the local communities, schools and wildlife of the Olare Motorogi Conservancy with vital access to clean water.
The water pans for rainwater harvesting next to the Mahali Mzuri funded school
Clean water for the local school
In 2019, Mahali Mzuri and generous individual donors built and opened Enkenju - Enkoirien Primary School, located about 4 kilometres from the camp in the Aitong Town of Narok County with the aim of providing all children from the local area with a good education within walking distance, and more importantly, access to nourishing food and clean water.
The school's construction incorporated the design of water pans on the land beside it that could collect rainwater during the rainy season which could then be harvested and stored in underground water tanks beneath the school for use throughout the year. Each underground water tank had the capacity to store about 20,000 litres of water.
The water tanks at the school
The water collected is pumped into the school water tank above ground and then made available for the school children in the canteen, toilets and for showers. It is essential that children have access to safe water to drink, and clean toilets to use while they are at school. The resultant decrease in illness improves school attendance and results.
Pumping water to the school canteen
Supporting rainwater harvesting projects with the Maa Trust
The Maa Trust is a non-profit organisation working together with community-owned wildlife conservancies across the Maasai Mara ecosystem to address areas of need and increase the benefits of wildlife conservation to Maasai families. The Olare Motorogi Conservancy was one of its founding members and Mahali Mzuri is a significant donor to the trust while Wilson Odhiambo, the camp’s General Manager, also sits on the Maa Trust Board.
One of the key areas the Maa Trust focuses on is their WASH (Water, Sanitisation and Hygiene) programme which aims to provide clean water for human consumption by rehabilitating natural springs and constructing community rainwater harvesting (CRWH) projects, as extracting water from boreholes is not only expensive to maintain and prone to breaking down but it also provides water that has dangerously high levels of fluoride salt.
Community rainwater harvesting projects consist of a large 1800m2 aluminium sheet roof, which drains into a 600,000-litre water tank. These simple systems ensure that communities can access clean rainwater free of fluoride for human consumption. Families pay 2 US cents to fill a 20-litre jerry can of clean, safe drinking water. This payment for services will ensure project sustainability.
The Ngila rainwater harvesting project by The Maa Trust supported by Mahali Mzuri
In 2022, construction on three new community rainwater harvesting projects started, bringing the total to nine CRWH systems within the Mara. One of the projects supported by Mahali Mzuri was the Ngila project which sits near the border of the conservancy and is associated with the local school. Once completed, it will benefit around 1,710 people in Ngila communities.
The school next to the Ngila rainwater harvesting project
Providing water during droughts
Northern Kenya experienced very severe droughts two months ago, said to be one of the worst they have seen in 30 years. Wilson Odhiambo, General Manager at Mahali Mzuri says, "Water provision is very key to us. As a conservancy, water access is still a major ongoing issue for us every day."
Mahali Mzuri has funded the construction of five dams for rainwater collection around the conservancy boundary to provide water during dry season. Four water dams are located around the Mahali Mzuri camp itself and one is located in the local village. They provide a much-needed water supply for the landowners and their grazing cattle as well as general game like zebras.
The Mahali Mzuri team have also donated water which comes from the Mahali Mzuri borehole to the local communities in times of water shortages by using a 500-litre water bowser to transport the water so that the women of the villages can access water more easily.
Water bowser donating water to the local school