The Day The Mast Came To Ngurunit Thanks To Safaricom

Imagine where you’d be right now without proper internet connection.

Not the high-speed internet connections we enjoy in major towns in the country. Just a basic connection. The kind you get when you for example start moving away from Nairobi; that drastic drop from 4G to 3G or even 2G.

Now imagine yourself with a shell of that basic connection you’ve struggled to find.

This is what the residents of Ngurunit and the surrounding areas have endured for the longest time. Here, time almost moves differently. With the scarcity of basic commodities like water, good roads and proper sanitation, it’s almost like they’re frozen in a different timeline; thus progress and economic and social development will definitely take longer to catch up here.

But even with copious amounts of dust, scorching heat, lack of water for kilometres around and insecurity, Kenya’s number 1 telco Safaricom, endured these harsh realities to bring them a glimmer of hope.

The journey that took more than a year was a difficult one, as field engineer Haron Kiprotich Cheruiyot says. His time as a field engineer has seen him in Kitui, Garissa, Mandera, Nanyuki to Marsabit counties.

Field engineer Haron at work

“My work is to ensure network availability and this is a large scope of work. We first identify the areas where communities face challenges accessing network. It might seem like an easy thing to do but Kenya is a vast country with different geographical scenery and some areas are quite hard to reach. In other places, the residents might see you as a threat at first – not everyone is as welcoming, thus we have to set open lines of dialogue with the community leaders, including chiefs and the people in charge of security. When we are welcomed, we assess the area using different factors like the number of households (thus equating to the number of customers to be served), the type of terrain, security, means of accessing the area among very many other things.

The process of putting up a base station undergoes quite the process – from collecting data about the place, sending the request for a surveyor, getting plans underway for budgeting and procurement purposes, commencing the acquisition process, among other details and the journey to the area with the equipment begins.

For Ngurunit, it was quite the challenge, but nothing I haven’t experienced before from my 7 years in the field. Besides, the look on our customers faces on the 30th of August when the mast was officially launched and the network “switched on” is worth the hardship. It makes me happy when I can play a part in transforming people’s lives.”

A month later 

“The feedback was instant. Customers who had to walk for several kilometres to get signals started reporting their network had improved greatly and they were now able to use the 4G network from wherever they wanted to as desired,” he says.

Residents could now communicate with the outside world with ease. They kept saying they can’t believe how in the dark they were.

Some customers said they had lost business opportunities and jobs would pass them by because of how difficult it was for them to adequately communicate.

One lady, Lydia who is the Chair-lady of a basket-weavers association in the area, says that the 289 women in the association can now easily sell their baskets thanks to the new network.

Some of the women in the basket-weavers association.

“Before, it would take us days to align on orders, get paid and advertise our business. It would literally take a day or two for an order to come in and then another day or two to organize how to get the orders delivered to our clients. Now, even with how far we may seem from civilization, we now have a strong enough network to advertise our businesses online via WhatsApp and Facebook, we get paid on time thanks to M-PESA and we can even find jobs for our youth online.

it’s also a sigh of relief for our mothers and children who had to travel long hours to access medical care. We have had unfortunate incidences where mothers have had to give birth on the side of the road because it takes ages to get any form of transport to get them to the medical center. With the Safaricom network getting to our homes, it will now be easier and safer for us to call for help if need be – and for that, we are forever grateful to Safaricom

Challenges faced

As you’ve already experienced, Ngurunit is quite far – approximately 2 to 3 hours from Marsabit town. Scouting the area and coming here regularly was definitely a challenge because of the terrain, the lack of proper roads and the fact that security here isn’t a guarantee – and being visitors here, you have to go almost everywhere with assured and trustworthy security.

Second, we had to put the mast on top of this hill, which was no easy feat, but we are forever grateful that we have the constant support of the locals, especially the women who went out of their way to help us.

The hill that ‘houses’ the mast. Can you spot it at the top?

We also faced a few delays and logistical challenges in getting the site up and running which at first might have lowered the spirits of the residents but we were determined and passionate to see the network come to life, which had our teams working even harder to see this happen – and it was worth it when we finally did.

As much as it’s only been a month, its amazing to see the benefits the network is already bringing to the area and we can’t wait to see the kind of development that will spring up here after a year. This is part of showcasing Safaricom’s commitment to connecting communities as they commemorate 20 years of existence in Kenya.

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