Water is Life - Lake Naivasa; Kenya

- Coca-Cola's 5by20 Project, seeking to empower women in local businesses




I was commissioned by Coca-Cola to shoot a series of beautifully lit portraits of women water vendors and their small-business kiosks in Lake Naivasa, Kenya, as part of the company’s 5by20 project which seeks to empower more than 5 million women entrepreneurs by the year 2020.  At Lake Naivasa that meant helping local women establish economically sustainable water vending businesses, businesses which had the happy benefit of improving  the lives of all the women in the community – not just those operating the kiosk. Water gathering has always been women’s work in this part of Africa. And for the women in Naivasa that meant walking five miles to the lake, and then walking the five miles back home again lugging heavy water jugs every step of the way – and sometimes having to make the round trip a couple of times a day. By establishing a chain of locally owned and operated kiosks where water could be purchased in bulk, collecting water meant walking no further than a couple of hundred yards – freeing up women who could then obtain jobs, care for their families and allow young girls to attend school instead of trudging along a road carrying water jugs all day. And giving the women who were running these kiosks, selling water as well as local produce, viable businesses, money, respect and stronger voices in the community.

I was very impressed with the project and the obvious benefits it brought. For me the assignment had yet another pleasing aspect – a connection with my own family history. My great-great uncle was Hamilton King, the turn-of-the-century illustrator and commercial artist who created some of Coca-Cola’s most memorable advertising images, those Edwardian ladies with the wide-brimmed floral hat gracing the company’s serving trays, calendars and posters of the day. To be commissioned by Coca-Cola to create beautiful portraits of these empowered African women water vendors a century later felt like a wonderful updating of the oblique family connection with Coca-Cola.

Here is a gallery of some of those images – of Elizabeth the water vendor and the customers who came to her kiosk throughout the day.