Go Deeper

Artist Profile: Kristin Scott of Come Unity

Posted July 16th, 2009

In the Rift Valley community of Ibisil, Kenya, a water well is under construction at a secondary girls school with the help of Kristin Scott, a 31-year-old ballet dancer from Bristol, Pennsylvania. Through her organization Come Unity, which brings together dancers, largely from the American Repertory Ballet of New Brunswick, New Jersey, for fundraising performances, Kristin has been doing charitable work in Kenya since 2007.

Kristin has worked as a professional dancer since graduating Indiana University with her B.S. in ballet. She auditioned all around the country after school, and landed as a trainee at the American Repertory Ballet for a year, after which she joined the group. On summer breaks from the ballet, Kristin had traveled to Peru, Belize, and Mexico. But through the Global Volunteer Network, she decided to take a slightly longer trip – seven weeks in a slum near Nairobi.

“I wanted to experience it firsthand,” Kristin said. “It wasn’t a nice clean tourist trip. I lived with a Kenyan family that ran day programs for orphans and vulnerable children. They feed and teach these kids during the day, and a new program was just getting off the ground when I was there.”

Funds she brought with her from the first Come Unity bought them a blackboard. Come Unity has since raised over $50,000 for projects in Kenya, turning its attention to improving access to clean water. At this fall’s The Pointe of Water, dancers from American Repertory Ballet will choreograph and perform new work at the Painted Bride – some thematically related, some not – and educate audience members about the plight of communities with a scarcity of fresh water. It will be the first time that Kristin and the dancers from American Repertory Ballet have participated in Philly Fringe.

When I spoke with her, Kristin cited a buried cultural assumption that I hadn’t considered before: when you’re prescribed medicine to take with water, you don’t think twice, right? Neither do I. But she pointed out that residents of communities without water access can’t even use medications that come free from their government, let alone grow food, raise animals, or practice good sanitation.

After the jump, Kristin talks about her trip to Ibisil, and a Kenyan bartender explains how he’d alleviate some of the pressure on urban slums.

Kristin Scott:

We got to Ilbisil. First, you have to hire a contractor for geological survey. They scour the ground and look for how deep they’ll need to drill and the best site for finding water. We had one survey done and then we interviewed a few different drillers. We were interested in the longevity of the well, and that the driller would be a positive influence on the community and make sure they had what they needed.

It’s very remote, very dry. The closer you are to cities you’re more able to get water.

[But, according to a bartender interviewed by Kristin and her Los Angeles-based colleague Sol Garcia, building new infrastructure in the slums sometimes exacerbates their problems:]

We chose to build this at a secondary school for girls. The women spend so much of their lives walking however far they have to go to get clean water and bring it back. In this community, part of the deal was that in exchange for the well, the girls would get to go to school.

In January we dug the well and got to the bottom, and it was dry. There wasn’t enough water to make it worth bringing to the surface. We felt like it was the end of the road and that it was over. It’s part of the risk that we take.

Since then we’ve had to start the process over again. We’re hoping that in the next month it will be completed. We did a second survey and through contacts of Generosity Water, we found a different driller and we were able to save a lot of money on the second drill.

We’re planning to go back over in October and officially commission the well we’re building in Ilbisil, and scout new locations. We’re considering Gulu, Uganda as another possibility for a future well. They’ve lost an estimated 25% of their population to water-related illnesses. But the Lord’s Resistance Army is active there.

I want the audience to come and really be educated about how much these people need clean water. Outside of the dancing we try to add in some video elements, and talk with the audience about what the show’s really about.

To learn more about how you can help Come Unity improve access to fresh water in Africa, visit, or attend The Pointe of Water at Philly Fringe in September.

–Nicholas Gilewicz