Another Drop in the Bucket

Every effort to bring safe water to Africa is a worthwhile effort, as R.A. founder Dan Flory discovered again in his recent trip to Kenya and Zambia. (Editor’s note: On May 15, 2007, Restoration Alliance founder Dan Flory embarked on a 25-day journey to Africa, exploring new water-resource possibilities in Kenya and conducting filtration training with local leaders in neighboring Zambia. Here’s his first-hand account of the enlightening sojourn.)Let’s just say this: Water is a huge issue. Eighty percent of the kids that die in the world do so because of bad water. Bad water kills more people than AIDS, and it kills more people than malaria. But in Africa, you find an industrious people who are making things happen. I thought before I left on this trip that the potential was so much bigger than we could imagine, and now I’m sure of it. Their countries have many natural resources, but it’s their people that are golden.
"’s their people that are golden."

Originally, this trip was simply an opportunity to partner in Zambia with Lifewater International, a Christian organization that helps train people in developing countries to access and maintain safe water. Because of my background in water resources and civil engineering, I was invited to be part of a team that would teach some Zambian leaders to construct and operate simple bio-sand filters. But then word of my trip reached the ear of Bishop Thomas Muthee, a good friend of our church fellowship and overseer of hundreds of churches in Kenya and neighboring countries. Thomas insisted that I stop several days in Kenya as well, to help him size up some of their well-drilling equipment and the potential of some available land. Thomas, you should know, can be pretty persuasive. Kenya Next thing I knew, I was tearing through the Kenyan countryside with Thomas in his Toyota. After escaping multiple traffic jams in Nairobi, he took me in a sweeping, 160-mile circle, looking at areas that were very dry and also at land that could potentially be purchased and harnessed for water resourcing. We stopped in places where we want to drill wells and plant churches someday. At one point, we came across some boys collecting water in a very sandy place. We asked them where they go for water when that source dries up. Their response: they go to another spot about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) away. The next day I was picked up by George, the dean of students at Thomas’ Bible school. George took me to a community called Flyover. In that community, a person could buy a plot 40’x50’, and inside that plot you’d have a dwelling, an outhouse, a chicken coop. You’d also have a 70-foot, hand-dug well, with a concrete cover on it. And you could drop a bucket down on a rope into the well, get some water, and drink it. But the well is only about 30 feet or so from the outhouse. Conditions like that have taken and threatened numerous lives. Thomas’ church had purchased a couple of lots, with the hope of drilling a well and blessing the community. But every plot you bought, the place (for the well) will be close to the neighbor’s outhouse, if it isn’t close to your own. That’s where the bio-sand filters come in. If you could take the water out of that hand-dug well and run it through the sand filter, the water would be so much safer. Thomas actually has a well-drilling rig. They’ve rebuilt it so that everything operates, but they don’t have anyone who can run it. So they want to train a team to do that. So I took a whole bunch of pictures of this rig, and took them to the Lifewater guys in Zambia … and now we might be able to put those two groups together to get something done there. In Kenya, it was really about making connections. The people there are amazing. They do stuff a step at a time and make it happen. At one point, Thomas turned to me and said simply: “Dan, here we work.”Zambia A bio-sand filter is really nothing more than a concrete box with sand and gravel in it. It’s pretty simple technology, but it has the potential to have a great impact on the clean water supply in many parts of Africa. Ten or 15 people, or maybe even one small village, can address all of their clean water needs with one of these filters. In Zambia, it costs the local people about $30 to make a bio-sand filter, in an economy where the average annual income is about $800. During this trip, Lifewater made the concrete molds for the filter, and then it was my job to teach 14 local people how to build the filters. I was actually teaching teachers; following the five-day class, my students departed for nine different regions to teach still others how to build and utilize the filters. It’s a work that has been carried on for more than a year by Seeds of Hope, another international aid organization. We just expanded their team, basically. Along the way, I learned a lot about how these teams are put together and how they function. That will be useful information as we move forward in the future.