Ky. Disaster Relief volunteers help bring clean water to African villages

Photo courtesy of Kentucky Today

A water project in Mozambique was an ambitious one for Kentucky Disaster Relief volunteers Ron Wilson and Matt Stickel.

Clean water for the people in villages across Sub-Sahara Africa is never a given.

During the long dry seasons, arid riverbeds are dotted with holes. Early every morning women, girls and young children walk the dry path down to the river and hope to find enough water in one of the holes to supply for their family for just one more day.

“They’ll dig a hole in the riverbed and carry pots and pans and dishes to the river,” said Ron Wilson of Bardstown, a Kentucky Disaster Relief worker who is trying to make a difference for Christ’s sake. “Hopefully, they can get a jug of water to take back home. As soon as they leave, the goats and cows go down in it.”

That’s no guarantee of clean water though since it is often contaminated by livestock and surface bacteria. But families have no other choice but to drink the unclean water.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22 if you’re a mother,” Wilson said. “You know the water may make them sick but if you don’t give them something to drink, they’re going to die. If you do, they might still die or at the least become very sick. There’s no really good answer.”

Unclean water will cause many in villages to become sick and the vulnerable to die. Every eight seconds, a child dies from unclean water across Africa.

Wilson and Matt Stickel of Columbus, Ohio, were in Mozambique to make a difference. The Kentucky Disaster Relief volunteers worked with Baptist Global Response and International Mission Board partners to bring clean water through wells. They have received training in well repair and water purification.

Wilson and Stickel were part of a team last year that went to Mozambique to assist with a clean water project. The goal was to develop a system that could mine water from beneath the surface of a dry riverbed and pipe it to cisterns in a nearby village, so that villagers could have a consistent and clean source of water. In theory, it would be a system that could be replicated in countless other villages across Africa.

“If you’re familiar with a septic system, it’s just the opposite of that,” Stickel said. “The fingers in the riverbed pull the river to a collection point. Normally you’re doing that opposite with wastewater.”

They dug a series of trenches and put in perforated pipe in six foot of sand.

“This whole project has been four or five years in the making with the planning and everything,” Stickel said. “Last year we started it and the rainy season came a month early. The river is about 200 feet wide and there was better than six foot of water. There was no way to overcome it.”

They were able to establish one collection point and one line and this year established another well point. “It kind of has a dual purpose,” he said. “It provides water that’s not salty. They have wells in their communities, but all are salty-tasting water. This is more of their drinking water”

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To establish a well it had to be dug about six meters deep – or 20 feet – to get the clean water. That meant heavy equipment was necessary and they were able to rent it although not all of them worked well.

Obstacles came nearly daily with the equipment, Stickel said. More than a dozen other men from the villages were there to help but because of the massive amount of sand that had to be moved the equipment had to be used.

“We rented three different machines,” Stickel said. “The first one was bad, leaking fluid. Then we got another one and it worked fine for half a day until it blew hydraulic cylinders. They got it repaired and blew another cylinder. We rented a different one and it was less of a machine. It didn’t have as much reach. We ran it for half a day and blew a hose on it. All those factors were weighing up on us the last day we were there (last year).”

The team along with an IMB partner were disappointed as they met with the village chief to tell him that they would be unable to complete the project but promised to return in 2019 to compete the work. A village chief asked the IMB partner for $200 to perform a ceremony “so the spirits wouldn’t be angry with us,” Wilson said. “The IMB partner told him, ‘We don’t need that. Our God is strong and will help us succeed in doing this.’ I think that made an impact.”

The chief was puzzled at why these men would care that his village had clean water and why they would travel not once but twice from so far away to help his people have water. This opened the door for the men and IMB partner to share about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The chief was overwhelmed as they shared that God’s love for this village was their reason for such sacrifice.

Of course, they did come back to finish the work included setting up a pump on a precasted cap and pouring concrete to secure it. They also chlorinated the water before leaving. Another crew is coming to finish the pump work and the village will have clean water.

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“Doing water purification for Disaster Relief is something I don’t know if I could even put a price on,” Wilson said. “I used to go thinking I would help these poor people out. But this is an opportunity to see what God is doing around the world. It increases my faith to see how faithful he is. It’s all thanks to Coy (Webb, the Kentucky Disaster Relief director) for giving me these opportunities.”

Stickel, a retired firefighter who has made 17 trips to Africa and 19 international “adventures” overall, also praised Webb and Kentucky Disaster Relief along with BGR and IMB.

“Anytime I’m doing mission work I feel like I’m finally in God’s will,” he said. “That’s what he built me for. I think he wants me to work on special problems, unusual stuff. Coy is wonderful; I can’t so no to him. I got involved down there (in Kentucky) and just love everybody. It happened out of the blue. One day they sent me an application and that was it.”

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