February 28, 2019
by Wes and Kathy Pepple
Editor’s note: Kathy Pepple is a CHI St. Alexius Health Employee. The Pepples, parishioners at St. Joseph in Williston, spent three weeks last summer in Kenya, East Africa with Fr. David Morman who currently oversees the diocese’s African Mission. While there, they worked on a water purification project.
This story is not about us; it is about God and the invitation He extends to all of us daily to be the hands and feet of Christ for others by giving of our time, talents and treasures. This story involves hundreds of people from two different countries who were open to His invitation.
To start, Wes had seen an article titled “Water with Blessings” (WWB) that explained how a nonprofit organization in Kentucky had worked to make clean water available to some of the poorest places in the world with the use of a simple filter. For some reason, after reading the article, Wes decided to clip it out and file it away for future reference.
Fr. David is a good friend of ours and after he arrived in Kenya, we continued to keep in touch with him. It was during a phone conversation in August that Fr. David suggested we come and visit.
At some point, the subject of clean water came up. Fr. David relayed that some people have wells, but clean drinking water is an issue. Wes mentioned the Water with Blessings article—the one he had filed away nine months earlier. Fr. David took some additional information about WWB and mentioned it to Chuck Reichert, who is the director of the African Mission for the diocese. Chuck did some research and visited with staff from the WWB organization. They were interested in cooperating with our diocese in a pilot project and Chuck asked us if we were willing to carry out this project on behalf of the diocese on our trip to Kenya. WWB would provide the training we needed to train water women in Kenya. We agreed.
The plan was for us to help train three women to be “water teachers” teaching them how to set up, use and properly clean the filters and these teachers would then train others to be “water women.” Women who apply for a filter are asked to sign a covenant with God agreeing to filter water for at least three other families should they be the beneficiary of a filter. Because water is a blessing from God and because others have blessed them with the gift of the filter, they are asked to share this blessing with their neighbors. This aspect of the program helps to build community physically and spiritually.
Putting the plan into motion
The equipment needed to provide clean water consisted of the filter kit and a five-gallon bucket, though finding quality food grade buckets proved to be a challenge in Kenya; you just can’t go to your local hardware store and buy some. The filter gets rid of 99.999% of all bio-contaminants such as bacteria causing E. coli, typhoid, cholera, as well as some parasites. It’s very simple requiring no electricity, no chemicals, no moving parts, no complicated maintenance and adults of any education level can set it up and maintain. If maintained properly, the filter can last about 10 years or approximately one million gallons of water—all this for $60 per filter.
Our pastor at St. Joseph in Williston, Fr. Russell Kovash, gave permission to promote the project in our parish and to raise money for it. Several people from our parish, and around our diocese assisted us and within a short period of time we were overwhelmed at the generosity and willingness of people to help others who live half way around the world.
Prior to our arriving in Kenya, Fr. David had done some ground work in choosing where the project would be initiated. There is need everywhere, but Fr. David chose Etago Parish because it was one of the poorest parishes, and located about 45 miles from the Mission house. Three women were chosen to be the trained teachers and, in turn, train other women. For our first training, Sr. Pauline, a native Kenyan and member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Hope, traveled some distance by bus to help. We came to know of her through a staff member at WWB in Kentucky.
Training the water women
Over the course of our time in Kenya, three separate trainings were done. Ten women took part in the second training, and for the third training a week later, over 180 women showed up and we only had 39 buckets. The 39 women were chosen by the hand of child who drew the names from a bucket. At each training, the women were amazed with the filter and how clean the water was, excitingly knowing what clean water would mean for them and their families.
During our time in Kenya, a total of 52 women were trained and in June, another 120 filters were taken to Kenya by diocesan seminarians, Jacob Degele and Matthew Koppinger. Father David and Rogers (who assists at the Mission) now continue the project.
To date, 150 water women have been trained and because they are sharing this gift with their neighbors, 450 families now have access to clean water for cooking, drinking and bathing small children. There are still funds available from the original effort to take another 120 filters the next time someone travels to the mission.
Though language was a barrier at times, you didn’t need an exchange of words to know how grateful they were. You knew it when you looked into their eyes, saw their tears of joy and smiles on their faces and felt their warm and embracing hugs. One woman, in her broken English and with tears in her eyes said, “Tell people who give filter thank you.”
Latest statistics by UNICEF and other health organizations estimate that a child dies every 21 seconds from a water related disease. If it takes about 10 minutes to read this article, somewhere in the world 29 children will have died due to unclean water.
While in Kenya, we were able to experience the orphan education program in the Gekano and Ichuni parishes supported by our diocese and made possible by the African Mission Appeal. On Mission Saturday, the orphans are given their monthly maize ration, an allowance and Fr. David, Rogers, and Sr. Theresa take time to visit with them about school and to encourage them in their studies.
After having been to Kenya, we have a new-found appreciation and gratitude for what is being done with the monies from the African Mission Appeal. Amid their poverty, they are a joyful and joy-filled people whose faith sustains them—something that was most evident to us when celebrating Mass with them at the outstations.
The pilot water project was possible and the diocese can carry on its work in Kenya through the annual African Mission Appeal because people continue to accept God’s invitation to be the hands and feet of Christ for others by giving of their time, talents and treasures. We are most grateful to have been a part of this experience. It has been a blessing in our lives and we hope to someday return to this beautiful country and its people.
Pepple, K., & Pepple, W. (2019, February 28). Water is life. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://bismarckdiocese.com/news/water-is-life