The generous people associated with First Presbyterian Church in Watertown, NY have given over $22,000 towards the Shallow Well Program in 2007 and 2008. Sixty -three villages and nearly 13,000 people in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia now have clean drinking water from freshly dug shallow wells because of their generosity. The villager’s previous drinking source was either far away or it was insect infested polluted water in a hole in the ground. But there is far more to this story that still has to be told. Without donor generosity nothing happens. With donor generosity, the real story begins to unfold. Volunteers from America and part-time employees on the other side of the pond in Africa team up to complete the job of installing these Shallow Wells in the water-starved villages.
These are some of the stories about how far some volunteers go to give this gift of life:
It’s Friday, the 10th of October in Big Sky, Montana and a foot and a half of snow has fallen over night. Vance Exley, up at 4:30 AM, is concerned that he might be delayed. He has a 6AM flight to Denver, then Dulles International and then a 14-hour flight on South African Air to Johannesburg, South Africa. An all night layover waits in Johannesburg before he can catch the flight to Lilongwe, Malawi. Once there, drives of five hours to Embangweni, 3 to Mzuzu and then 12 to Tanzania await. Vance Exley is on his first trip to Africa and he will be part of a team of 19 Marion Medical Mission Shallow Well volunteers that includes three Watertown volunteers and his Dad, Tim Exley. The airport at Big Sky has handled the snow with ease and Vance is off to Denver on time, where there is no snow. He is anticipating no more problems.
It’s 10:25 AM. Vance is awaiting his flight in Denver to Dulles International and connection flights on South African Air. The message comes that the 10:30 AM Flight has been delayed; instructions are given for all to report to the Customer Service Desk for information. This is really the dreaded Transfer desk. Vance investigates, only to find a two- hour wait in line. He joins the throng and after 2 ½ hours he finds that the plane has mechanical problems. The flight is canceled. He has to re-schedule. Customer Service is up to the task, and after 45 minutes he has a new Flight to London via British Air and then a connector flight to Johannesburg. The flight will leave at 9:30 PM. Vance now has about an eight hour lay-over in Denver and a 10 hour lay-over in London. His flight to South Africa will leave about 8 PM. He decides to check on his luggage and receives the “No problem” answer. His bags will be re-routed to the new flights. Vance calls his Dad, Tim, who is also heading to Africa on British Air from Savannah. They will have a two- hour window to share a lunch together in London. A silver lining to the whole “transfer desk” issue is realized.
The good news: Vance Exley has just landed in time to join Ken Reed of Watertown, myself and 7 other team members in Johannesburg on Sunday morning for our flight to Lilongwe, Malawi. Vance’s luggage is missing, but it catches up to him in two weeks. Vance pays the price and learns to live with the cloths on his back and some help from his fellow teammates.
Vance and his Dad, Tim, team up to install 93 wells together in Tanzania. Vance learns some Swahili, recovers from food sickness and learns that his struggles to get to Africa and live there for four weeks is still not the same as living your life there.
Vance’s re-routed and convoluted trip to Africa is over 11,000 miles.
How far would you go to give the gift of life?
It’s 3:30 PM on Friday October 24th in the Kasunga region of Malawi. Ken Reed of Watertown, NY and Harry T. Jones of Thomasville, GA are teamed together as a well installation team. Ken and Harry, both in their second year installing wells, are seasoned volunteers. The ninety people of the village are all out to celebrate the fact that they finally have clean water. The women are singing and the children are excited. Ken, Harry and Mr. Malata, their Malawian interpreter, guide and local field officer are finishing the installation by dropping the pipe and new pump into the newly finished well.
At 5 AM on Saturday and the cell phones of Ken and Harry are ringing. It is first light and Tom Logan, the president of Marion Medical Mission, is calling. Ken, Harry, and my partner Joel Magee are off on a one and a half hour drive before breakfast into the plateau country. At about 7AM Saturday, before breakfast, the gift of water is given to the village of Chilenga. Ken, Joel and Harry have all traveled an extra step or two to give the gift of Life to the village of Chilenga.
How far would you go to give the gift of life?
The trucks, which are used to transport volunteers, guides and materials to remote well sites, are few or are outdated and are falling apart. This year, 2009, it is necessary to purchase five new trucks.
Two trucks require total replacement. Three new trucks could accommodate six more volunteers and field officers teams.
This past year 1,708 wells where completed before the rains came in early November and the teams of volunteers returned home. Imagine that over 300,000 people received the gift of life in 2008.
Since 1990, over 8,000 wells have been given; hundreds of thousands of lives have been blessed with the gift of clean water over nearly two decades. Tom Logan has traveled 19 years and countless miles to give life as well as share the opportunity with countless volunteers that were willing to step up to the challenge.
In 2009, 2,000 wells is the target. 2,000 villages and over 400,000 people may receive the gift of life.