Payson Men Help Kenyans Get First Fresh Water

LIVING

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A trip to Kenya in 2005 changed the lives of Daryl and Mary Jo Oft, owners of Diversified Solutions of Payson and Globe.

The couple went to Kaswanga, Kenya as part of a global evangelism effort.

What they saw made them think and look into their hearts to see if they might be able to make a practical difference in the lives of the people they met.

"We came back and decided we could do something for these people," Oft said.

They started raising money to make a return trip to help the people of Kaswanga and Wanyama, which are villages on Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria in Kenya.

They chose to find a way to improve the drinking water of the villages after meeting Randy Roberson and learning about his Humanitarian Emergency Logistic Preparedness (H.E.L.P.) program and its specialized water treatment system.

"It was my understanding that they had not had fresh water for more than three years because the water system they had in place was no longer functional, due to all of the water technicians dying of AIDS," Oft said.

He planned to install the water filtration system that had been donated by the nonprofit organization H.E.L.P.

The system works by means of breaking down salt molecules and in the process produces three byproducts -- chlorine gas, which purifies the water as the gas is introduced into the flow of water; bleach, which is used to disinfect the water containers used by the villagers; and lye, which is used to disinfect the primitive latrines.

Since the Ofts' return from their trip to Kenya last summer, Mary Jo offered a class on health and wellness through the couple's business. Shawn Simmons was one of the students. Through the class, the Ofts and Simmons, owner of Simmons Landscaping, became friends.

In the course of various conversations, Oft recruited Simmons to help with the water project.

The two men left for Africa from Phoenix April 9.

"Our plan was to install this system and draw contaminated water from a 50 gallon container and transfer fresh water into a clean 50 gallon container, thus providing at least some clean water," Oft said.

The second objective was to educate and provide four families in the villages with garden plot size drip irrigation systems to enhance their edible vegetable intake. Most of the local food source is fish, maze, sorghum and a small variety of vegetables.

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Daryl Oft, left, and Shawn Simmons were in Kenya earlier this month putting a water purification system in place for the villages of Kaswanga and Wanyama on the island of Rusinga on Lake Victoria. They also took drip irrigation systems and medical supplies to the communities.

"We were donated four systems by New Directions International, a non-profit organization from North Carolina that provides these services to drought stricken areas of Africa and India," Oft said. "This system is able to grow enough vegetables in a garden plot 20-feet-by-20-feet to sustain an entire family with only five gallons of water a week."

Oft came into contact with New Directions International when he offered to help with the relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

He said he called a number of non-profits, including New Directions and the Red Cross.

"When I contacted Red Cross I kept being put on hold," he said.

New Directions' Ed Williams called in response to a message Oft had left to give assistance to that group.

Oft was asked to go to Biloxi, Miss. with medical supplies.

Through his association with New Directions, Oft met J. L. Williams, Ed's brother, who oversees the charity's work in Africa and elsewhere.

He was asked to take over all of New Directions' projects in Africa, but could not make a commitment that would require months away from his family and business. However, he was able to use the group's irrigation systems to help in Kenya.

The third objective of the trip in April was to deliver donated medical supplies to the local medical clinic. Physician Sales and Services donated approximately $4,000 worth of equipment and supplies to Tom Mboya Medical Clinic.

"We were surprised to find out that medical clinics in Kenya are funded by local taxes only," Oft said. " Therefore, in an area of such poverty, a clinic receives only the most essential of medical needs.

"Typhoid, malaria and AIDS medications are about the only thing that is available at the clinic. The supplies that were taken over were a real godsend. It was quite an extra expense to take the supplies as they all had to be paid as extra luggage with the airlines."

The Adventist Disaster and Relief Agency (ADRA) helped Oft and Simmons organize the trip and provided technical assistance for the assessment of water needs, and also made a four-wheel drive vehicle and driver available to them.

The technical assistance included having a water engineer study the project and provide project phasing and equipment needs. Funding for materials was also given by ADRA, Oft said.

The two Payson men arrived in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and met with officials and members of the local Rotary club. They hoped to introduce the Nairobi Rotary club to their efforts in hopes of securing a potential funding source for the continuation of the project. They also had to buy additional supplies.

The trip from Nairobi to Lake Victoria took Oft and Simmons from the south central part of Kenya to its western border over rough and dangerous roads.

Rusinga Island is connected to the mainland by a causeway.

Once the two Payson men were on the island they spent an entire day in meetings.

"We spent one of four days entirely in meetings and we initially felt frustrated that no work had been accomplished," Oft said. They soon realized the time in meetings was standard procedure and netted unlimited resources of local labor to complete the work that had brought them to Africa. Unlimited labor brought with it an equally unlimited supply of suggestions for the project, Oft said.

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Before the water project in April, the villagers' water supply was untreated and consequently there were frequent outbreaks of waterborne diseases.

"It's very primitive," Simmons said of the conditions. "They've learned to live without. But they are very loving people."

"It became very evident that we needed strict focus," he said. "So, Shawn and I divided the group in two. Shawn focused on the garden and irrigation program and I focused on the water purification system."

Purifying the water and creating a reliable system of delivery was vital for the health of the residents of Kaswanga and Wanyama. The population of Rusinga has a 42 percent HIV/AIDS rate and an 80 percent orphan rate, Oft said.

"The villagers are malnourished and many have malaria, typhoid, TB or other serious diseases related to impure water," he said.

Oft said the existing water system was supplied by a windmill that is about 500 feet from the shores of Lake Victoria. It drew water through a 2-inch galvanized pipe that reached into the lake. However, Lake Victoria's water table has dropped so dramatically in the past five years, due to a prolonged drought, that the end of the water line is now 200 feet from the shore.

The windmill cistern casing is cracked and the recharge rate is about 50 gallons of water per hour. The pumping shaft is in such poor shape that a large portion of the water goes back into the cistern.

From the cistern, the water is pumped to a holding tank, providing a small amount of contaminated water to the Tom Mboya Secondary School, which houses about 450 young men.

"The water from Lake Victoria is highly contaminated with bacteria and parasites," he said.

Oft and the ADRA representative were able to get a new water tank, but finding the necessary parts to make it serve the project was a challenge.

Once the equipment was assembled they were ready to connect the power -- but there is no electricity.

"The system is operated off a 12 volt motorcycle battery that is charged by a solar panel, all of which was transported from the U.S.," Oft said.

Some modifications had to be made and after an hour of operation they tested for purity.

"The test kits showed perfectly clean safe water," Oft said. "We had a charcoal filter and tap placed on the opposite end of the tank and for the first time ever, the residents of Kaswanga and Wanyama were experiencing their very first drink of pure, clean water. You cannot imagine the feeling of joy that Shawn and I experienced as we say what was taking place."

The community named the water project after Oft and Simmons, but they convinced them it should be called "Living Waters."

"This has both a physical and spiritual application, and after all, it was not about what we did, but what God has done," Oft said. The water project, irrigation pilot program and delivery of medical supplies is not the end of Oft's work in Kenya. He is already starting to seek support for a return trip.

"This phase will only provide for a very few villagers, and there are approximately 10,000 residents on Rusinga," he said.

The program, Lake Victoria's Lighthouse of H2OPE has five priorities:

  • Clean sustainable water
  • Appropriate medical services
  • Agricultural garden plots
  • Educational support for the four local schools
  • Support for orphans with food and education

The second phase of the water project involves repairing the cistern of the windmill and extending the pipe 300 feet into Lake Victoria. It also includes placing water lines to the medical clinic, and giving it a new water tank and purification system; two water kiosks in the local village center; additional water purification systems and spare parts; plus providing enough drip irrigation systems for the 1,000 families in the two communities.

"It is my passion to complete Phase 2 before the summer droughts hit hard again," Oft said. "I must raise $25,000 to complete Phase 2." He hopes to have the funds by June in order to start the project and complete it by late July. All donations to the project are tax deductible and 100 percent goes to the project. There are no administrative costs. Checks may be made payable to Payson Seventh-day Adventist Church; Globe Rotary Club; ADRA; New Directions International; Arizona Conference of Seventh-day Adventist; or H.E.L.P.

Their story

Daryl Oft and Shawn Simmons will share the story of their journey and work in Kenya at 7 p.m. Monday, May 1 at The Meeting Place, Suite 2, 1107 S. Beeline Highway.

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