About 783 million people in the world lack access to clean water, and billions need better sanitation, according to the World Health Organization. Most people would be overwhelmed by the staggering numbers, but three volunteers from Paducah are willing to go beyond borders—all the way to Kenya—to help a small village establish sustainable clean water systems that will safeguard the health of their communities and save the lives of many children.
Dr. Keith Kelly, a pulmonary specialist at Paducah’s Western Baptist Hospital, has responded to the call to do mission work since he was in college. While in medical school, he traveled to Africa and saw a young woman with postpartum sepsis die before his eyes. “A $10 antibiotic would have fixed her,” he says. Since then, the harsh reality has become increasingly difficult for him to ignore: People around the world perish for lack of drugs and treatments that we take for granted here.
Kelly asserts that Africa “gets in your blood.” After that first time, he could not head home without wondering when he would go back. He got busy with work and family responsibilities and resisted the pull to return. Then he met another Paducahan, Paul Bilak, co-founder of Project AIDS Orphan in Kandaria, Kenya. As a result, Kelly responded to the call and helped raise money to build a medical clinic in Katito, Kenya, in 2011.
When Kelly and others attended the dedication, he realized a key to success and sustainability was that the clinic was staffed with native people and run by the Kenyan co-founder of Project AIDS Orphan, David Okong’o.
“It was a blessing to see the fruits of our labor,” Kelly recalls. “The basic need for clean water was the most valuable lesson I brought home.”
Meanwhile, on a VisionTrust trip to Tanzania in 2011, Bonnie Schrock, chief administrative officer of Western Baptist Hospital, experienced a similar insight that was not delivered in an intuitive flash but emerged over time during and after her journey.
“While [I was] playing with a swarm of about 300 children,” she wrote in her blog, “a woman quietly passed by carrying empty 5-gallon buckets.” When the same woman, who was pregnant, appeared again with water, balancing a third container on her head, Schrock took notice but went back to the children.
Before Schrock embarked on the Tanzania project, the team leader had told her, “God is going to show you something that you can’t see any other way.” Throughout her journey, those words kept coming back to her, but it was not until the first leg of the 44-hour trip home that the image of the pregnant woman resurfaced and inspired Schrock to find a way to help communities where the search for fresh water is a daily struggle.
When Kelly and Schrock compared notes about their trips to Africa, the discussion turned to water and then to Living Waters for the World, a nonprofit that trains and equips mission teams to share the gift of sustainable water with communities in need. When Kelly asked her, “How would you feel about helping an orphanage and community with clean water?” Schrock says she nearly jumped out of her chair. “This passion I’d been feeling finally popped,” she explains. “I felt exuberant, and that’s not normally a word I use.”
Paducah ophthalmologist Carl Baker got involved, and now the three are part of a team that is heading to Kenya this summer. Having attended Living Waters for the World’s Mississippi training school, which provides volunteers with the skills they need to install clean water systems, Baker will serve as the technical adviser and will teach the villagers how to install and maintain the water purification system. “I’ve been on mission trips before, but I think I was very naïve,” he remarks. “This training puts you with people who have done it before.” The end result for the community, he asserts, is empowerment, and empowerment leads to sustainability.
Because of the training, according to Schrock, “You hit the ground running,” with each team member playing a specific role aimed at improving the quality of life in a small village. The team members do not perform all the critical tasks; instead, they help the people on the ground acquire essential skills and behaviors to install and use a clean water system. In Kelly’s words, the system “is theirs, not ours.”
If all goes according to plan, the three will be part of a group that will complete two installations during their eight-day stay in July. Kelly will remain in Africa longer to work on a third site.
“Once you get started, you hope, and you scout for another site for the next trip,” Schrock explains.
Although he has participated in other mission efforts before, Baker admits to being particularly invigorated by the water project. “It’s eye-opening. It changes your values when you realize that the important things in life are not material things.” He looks forward to seeing the impact of the trip on his whole family, as his wife and kids—two teenage boys and an 11-year-old girl—are participating in training and will join Baker on this mission. “It’s a family affair,” Baker says.
Living Waters for the World, a global mission resource of the Synod of Living Waters of the Presbyterian Church USA, trains mission team leaders in three key areas:
- Partnership development, project administration and system sustainability evaluation and assurance;
- Health, hygiene and spiritual education;
- Clean water system installation, operation and maintenance.
For further information, visit livingwatersfortheworld.org