When the sun rises over the small village of Gerliech in Kenya, the homeland of WCU international student adviser Christopher Pedo, many students have a more important mission than school: a critical search for water. Some slip on flip-flops made from used car tires and begin walking on a journey that could take them, depending on the season, as far as 20 miles in 100-degree heat. Others – the lucky ones – ride a donkey or a bicycle.
But the journey, which involves carrying home nearly 40 pounds of water, is not the only challenge. When children or teens dip plastic buckets or homemade pots into the river, they pull up adulterated green and black water. Local coffee and tea companies may discard toxins into water sources, and water in non-moving sources, such as ponds, can breed mosquitoes, which carry waterborne diseases such as malaria.
“People in other parts of the world truly take for granted the ability to turn on a faucet and get clean running water,” said Pedo, who visits his homeland several times a year to see family and reach out to the students. “Waterborne diseases and worms are very common in the village. My own relatives have suffered, and school kids suffer the most since they have no alternative source of drinking water.”
Last year, Pedo approached student Andy Miller, a senior from Candler majoring in philosophy and international studies, after the annual International Festival to share with him about the village. Miller had helped organize formation of a student group called Ummah, which is Arabic for “community,” and Ummah had become involved in raising money to support an international educational effort. Pedo shared with Miller how he sends books to the village in Kenya and is collecting used computers, which will be re-conditioned and then shipped to the village school’s library. He also discussed how much the village needs a well in order to enable about 300 children in the village to attend school instead of hunt for water.
Miller and members of Ummah stepped forward to work with Pedo and organized a presentation last fall to explore interest among the campus community in the Kenya Water Initiative, an effort to raise the $5,000 needed to build a well at a school serving the village, and Miller.
“About 100 students showed up for the event, and this is where we got a core of about 10 students to volunteer for the project,” said Miller.
Two fundraisers for the Kenya Water Initiative are set to take place in April.
The first will be at the 33rd annual International Festival being held on the lawn of A.K. Hinds University Center from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 11. Student supporters and Ummah will sell bracelets and rugs in order to raise money for the well and for books for the school in Gerliech.
The second will be Saturday, April 14. WCU student Katie Salmons has organized a 5-K to be held on campus for the Kenya Water Initiative.
“At the presentation, they talked about the scarcities of water, which completely blew my mind because it is so simple to get water here in the United States,” said Salmons, a junior from Richmond, Va., majoring in psychology. “If I am thirsty, I can literally go to a water fountain and have a sip. It made me realize everyone should have this basic right. The fact that more people die from dirty water than any act of violence, including war, is ridiculous and something should be done.”
Salmons said there has not been a huge response yet to the 5-K, but she hopes runners and walkers will decide to take part this week. Registration for the event, which begins near the fountain on the Central Plaza at 9 a.m., is $25 and open online at active.com. Participants also can register on campus immediately before the race for the same price, but late registrants will not be guaranteed a water bottle or T-shirt.
“Most of the people in the village survive on only one dollar a day,” said Pedo. “Seeing suffering and pain for the people really urges the need to complete this project. My parents live there and Gerliech is the place where I had my marriage ceremony. It would mean so much to me to get this well built.”
For more information, to donate books and supplies or to volunteer to help with the project, contact Pedo at 828-227-2557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By David Salinas
David Salinas is a senior in the professional writing program and intern in the Office of Public Relations.