Knoxville funding helps bring clean water to Kenya

Knoxville funding helps bring clean water to Kenya

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More than 7 million people in Kenya, many women and children, live in extreme poverty. More than 7 million people in Kenya, many women and children, live in extreme poverty.
It has not rained in more than a year in Torbi. It has not rained in more than a year in Torbi.
Despite the difficulties, the people, especially the children, are resilient. They find joy even in simple things like a visit from strangers. Despite the difficulties, the people, especially the children, are resilient. They find joy even in simple things like a visit from strangers.
The Blood Water team noticed a problem there. The area where people should be drawing water was also being used by animals, causing a potential for contamination. The Blood Water team noticed a problem there. The area where people should be drawing water was also being used by animals, causing a potential for contamination.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

TORBI, Kenya (WATE) - In the African countries of Kenya and Rwanda, 6 News joined University of Tennessee Athletics Director Mike Hamilton to visit projects partially funded by money from East Tennessee.

The work is an immense task. In Africa, more than 320 million people lack access to clean water. As a result, disease is rampant.

Mission to Africa

Kenya is a land of extremes, both beautiful and desolate. It is also a land of rejoicing and great sadness.

The country is modern with high-rise buildings and rush-hour traffic. Yet it also has land forgotten by time.

For many Kenyans, especially in the northern desert communities, it is a daily struggle to live.   More than 7 million people, many women and children, live in extreme poverty.

In our travels, we found families hauling water and asked our guide how far they traveled. We were told they've gone 50 kilometers, or just over 30 miles. We were also told it took more than 10 hours to haul the water.

This is the environment that Mike Hamilton has entered. At home in Knoxville, his decisions about UT sports often bring a mixture of support and anger. In the desert, sports seem trivial and far away.

Hamilton is a board member of Blood Water Mission, a faith-based non-profit group headquartered in Nashville It partners with local African organizations to bring clean water to communities.

That clean water could save thousands of lives.

"There's a saying in Kenya that water is life. And people know that very well here, because if you don't have clean water, you can't live a healthy life," said Blood Water Mission Executive Director.Jena Nardella.

Joining Hamilton on this trip were other Blood Water board members and two friends from Knoxville, Jim Grubbs and Chris Kittrell, who last year donated to a fundraiser that raised money for African adoptions and projects in Africa. 

Among the aims of this trip was to see how that money was spent.

Our first stop was Torbi, a small settlement near the Ethiopian border. It is a hot, arid, awful place.

We were met by members of Food for the Hungry, Blood Water's partner in Kenya. Among the members of our group was retired executive and board member Rich Hoops. 

He has traveled extensively in Africa. He looks at Torbi as one of the most remote places he's visited. "There is literally nothing here," he said.

That's especially true of water. We were taken to the local reservoir used by people and livestock.

The crunching sound of our boots as we walked along the dry lake bed was no surprise. We were told it has not rained in more than a year. 

Survival is a daily struggle. Despite the difficulties, the people, especially the children, are resilient. They find joy even in simple things like a visit from strangers. The children surrounding the group were all smiles.

The group was taken to the school where Knoxville money was used to build a rainwater catchment system. It's nothing fancy or hi-tech, but it's vital in holding precious water.

Everyone prays that March, the beginning of the rainy season, will bring rain this time.

"We think we're tough, but no, this is tough. These people, these children, deal with this environment day in day out. That's tough," said Knoxvillian Jim Grubbs as he shook his head.

The group was entertained by the children of the school, many of them orphans, victims of the AIDS pandemic.

For Hamilton, this is a personal mission. He and his wife, Beth, have adopted three children from Ethiopia.

Their youngest child, Kalu, is HIV positive. She is healthy thanks to medicines readily available in America.

The Hamiltons founded the Kalu Grace Foundation, which helps American families adopt African children.

That association led the Hamiltons to Blood Water Mission. While the organization is not directly involved in the orphan crisis, it is involved in trying to change many of the causes of the crisis.  

"It's easy when you're here to get overwhelmed because the things we're seeing are overwhelming," Hamilton said. "But we can't be focused on the mountain. We have to be focused on the path to climb the mountain. We have to take it one step at a time, and that may mean one person at a time and I think that if we do that as a society, we'll be better for it."

After we left Torbi, our day in the desert wasn't done. We stopped at another school a distance away.

"Our aim is to educate these children," said the headmaster. He explained how the drought is destroying the livestock and how education may be these children's only escape.

Near the school is a bore hole, a deep surface well, used by people and livestock. Again, there is a Knoxville connection.

The generator used to draw the water was rebuilt by Blood Water Mission. We asked one of the locals how many animals will use this watering hole? "7,000 on average," he said. "Per day?" I asked. "Yes," he said.

Some of the animals have traveled two to three days to get here.

The Blood Water team noticed a problem there. The area where people should be drawing water was also being used by animals, causing a potential for contamination.

"It's a little bit frustrating because you've got clean water coming in from a 700-foot hold that's pristine," Hamilton said.

The herders, though, are only concerned with watering their animals. They are not at all concerned about what that might do to the water they use. 

The drought has taken a heavy toll on everyone there and water, even contaminated, is better than no water.

Although this frustrating, it's not unexpected. Barak Bruerd, director of African Programs for Blood Water Mission, has seen this before. "Patience is a significant virtue," he says of Africa.

The Blood Water team knows it will take time to change old habits.

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