Tennessee group helps provide clean water systems in Rwanda

Tennessee group helps provide clean water systems in Rwanda

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Rwanda is called the "Land of a Thousand Hills." Rwanda is called the "Land of a Thousand Hills."
The group from Tennessee was impressed with what they heard. They also felt the spirit of the church members' faith. The group from Tennessee was impressed with what they heard. They also felt the spirit of the church members' faith.
Although it's beautiful and clear, the water of Lake Burrera contains many illnesses. Although it's beautiful and clear, the water of Lake Burrera contains many illnesses.
Our group hiked to the site of next water project. At the end of the climb, we were asked to carry rocks to the site of the next water tank. Our group hiked to the site of next water project. At the end of the climb, we were asked to carry rocks to the site of the next water tank.
The villagers broke out in song, thanking the strangers for their small part in building their water tank. The villagers broke out in song, thanking the strangers for their small part in building their water tank.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

RUHENGERI, Rwanda (WATE) - The name "Rwanda" causes many people to think of the genocide there in 1994. Between April and July of that year, nearly 1 million people were massacred in an ethnic conflict unrivaled in modern times.

It is a legacy the country and its people are working hard to put behind them.

With that backdrop, University of Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton and the other board members of faith-based Blood Water Mission, headquartered in Nashville, left Kenya and entered Rwanda. A 6 News team accompanied them.

Blood Water Mission, which helps African communities get access to clean water, has been working with the Rwandan-based group Moucecore since 2007.

We arrived in the capitol city of Kigali and began our trek to Ruhengeri, a town near a range of volcanoes along the Ugandan border.

The team noticed several things. First, the people.

"It doesn't take long pulling out of the airport and you notice everyone in Rwanda seems to have purpose," said Blood Water Mission board member Rich Hoops. "They're walking. They're being productive, and that's inspiring to those of us who come here."

The groups also noticed the lush, tropical land. Rwanda is called the "Land of a Thousand Hills" and it's easy to see why. On the hillsides are garden plots with soil worked by hand.

You can see corn, sugar cane and other vegetables growing in the equatorial heat, and there are banana trees as far as the eye can see. After days in the deserts of Northern Kenya, the change in scenery was dramatic.

Our group was taken up a mountain road to a church where the team was greeted with prayer and music.

Hamilton and other members of Blood Water Mission have come here to see the work being done both in building catchment systems for clean water.

They also want to see how the villagers are creating communities just 17 years after genocide ripped their country apart, leaving so many widows and orphans in its wake.

We were told a story of the village. Thirty women, despite their differences, worked together and created a community through hard work and faith.

The group from Tennessee was impressed with what they heard. They also felt the spirit of the church members' faith.

Hamilton led the congregation in prayer, thanking God for bringing them to this place.

Later, he reflected on his feelings. "Even though we had different languages and we looked different and all those kinds of things, I felt a spirit when we walked into that church with the congregation singing that I could resonate with. It was familiar to me, even though it was a foreign language."

During our time in the church, the rains began to fall. It's the rainy season and like clockwork, there was a steady downpour for just a short time.

You would think as lush and wet as the area is, there would be no problem with drinking water, but there is.

Even though it rains, there was no good way to capture the water until Moucecore came to the villages and later, Blood Water Mission.

Before that, people had to walk about 13 miles round trip to Lake Burrera for water.

We were taken to the lake. The scenery is beautiful. The lake glimmered in the sunlight.

But dangers still lurk. Although it's beautiful and clear, the water contains many illnesses. "There's typhoid, dysentery and other water-borne diseases," Hamilton said. "It's got issues."

However, the issues are waning. Chemicals are more available now to villagers to make the water potable and safe, and a system of water tanks is being built.

"It was a very, very poor community, a community with many problems," said Albert Mabasi, who works for Moucecore.

Things are improving there. By the end of the year, Moucecore and Blood Water Mission will help the villagers build 57 large water tanks and 37 smaller ones.

The goal is 100 percent water coverage for the area.

Our group hiked to the site of next water project. At the end of the climb, we were asked to carry rocks to the site of the next water tank.

It was an occasion for celebration. The villagers broke out in song, thanking the strangers for their small part in building their water tank. There were lots of smiles and hugs.

The team left the mountain feeling exhilarated. They've shared an experience that has touched them to their cores.

"I walk away amazed and away with a greater sense of what community means," said Knoxvillian Chris Kittrell. "I walk way with more than I gave."

Blood Water Mission's Jena Nardella put it in perspective. "A lot of people call poverty the long defeat. There are struggles and it's complex, but I believe in working one person at a time. Eventually the change that happens in one community is worth the struggles."

There was no question, the Blood Water team felt uplifted by their experience in Rwanda. The villagers, who by our standards have so little, gave all of us more than we expected.

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