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Give water, give life: Wellspring brings clean water to Africa

Wellspring visitors were taken by villagers to the Vyulu water area where 20,000 people and many animals get their water. Wellspring's goal is to fund 1,000 wells by 2019. Those on the trip included, front, from left, Lois Madsen, Tony Platz, Trisha Christianson and Laurie Kantonen. Submitted photo. 1 / 3
This local woman now has a job as a government employee dispensing water. Hauling water long distances was traditionally the job of women and girls. These water kiosks mean shorter trips and more time to earn a living. 2 / 3
Solar panels run the well pumps, and storage tanks allow water to be saved for cloudy days. Well projects create jobs for local residents who install and maintain them. World Vision builds the wells and trains residents to monitor and repair all equipment, which has led to a well lifespan of 20-25 years unlike some other programs where 80 percent of wells drilled are not operating after five years. 3 / 3

Nine area residents visited Africa in May to see how the $862,465 in donations the Park Rapids Area Wellspring group raised since 2011 is creating health, jobs and hope.

Those journeying to Africa through the brush over rocky roads were Pastor Laurie Kantonen of Hubbard Methodist Church, Pastor Lee Kantonen of Joyful Spirit Church in Wadena and Deer Creek, Steve Steinborn who was accompanied by daughter Trisha Christianson of Fargo, Tony and Dorothy Platz, Mark Larsen and Fred and Lois Madsen.

"Hearing women talk about walking for many miles to get water, and then to see the brown water was heart-wrenching," Lois Madsen said. "We were totally amazed with the progress that has been made to bring clean water and it made us feel our donations to Wellspring are being being put to tremendously good use."

In Africa, Tony Platz said, women walk more than 12 miles a day to reach a river with putrid water full of bacteria and parasites and walk home carrying two 40-pound cans of water.

According to the World Vision, more than 700 million people do not have access to clean water, and more than 1,600 children under 5 die every day from diarrheal disease due to dirty water.

Wellspring for the World was founded in Fargo. Partnering with World Vision, Wellspring is bringing water to 10 African countries. Matching funds help donations go even further.

The goal is to fund 1,000 wells by the end of 2019 through the campaign "Give Water, Give Life."

So far, money has been raised for 668 wells.

A complete well package costs $15,000 and includes education on water sanitation and hygiene, drilling, maintenance and supervision to insure the well continues to provide water for many years.

"We saw a well being drilled that will bring clean water to over 100,000 people," Tony Platz said.

Locals do much of well work

Communities must meet five requirements to be eligible for a village well: a bathroom, washroom, garbage hole, table several feet above the ground with pans for washing dishes and a "tippy tap" made from two vertical poles with a rod across them and a rope with a bottle of water attached for handwashing.

"World Vision has to change the culture before they drill the well," Christianson said. "These people have never learned hygiene practices. They get the whole community to buy into those and then the well comes in."

Residents do much of the labor involved in placing the well.

"They dig all of the trenches, they lay all of the pipes," Christianson said.

Community members are elected to a water board that oversees the well. Solar power is used for water pumps at some sites, with extra water tanks for storing water to use during the rainy season.

Wells raise standard of living

Hubbard Methodist Church has been involved with Wellspring for about seven years. Their first summer campaign raised $20,000, and with the help of matching funds drilled five wells.

"Over and over, mothers would tell us that when they had clean water they didn't have to take their children to the doctor anymore," Platz said.

Water is purchased at kiosks for two or three shillings, with money going to support well maintenance. Money to buy water comes from day labor or selling things at local markets.

"Those who can't pay still get water," Larsen said. "No one is turned away."

Women and girls age 10 and older are traditionally the ones hauling water. With wells nearby, girls can stay in school and women have time for other occupations. One girl said the best thing about getting water was that her head and neck didn't hurt from carrying a 5-gallon bucket of water on her head every day.

"Because they're saving so much time not having to walk so far for water, they can use that time for other things," Christianson said. "One woman expanded her garden, planted trees to sell the fruit and branches to be woven into fences to use with livestock, and is going into the brick making business. Also because her kids and grandkids are well enough to go to school she doesn't have to stay home and tend to them."

This has raised the standard of living for families living near wells.

"These people have the same hopes and dreams we all have," Larsen said. "They are just starting from a whole different place than we are in life."

"It is a domino effect of the good things that can happen from having clean water," Platz said.

Schools welcome visitors

The group visited three schools in rural Kenya that had received wells. Schools are in session from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with some children walking more than a mile each way.

"Children no longer have to haul dirty water to school now," Platz said.

One of the schools with a well is a boarding school for children with special needs. "The administration and tribal chief were talked about the difference having clean water it is making in the students' lives," he said.

"The kids and teachers were very excited to see us," Christianson said. "They sang songs and put on a program. At the end of the program they did a chant: 'Water means life. No water, no life.' These were kids who now had water and understand how important it is. They will be the future leaders of Kenya who will help their generation."

Christianson is a teacher at Oak Grove. Third graders were doing a unit on walking for water and as part of their lesson they walked a mile to the Red River to get water and each carried a gallon jug of water back to school. "They were exhausted," she said. "That's when I talked to them about what I saw in Kenya."

Donations welcome

The long-term goal is that by 2030 everyone in Africa will be within 15 minutes of a clean water source.

Wellspring for the World is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Donations may be sent to Wellspring at P.O. Box 936, Park Rapids, MN, 56470. For more information about the program, visit www.wellsppringfortheworld.org or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Platz encouraged youth and adults to consider going on next year's Wellspring trip. Sponsorship to cover the cost of the trip may be available. For more information, contact Platz (732-8029), Steinborn (701-261-2241) or Larsen (701-215-0565).

A"Wine to Water" celebration will be held at Bella Cafe in Park Rapids from 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 to thank donors and share information about the Wellspring program. Wine and non-alcoholic fruit drinks will be served. Videos, pictures and flags from the African countries will be shared. Everyone is welcome.

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