UW Bothell group looking to improve life for Kenyans

University of Washington, Bothell supporters of the international Village Volunteers efforts to provide means for safe, filtered water in the villages of Kenya met recently to assess their fund-raising plans for the balance of 2008.

The student and community interest in the project stemmed from a class led by professor Martha Groom in which students explored humanitarian needs in Kenya. This led to the connection with Shana Greene, executive director of the Seattle-based Village Volunteers organization, and her suggestion that the UW-Bothell Village Volunteers could support the development of a facility in Kiminini, which would produce ceramic water-filtration units for families in surrounding rural villages. The fairly simple unit has proven to eliminate 98 percent of life-threatening bacteria from questionable water sources the villagers rely upon for cooking and drinking.

Project is funded

About a year ago, Greene told the students it would take $20,000 or more to provide a shelter, build a firing kiln for the filter manufacturing and engage the services of Potters for Peace to train women in Kiminini in the production, assembly and use of the filters. The filters cost $10 to produce and have a filtering life of about a year. The fluctuating cost of crude oil and petroleum products will have some impact on the plastic bucket component of the filter system.

She reported that the project is now sufficiently funded to secure and install the kiln, thanks to myriad fund-raising efforts since last summer. A retired electrical engineer, Bill Evans of Sammamish, has volunteered to go to Kiminini this month to move the project past the planning stages. Money still needs to be raised for the shelter and training — another $12,000 to $13,000.

Rotary lends a hand

Woodinville Rotary is committed to provide at least half of that amount. UW-Bothell members are making plans to raise the balance through events and presentations to other possible donors. There will continue to be the need to raise money to produce the filters as the self-sustaining program expands beyond Kiminini, providing a boost to both the rural economy and the health of its villagers.

Women of the villages will be employed to produce and sell the units to provide women of that region the opportunity to earn a living in a male-dominated African economic culture.

Greene notes that the safe-water project is just one of several in the Kiminini area that involves quality-of-life programs. Aware that young women in Kenya have virtually no opportunity for a college-level education, Village Volunteers is working with health and school organizations in Kitale to provide college scholarships for potential nurses and teachers to be found among highly qualified young women. For $1,500, a scholarship will support living and tuition costs for a year of college.

She told how the Sister Freda Foundation operates a hospital in the slums of Kitale that provides health care, as well as a child-care shelter. Her foundation is establishing a nursing school. The health clinic in Kiminini would be an ideal spot for a college-trained nurse to practice and help expand such sorely needed services. The villages also are in great need of women trained to teach in their schools.

A calm atmosphere

Greene advised that political tension and violence in the larger cities in Kenya, recently a serious international concern, appear under control and that life in the rural villages has become reasonably calm. The upheaval has created more orphans for the Kiminini villagers to accept and care for. One schoolroom had to be converted into a dormitory for 70 children.

Greene and her organization work closely with trustworthy Kenyan activists such as Joshua Machinga, program director for Common Ground, a community-based organization dedicated to working with Kenyans to improve their lives through education. The two organizations have the mutual goal of working for sustainable self-sufficiency among the villagers they serve in western Kenya.

Village Volunteers attracts “volunteers” from all over the globe who pay their own way to spots similar to Kiminini. They spend two to four weeks living and working with villagers on projects ranging from organic farming practices to public health education, working in clinics and assisting with a variety of housing projects. A couple of those UW-Bothell activists are intrigued with the idea of becoming volunteers, eyeing warily the hefty $3,500 cost as a potential hurdle to cross.

Not all volunteer work requires traveling to Kenya. Volunteers from UW-Bothell have participated in research work in Seattle exploring better ways for sustainable life practices that can be implemented in Kenya, showing that their volunteer efforts are needed and welcomed both in the Seattle offices, as well as in Kenya.

In the meantime, says student leader Nora Laughlin, she and her fellow supporters will recruit others on campus to join them in laying the groundwork for a continuity of support for Village Volunteers at UW-Bothell, as well as in the greater Bothell community.

Look into HYPERLINK “http://www.villagevolunteers.org” www.villagevolunteers.org.

Heads up

Put the new LiveARTS Bothell festival on your calendar June 28-29. Things will be hopping that weekend at the Park at Bothell Landing.

John B. Hughes was owner-publisher of the Northshore Citizen from 1961 to 1988 and is active in local nonprofit organizations.

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