Many of us would call the water that came gushing out of a well in Ndandini village in Kenya on June 1 a modern miracle, appropriate after some of the hellish details come to light that made that red-letter day happen.
In September 2007, Sunshine Coaster Terry Umbach started on the path to bring water to this parched part of the world. His interest came about after a fluke encounter with the village on a safari earlier that year. As luck would have it, the Purolator driver who came to Umbach's business, Travel Masters, had a contact in the Kenyan village and knew the people there were desperate for supplies, especially school supplies.
Umbach, along with his wife Jan and several of their clients, decided to take what they could and deliver the goodies personally. After learning that Ndandini's only source of water was a brackish river several kilometres away, the Umbachs started to look for ways to bring water to the Kenyans.
Back home, after fund-raising on his own, Terry became part of the Rotary Club of the Sunshine Coast where several members were also interested in seeing this project come to fruition. After the local club decided to support the well idea, Umbach approached many more Rotary Clubs, in Canada and worldwide. At final count, about 25 clubs were part of the effort. After many challenges, including the financial meltdown of the past few years, the well was finally becoming a reality early this year.
At the end of May, Jan and Terry journeyed to Africa to monitor the drilling of the well. They set up their 25-year-old tent and waited for the adventure to begin.
First the truck to drill the well had to get to the site - no mean feat considering the pathetic condition of the road the truck had to traverse. Terry laughed that it was a good thing the truck came in at night. He figured that had the driver seen what was in store, he never would have completed the trip.
As it was, the men told the Umbachs that Ndandini was the most remote place they had ever drilled a well. Plus the men had no intention of staying anywhere but in their truck overnight. They worried the Umbachs would get eaten during the night. Jan pooh-poohed the thought, "There are no wild animals left in that part of Kenya," she said.
The next day, May 31, the Canadians watched as the Kenyans drilled a shallow test well. Down and down the auger went. At 30 metres, the dust was barely moist, a fact that had Terry worried.
"It wasn't with a great deal of confidence I moved over to where the deep well was," he said.
But barely 15 metres from the other well, the drillers hit pay dirt.
"Bang, 11 metres down, all of a sudden we got water. Shortly after we all this water bubbling out, and the drillers said they had never drilled a well that had that much water," Terry related.
But suddenly they had too much of a good thing. The fast pumping water was rapidly eroding the parched earth around the borehole. The men had to put a larger casing around the well and pack the area with five metres of cement. Then they had to wait 36 hours for the cement to cure before the drilling could carry on. Fortunately, the cement did the trick and the well walls stayed firm.
Later the Umbachs found that many in the village did not believe the well would ever materialize. The poor Kenyans had seen many previous promises by politicians that were never kept. Another possible nightmare was that the water could have been salt water.
"As we were drilling," Terry remembered, "they kept testing the water over and over. 'No, it's not salty, no it's not salty,' the drillers said."
In an understatement, Umbach shared there was a "whole bunch of worrying" going on.
Eventually the drill hit rock. And rather than chance finding salt further down, the drillers ceased. A couple of days later, when the well's capacity was confirmed, that turned out to be a good decision. There was more than enough water for the village.
Word spread fast, and soon the neighbouring village was wondering if they could share in the bounty. Once delivery questions are worked out, that may be possible.
For Umbach, the next step is to install a drip irrigation system at the local elementary school - a program that costs roughly $2,500. This will provide much needed income for the school as well as a way to feed some of the desperately poor students who often have nothing to eat. Fortunately for the village, St. Hilda's Anglican Church in Sechelt has agreed to fund this project. Umbach is most grateful for their participation.
Umbach's vision for the future of Ndandini and the Third World villages of our planet is a worldwide mentoring system. He sees professionals through computers and the Internet provide much needed expertise to those in remote locations. It's a program that could be put in place with very little effort by the Bill Gates Foundation or Google, Umbach said.
In the meantime, in the little village where one woman with utter belief in Umbach named her son Terry, the big Mr. Terry sees many other opportunities to help the Kenyans. Everything from proper blackboards to buses would help children who currently walk six hours each way just to participate in athletic events.
Watch for more miracles from this determined man.