National, provincial and village dignitaries gathered in the yard of a thatched-roof house in central Kenya where, with great ceremony, they officially turned a faucet handle, bringing the first clean running water into the village.
The woman of the house where the dignitaries gathered watched in fascination as a bucket, positioned beneath the faucet, was brimming with sparkling clear water in just a few seconds.
The woman, invited to speak to the gathering in her yard, said, "For the past 40 years, I have waled a eight miles one way every day to get water for my family." Pointing to the water flowing from the spigot, she added, "This is like a dream."
Latter-day Saints had a major role in bringing water to that woman's household, and to some 1,100 other dwellings in 15 Kenyan villages over a 45-square-mile area, about 100 miles north of Nairobi. Using funds from the November 1985 special fast, the Church donated $300,000 to help Kenyans build the Ngorika Water System to carry potable water from rivers and mountain springs to their homes.
Since the villagers earn much of their income from raising cattle, pipes have also been laid to carry water to cattle dips where herds can be protected against diseases and parasites. Schools, dispensaries, and local businesses also benefit from the system.
Traditionally, women and children from the villages have made daily treks to rivers to bring water to their homes. The women usually carry five-gallon containers; their young children trail behind them, carrying smaller buckets and jugs of water.
"The women and children of Africa have literally become beasts of burden," observed Isaac C. Ferguson, executive secretary to the Church humanitarian Service Committee. "Many women are stooped over by their late 30s or early 40s. Our hope is that women and children of this and future generations no longer will have to go through that daily ordeal, walking several hours every day of their lives to transport water."
Like most of Kenya, the region in which the Ngorkia water project is located has two rainy seasons — the long or hard rains from March to May, and the short rains from September to December. Mountain run-offs produce streams taht run year-round. Althought there seems to be plenty of rainfall, one of the main problems of the local population is the lack of goo, quality water.
Ferguson explained the importance of the Ngorkia water project as an example of true humanitarian service. "For 13 years, the villagers had tried to develop their water system," he told the Church News. "The Kenyan government gave them funds from the European Economic Community, but that money soon ran out."
In 1986, the villagers asked for technical assistance from TechnoServe, which eventually had multiple roles in the project, ranging from providing technical know-how to teaching villagers how to manage and run their own water association.
Ferguson became aware of TechnoServe and the water project when he was assigned to find an organization that could make the best use of funds from the Church's special fast of November 1985.
He visited the Kenyan villages in 1987 and was impressed with both the villagers and TechnoServe. "The villagers were very motivated and determined to improve their lives," he said. "Everyone working on the project was Kenyan. They had established the rules and regulations for the water society.
"The villagers were doing all the physical labor, having worked out a system in which workers contributed one day's labor out of every five working days. Without any mechanical equipment, they were digging all the trenches and laying the pipe for the system. The villagers have also raised more than $65,000 in cash to help launch the project."
Ferguson met with TechonoServe representatives to determine how much money would be needed to complete the project. "It was determined they needed $300,000," Ferguson said. "The Church funds were donated in early 1988."
Early this year, Ferguson attended a ceremony to dedicate the first phase of the project that has been completed. As a representative of the Church, he was invited to speak at the ceremony, which was attended by several hundred people.
"I told the villagers and dignitaries that Church members were glad to have the opportunity to help, that we like to assist people who help themselves. I told them that members of the Church had fasted to raise the money that went into their water project. I explained to them the concept of fasting."
In a later interview with the Church News, Ferguson spoke of the true law of the fast. He referred to a passage in the Old Testament: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?" (Isa. 58:6-7.)
Ferguson said no Latter-day Saints live in the region covered by the Ngorika water system. (The Church has not received official recognition in Kenya, so no proselyting is done there. A branch has been organized in Nairobi, and a dependent branch is operating in the Machakos District, south of Nairobi.)
"When special fasts were held in 1985, the General Welfare Services Committee was given the mandate to use these monies to reach out to impoverished peoples in developing nations of the world. Funds from a special fast in January 1985 were earmarked to Africa, so all the money went there. A substantial portion of funds from the November 1985 fast is also going into Africa because that's where many of the major problems of the world are.
"For many years, Latter-day Saints have been geared up to help our own people, and have done so splendidly, but we do have individual responsibilities as Christians to help others as well. In his October 1985 general conference address, President Ezra Taft Benson made some comments, which I think are tremendously helpful to this concern we have for developing nations of the world.
"President Benson said, `The world works from the outside in. The Lord works from the inside out. . . . The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.'
"I think this applies to people like these hard-working Kenyan villagers," said Ferguson. "They are not Latter-day Saints, but they said to themselves, `We can do something better for ourselves and our children than what we have.' Then they set out to do that. No one came in from the outside and imposed this development activity upon them. They had it in their own hearts to make those changes. I believe that is the Light of Christ helping them see there is something they can do for themselves. Part of our Christian duty is to help people realize self-determined improvements in their lives."