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A prayer for clean water

Sat Sep 18 00:00:00 MDT 2010

"We never gave up hope," said Ngandu Kabongo, the water committee manager for a sprawling village in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, known as Luputa.

"Hundreds of children die each year from contaminated water. For 15 years we've struggled to find a way to bring clean water to our village. We prayed very hard for an answer."

Luputa is a remote outpost teeming with 214,000 people. Most are subsistence farmers. There are few commercial buildings and scant municipal services — only a sprawling marketplace where people gather to sell what food, textiles and merchandise they can.

Most houses in Luputa measure about 16-feet by 16-feet. Made with mud brick and thatched roofs, they provide basic shelter for an average family of seven. Few possessions are inside — a small table to prepare food, a few cooking pots.

Homes in Luputa have no electricity or refrigeration. Automobiles don't exist there and motorbikes are very few. Don't expect to see banks, grocery stores, gas stations, cafes or restaurants. There are none.

And there is no running water.


A difficult burden to bear

"Man can live without power," said Willy Binene, a long-time Luputa resident and president of the Luputa DR Congo District of the Church. "But the lack of clean water is a burden almost too difficult to bear."

Twice a day, as men and teenagers tend their family farms, thousands of women and children walk a mile or more to get water. It comes from polluted sources — muddy pools shared by animals or contaminated springs — but people need the water for drinking, cooking and bathing. To avoid the crowded wait, women often get water during the dark of early morning — only to become victims of assault and rape.

"It's just hard to believe how far people walk to get water," said Elder Lester Moody, a welfare missionary from Orem, Utah. "You hear stories that make you cry. You see people talking about their children who are sick from water-borne illnesses. We love these people. We love this water project. We're involved in things here that are not our own, doing something that Heavenly Father has approved."

Only 22 percent of the 66 million people in this country have clean water. More than 45,000 people die every month, half of them children under five. Quite often the cause is the polluted water they must drink. It's no mystery, then, that average life expectancy is only 46 years — 32 years less than in the United States.

Joseph Sabue is just one of hundreds of Luputa fathers who has lost a child to disease from unclean water. "My son was only 4 years old," he said. "When I heard that a water line was coming to Luputa, I convinced people to volunteer to dig the trenches. I went many times to help — I can't even count how often."

The power of prayer

The people in Luputa tried in vain for 15 years to get clean water to their village. At last they discovered four springs in a distant, overgrown hillside. The water committee encouraged people to save enough money to capture and contain the water. The larger problem, however, was getting this water to Luputa — 30 kilometers, or 19 miles, to the south.

In 2007, Mr. Kabongo and his water committee were introduced to LDS Charities missionaries serving in the DR Congo. The connection was made by Dominique Sowa, managing director for a clean water contractor named ADIR. Mr. Sowa had heard of the missionaries' work, and he prayed they could help in Luputa.

"For many years, I tried to get water here," Mr. Sowa said, "but we couldn't find the money. When I met a missionary couple in Kinshasa four years ago, they came to see if it was conceivable to bring water here. When they said they could help, I was very happy. I cannot tell you my joy!"

The news was an answer to faithful prayer that God would send someone — some group, some church, some answer. The concept would not be easy to execute, however. The pipeline would have to be dug through miles of jungle vegetation and rocky soil. It would need to maintain water pressure over a long distance.

Everything was a massive undertaking for a village with no electricity, no trucks, no paved roads and no machinery. And, it would turn out to be the largest water project ever tackled by LDS Charities.

"The effort spent to make this happen has been nothing short of miraculous," said Brett Bass, director for LDS Charities. "When we first considered the project, experience told me it would be difficult for the community to stay committed over such a long period of time. But something inside pushed us forward to ask for approval and give the people of Luputa a chance to work toward an answer to their prayers. Now three years later, community members have voluntarily dug trenches every day except Sunday, without pay, and they will soon see the fulfillment of their prayers."

The prudence of partnerships

When a water project is approved by an Area Presidency and by Welfare Services in Salt Lake City, LDS Charities hires a local contractor, helps the community organize a water committee and approves the purchase of materials.

The contractor hires skilled labor, providing jobs to many local men in an area where there are few cash-paying jobs. Other local men volunteer their services, helping the life-altering cause of providing clean water. This teaches correct welfare principles. This self-sustaining method helps people help themselves and gives them a sense of ownership.

"I love my job," said Mr. Sowa. "I believe God gave me this mission. He is happy to know we will get clean water. The missionaries love these people so much — I've never seen any church do something like this before."

To best represent Church affairs and to help with coordination, LDS Charities hired Daniel Kazadi as a site monitor. Brother Kazadi is a returned missionary with strong leadership skills. He was given the use of a motorbike so he could rapidly visit any area of the project.

"There are many side benefits that come from our water projects," said Matt Heaps, Clean Water Project Manager for LDS Charities. "One way we build individuals is to provide them with temporary income, helping to increase confidence, and provide experience gained for future employment. Building people is at the heart of what we do."

Brother Heaps administered clean water projects in 24 countries last year, bringing clean water to nearly 1 million people.

150 meters a day

Digging the trench was the most arduous part of the project. Volunteers hacked their way through the jungle and savannah for 19 miles to dig a trench 18-inches wide and 3-feet deep. Volunteers gathered every day — except Sunday — for more than 900 days to complete the trench.

"Even though digging was difficult, I did enjoy the company and it was for our benefit," said Bajamunda Samasse, father of three. "About four years ago we lost our nephew, and we've had other family members suffer because of the water. It's not about age or generation. My aunt also passed on because of unclean water."

On a good day, the men could dig a distance of 150 meters (165 yards). On other days they made little progress due to tree roots or rocky terrain. Special pipe was fabricated in Kinshasa and shipped to Luputa. Volunteers carried the pipe long distances for installation.

Population explosion

Now in its third year, the water solution has brought success — and challenges. One is demand. The system, originally designed for 190,000 people, soon needed to accommodate 260,000 as people moved to Luputa and nearby villages.

Originally, a 238,000-gallon water tank was planned. It would fill with water at night — the springs produce an ample 21 liters per second, more than 479,000 gallons in 24 hours, to supplement the water needed the following day. The solution was to build a second tank and add additional distribution lines. The huge, polycarbonate containers are manufactured in Kinshasa and shipped by truck, barge and rail to Luputa.

Today, there is a beehive of activity in Luputa. Two water towers, two stories each, are being constructed without power tools. Cement, sand and gravel are mixed by hand, hauled by a bucket brigade, hoisted up the tower by hand and poured into forms surrounding the steel-reinforced frame.

Sixty-four kilometers, or 40 miles, of smaller trenches have also been dug to tie in more than 80 water stations being built. This will provide water every 500 meters, nearly one-third of a mile. A water station will appear in front of each of three LDS meetinghouses in Luputa.

In the villages farther up-line from Luputa, water is already flowing at the turn of a gauge.

And there is joy. Hearts are tender as many people express their happiness.

"I'm very happy for water that is clean," said Jolie Mularju, mother of three. "I thank LDS Church members for their willing sacrifice. Children will no longer get sick and die."

The work continues at a feverish pace to complete by November, when it is anticipated that Joseph Kabila Kabange, president of the DR Congo, will visit Luputa with a member of the Africa Southeast Area Presidency.

"We thank the people of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have spent their money on this project and express our gratitude," said Ditshiengo Kasongo, mayor of Luputa. "This project is the will of the Lord and the answer to our prayer. May God bless all the members of this Church who thought about us in building this project."

Water Projects

The Luputa water project included four steps:

1. Four spring sources were captured and combined in one containment box. Water flow is 21 liters per second, providing 1,800 cubic meters, or 479,000 gallons, of water a day.

2. The pipeline trench was dug by hand over 30 kilometers (19 miles) through jungle and savannah to Luputa. It serves four other villages along the way.

3. Trenches for distribution lines were also dug by hand to provide clean water stations about every 500 meters (a third of a mile) in Luputa.

4. Water stations were constructed. Water flow is distributed and controlled at each by a water-committee representative.

The Church in Luputa

Church membership in Luputa is strong and growing, with seven branches and 1,735 members. The district has no full-time missionaries but is served by 45 branch missionaries who spend three 10-hour days in missionary service. In the first seven months of this year, 170 people had been baptized.

Young men sacrifice greatly to serve missions — often working three years or more to earn enough money for their passports. Families also sacrifice greatly — working and saving for several years to attend the temple. The zest with which members sing — without accompaniment or hymn books — would put many congregations elsewhere to shame.

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