With Joy Shall Ye Draw Water; LDS Couple brings Well to Ethiopian Village

Date: 2006-07-11

By Rebecca Birkin
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story about Lon and DeAnna Kennard and their experience in Africa. Read part one here

“The people of Kersa Illala ha[d] been sentenced to a…ritual of drinking, bathing and washing clothes in a sewer… [i] [i]

When Lon and DeAnna Kennard visited Kersa Illala, a primitive village in the Rift Valley facing Southern Ethiopia, they were also visiting the former home to four out of six of their adopted Ethiopian children. Despite visiting poverty-ravaged locations in other areas of the world, the Kennards were unprepared for the shock they felt viewing the horrible conditions in Kersa Illala. Beyond the emaciated bodies and hollow eyes of the people, they saw animal and human excrement everywhere. There was no latrine. In fact, there was a complete absence of training in appropriate sanitation.

Brother and Sister Kennard had come to bring their children back for a visit with family and friends. Soon their two married sisters rushed up to see Axxx, Mxxx, Sxxx and Bxxx. One was so overcome that she kept fainting. At last someone picked the sister up and gave her a drink out of an old tin can. Deanna thought the yellowish-brown liquid must be some kind of African remedy. She asked the interpreter,

“What is that?”

His answer: “Water.”

For the first time Sister Kennard realized the miracle of clean water flowing from her kitchen tap. When it rained in Kersa Illala, the excrement all around the village washed into the river. The same water needed for bathing, washing, and drinking was also used by the animals. Seeing these conditions, Lon and DeAnna knew they needed to find a way to help.

This Ethiopian river served as a sink, a toilet and a laundry, causing much sickness and death.

Sister Kennard said they returned home and “prayed so hard.” Within two weeks they met Tim Evans of Choice Humanitarian, a group that had done much good helping improve conditions in primitive villages. Lon went with group members, including Jim Richie, to Mexico, where he saw a village Choice Humanitarian had helped to transform. Brother Kennard said, “Whatever you’ve done here, we need to do it in Kersa Illala.”

He got an appointment with Tim, and told him, “I want to take you to Ethiopia.”

Tim Evans had been doing humanitarian work for thirty years. He had been to places such as India and Indonesia, where astounding poverty was commonplace. Yet as Tim Evans walked into this Ethiopian village, Brother Kennard said, “Tim completely broke down, sobbing. He told me, ‘I’ve never seen anything this bad.’”

Photo by Naomi Harper
One young girl washes her hands as another young girl drinks from the same water. The river was filled with raw sewage.

Tim went on to teach the Kennards what steps to take to begin helping Kersa Illala. He even promised Lon that he would get Choice Humanitarian to help the Ethiopian village, or he would resign. Later, Tim did quit. He and Lon formed a group called Engage Now. Later Lon and Deanna formed their own organization — Village of Hope.

Since the time that the Kennards brought their children home from Africa, the children have grown and changed. Axxx and Mxxx are now happy and well-adjusted teenagers. Mxxx graduated from high school in May, and both she and Axxx have jobs. Kxxx has a full-ride soccer scholarship at York University in Nebraska. Hxxx also completed high school this spring, and is now enrolled in Cosmetology school. Bxxx returned from a mission to South Carolina, where his mission president called him a fantastic missionary and sent him to challenging areas. In these mission areas, Bxxx was always teaching. He was welcomed into many homes where other elders were turned away. While Lon and DeAnna gave the interview about Bxxx and his siblings as children, the adult Bxxx was out doing his home teaching.

What hasn’t changed is the Kennards’ commitment to their children and to Ethiopia. In partnership with the LDS church and others, Brother and Sister Kennard have done much to improve the conditions in Kersa Illala.

Lon embraces two Ethiopians, ZemZem and Ramasha.

“It was better than Disneyland,” Lon Kennard said, describing the excitement of the Kersa Illala villagers enjoying fresh water for the first time. As Village of Hope, Brother and Sister Kennard worked to arrange the drilling and building of the first village well. The money for the well was donated by the Church. The digging of this system, which has been described as “The most amazing water and sanitation system in Ethiopia,” [ii] [ii] came with challenges, but the Kennards feel the Lord blessed them and the village.

The first hole dug went through strata that caved in on itself. The drillers had to move the hole 150 feet to the south. Then they tried again. Again the strata began to cave in. However, the engineer persisted. At last they managed to dig the well to a depth of 187 meters. The Kennards said they expected five liters per second production. Once they hit water, they were delighted when the well pumped 28 liters per second.

Second, they worried about fluorine, a common element in the area that in high concentrations could make the water unusable. When the water test was done, the fluorine content was only one point seven parts per million. One point five parts per million is considered perfect for that area of Ethiopia.

The Kersa Illala well was dedicated on November 25, 2005. After its completion, the Oremia Regional Water Authority allowed one day of unlimited water usage. The villagers’ excitement transformed it into a holiday. One man used the laundry sink to wash every piece of clothing he could find, including what he wore. Women sang in the showers. Children and adults ran back and forth, soaking wet, laughing and dancing.

Photo by Naomi Harper
Thanks to the well, this baby can be clean and safe from his bath.

The completed work was worthy of the sign that hangs in front of the well: “Donated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Beneath is a scripture from Isaiah: “With joy shall ye draw water from the wells of life... Make a joyful noise unto the Lord for He hath done wondrous things.”

Villagers drank clean water from their own well, filling jugs with the precious fluid.

DeAnna chose this scripture because the words of Isaiah are recognized by both Christian and Muslim religions.

Gosaye, the engineer for the project, said, “I have been all over Ethiopia drilling wells, and I have never seen a well like this one in production, quality water and distribution. We always talk about water and sanitation, but we never get sanitation because we only build distribution spigots, never wash basins or showers. To have a system like this…is unheard of…in Ethiopia.”

The Kersa Illala well has six distribution points throughout the village. Each has six spigots to fill water jugs, six sinks for washing clothes and babies, and four showers. The water is available for use by everyone in and around the village. Brother Kennard estimates that the water system’s “impact on health and quality of life will be unbelievable. I personally think it will save 1,000 lives a year.”

As other villagers look on, an Ethiopian woman soaks herself under one of the spigots of the new well.

The well will greatly reduce infant mortality and improve adult health, but the Kennards didn’t stop there. After meeting the basic need for clean water, Village of Hope is now working to provide a future full of hope and opportunity for Ethiopian children.

Church member Daryl Gibb spent several months in the village designing and building a high-risk children’s center. [iii] [iii] The goal of this center is to protect against neglect, abuse, and exploitation of children, including child trafficking. It will foster healthful living patterns and provide caregiver rehabilitation with the goal of safely returning children to their homes and families. Presently, 150 children await the construction of the center homes.

On April 1, 2006, the first five houses were completed. Nine more five-house clusters will soon be finished, meeting the needs of resident children as well as providing therapy and counseling, tutoring, feeding, recreation, hobbies, evaluation and testing for non-resident children.

DeAnna poses with her son Bxxx and the chairman of the village. The Chairman of the village was thanking Village of Hope for funding the construction (underway) of new classroom buildings for the public school in the village (right and left).

During the time that Brother Gibb spent designing the Center, his wife, Pirko Gibb, R.N., provided Kersa Illala with medical care, holding scabies clinics and arranging for serious problems to be treated, free of charge, at a local hospital.

The Kennards’ statement as they adopted their Ethiopian children, “Well, if we can take one, we can take six,” had developed into a philosophy for changing lives. Their effort to help just a little more created life-changing results for the village of Kersa Illala. And if they can help one village, who knows what’s next?

Although most of us won’t adopt six children, the efforts of the Kennard family should remind us to ask ourselves — is there room for just one more act of kindness? A small effort to help may end up in unanticipated results equivalent to helping an entire village.

The Church is now beginning preparations for a second well, this one in another remote area. It should be completed in February of 2007. Lon and DeAnna Kennard are now making plans to take volunteers to Africa to begin teaching hygiene lessons, and Village of Hope will also hold a medical clinic around this time. For information about helping with this new project or in Kersa Illala, please contact Village of Hope, 2880 East 1200 South, Heber City, Utah 84032, 435 654 3548, villageofhope-ethiopia@hotmail.com

[i] [i] From November 2005 Village of Hope Expedition Report.

[ii] [ii] Ibid.

[iii] [iii] The children’s center is designed to rehabilitate and provide opportunities for children. Says Lon Kennard, “We aim to provide the kind of environment that will allow children the opportunity to become sufficient and self-sustaining individuals.”

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