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Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2017

Retirement community couple brings clean water to Kenyan children

In a few weeks, Westminster at Lake Ridge couple Mark and Diane will be leaving for a month in Kenya. The trip will be much more than a vacation, though. Mark and Diane are going to Kenya to volunteer. 

For the past 15 years, the couple has been helping to provide clean water and sanitary facilities at primary schools in the country’s highlands through Waterlines, an organization that funds and supports drinking-water projects in rural communities in a number of developing countries. 

Kenya is a land of great contrasts. The president has made education a priority and has spearheaded electrification of schools; some students at those schools now have laptop computers. But in many rural primary schools, water and sanitation are not adequate. 

“If you go to a school that does not have water onsite, each child brings water from home, or they have to take time equivalent to one class a day to haul water,” Mark says. “The headmaster never knows what quality of water is in that little jug. Some children may take it from an open river or spring.” Water from those sources isn’t necessarily good for drinking, and there is a high incidence of illness among those who drink it. So Waterlines’ goal is to reduce the amount of waterborne disease. 

Although the highlands are dry, there is enough rainfall to make water harvesting practical. Through Waterlines funding guided Kenyan facilitators and Peace Corps volunteers, many rural schools have been outfitted with equipment to collect and store runoff from their metal roofs. 

“For each of the past 10 years, Waterlines has cost-shared with 20 or 30 schools in Kenya, putting in rainwater harvest systems,” he says. “What they needed was a good gutter system—not typically part of their construction, and a good storage tank. Next year we plan to do 12 to 20 new schools.” 

About five years ago, Mark continues, it became clear that the completed projects needed more monitoring. So, from their base at a small guest house connected with Tenwek Hospital in western Kenya, Mark and Diane visit two or three Waterlines projects a day to see how they are working and assist in correcting any problems. 

“About half of what we do is going back to check to see if the systems are functioning properly,” Mark says. “In addition, we work through the hospital with some 71 schools in a WASH program to improve water, sanitation and hygiene for the children.” 

The goal of the Waterlines project is not to provide water to all of Kenya’s schools but to demonstrate that the technology and investment in clean water is sound. 

Mark and Diane find their work very rewarding and fulfilling. 

“The children are cheerful, and the schools and parents are trying their very best and doing what they can with the resources they have,” Mark says. “It’s a very encouraging thing. They’re grateful for people caring about their water, and they really want to say thank you to people.” 

Volunteering has long been a part of Mark and Diane’s lives. Even before he retired from his job in forestry with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1997 and she as a schoolteacher, the couple served others through their church and had visited Kenya on other projects. 

Now, like many residents of Westminster at Lake Ridge, they’re able to devote more time to their charitable projects. He spends 20 hours a week assisting Waterlines in activities such as providing advice and processing applications for rainwater harvesting projects. In addition to her Waterlines work, Diane is an area representative for Heifer International, a nonprofit that aims to end hunger and poverty by providing animals to families throughout the world so they can produce milk, eggs, honey, etc., and develop a sustainable income. 

The couple moved into their charming, two-bedroom cottage at Westminster at Lake Ridge a year and a half ago, when they decided to downsize and move to a place close to their three children where they could have a secure future. 

“The facility here is great,” Mark says. “It's a beautiful campus, and it has a full range from independent living to full health care if you need it.”  The couple also was impressed with the wide range of activities available to residents and the staff that Mark says is “very dedicated. I give them high marks.” 

Mark passes on some advice he and Diane were given: “If you’re going to go to a retirement community, do it while you can still participate.” 

To learn more about Westminster at Lake Ridge, a very special continuing care retirement community in northern Virginia, please join us at one of our upcoming events, call us at 703-436-8122 or request information here.

 

 

 

 


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