A chance encounter between part-time Basalt residents and a waiter in a Serengeti safari camp in Kenya changed the lives of hundreds of families over the past two years.
Bud and Sandy Mulcahy, who split time between Arlington, Texas, and the Fryingpan Valley, took their first trip to Africa in 2010, at the insistence of their son, Lee.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” Bud Mulcahy said. He and Sandy celebrated their 50th anniversary while touring South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.
While in Kenya, they were among very few guests staying at a particular camp, so they were able to spend time visiting with the staff. They struck a friendship with Yegon Richard, a college-educated man who had to travel 100 miles to the camp from his village to find suitable employment to support his family. He worked as a waiter for a month at a time before returning to visit his family for a few days.
They learned from Richard that his village, Kapkesembe, had no clear water source. The settlement of mostly subsistence farmers transported water daily via donkeys from a stream a few miles away.
The Mulcahys visited the village, well off the tourist path, with Richard and were taken aback by the tough life there. The unprotected water created health hazards. Daily tasks that are taken for granted in the U.S., such as bathing and cooking, were complicated by the lack of clean water. In addition, the village had no electricity.
“On the plane back from Nairobi to London, Bud said, ‘We’re going back to build a well,’” Sandy said. After being married to him for 50 years, Sandy knew her tenacious husband would find a way to accomplish his goal.
That was in 2010. Creating a nonprofit organization to carry out the task was the first and simplest step. Africa Water Wells was created but fundraising was slow. Meanwhile, Bud, 78, a retired engineer who worked at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory and in the aerospace industry, made connections that helped advance the well project. They hired a hydrologist, who determined where a productive well should be located in Kapkesembe. They bypassed Kenyan red tape to hire a contractor to drill the well and install a hand pump for $16,000.
The problem was getting donors back in the U.S. interested in the project.
“There wasn’t any money coming in at all,” Bud said. “We were prepared to take it out of our savings.”
The tide changed shortly before they flew to Kenya in 2012. Friends from the Roaring Fork Valley and Arlington contributed. The Mulcahys, who participate in a bible study fellowship, credit a higher power for the donations.
“When God is pleased with what you’re going to do, he moves it,” Sandy said.
On the day the drilling began, the Mulcahys watched in awe as the large drilling trucks rambled down a two-track dirt path leading to the village, spurring a huge celebration among the 6,000 or so residents living in and around Kapkesembe. “There were 200 kids running behind the drilling trucks and cheering,” Bud said. Some key families donated parts of their small plots in the middle of cornfields so the village could have a communal well.
The drilling was completed within four days, transforming the lives of the villagers. It is hard to describe, Bud said, but the outside aid drilling the well triggered efforts within the community to improve their situation. The villagers erected a crude metal building with toilets and a kitchen to house a primary school through seventh grade. Some of the wealthier families pooled resources to hire a headmaster and 10 teachers. By early 2013, the school had 150 students enrolled, according to the Mulcahys.
“We were there in May, and by January they had put the school together,” Bud said. “It was like nothing would get going without an outside influence.”
Africa Water Wells wasn’t finished with its project. It raised the funds to install a 2,500-gallon water storage tank and a solar-powered pump at the well site in 2013. Additional funding paid for installation of electric power to the classrooms, a computer and printer and some basic hand shop tools.
The Mulcahys said they were greeted warmly when they returned to the village this year.
“We’re superstars, probably,” Bud said.
The well provides clean water for about 1,500 families. The village is located at an elevation of about 6,000 feet and receives good seasonal rain — usually enough to water crops. “It’s a kind of a garden of Eden,” Bud said. Now it also has a year-round fresh water supply.
The villagers named the school “Clean Water Bud Academy” in the Mulcahys’ honor.
The couple also have organized volunteer teams that provide mobile health care, addiction recovery to help battle the high rate of alcoholism, pastoral training among a large Christian community within the village, and a clothing repair and sewing workshop to help develop skills. Lee Mulcahy, Nan Wendling and Shawn Cox, all of Aspen, have traveled to Kapkesembe as part of the projects.
Africa Water Wells has spent about $60,000 in Kapkesembe. All of the funds raised go directly into the organization’s projects. There are no salaries and travel teams pay for their own airfare, food and lodging, Bud said.
“It remains Africa Water Wells’ goal to be the source of funds and stateside people skills to provide enough resources to lift Kapkesembe out of its incredible predicament,” the organization’s literature says.
Projects will include a multi-year effort to provide a more permanent school and expand it to add grades eight through 12. The goal eventually is to make it a boarding school.
Africa Water Wells’ effort at Kapkesembe has earned it an endorsement from WildiZe, an Aspen-based nonprofit working to improve conditions for humans and wildlife in Africa.
To learn more about Africa Water Wells and to make a contribution go to www.africawaterwells.org.