In this second installment of a two-part series, a three-time Indiana State alumnus volunteers to help provide clean drinking water in Kenya. In the first installment published in July, we examined how local officials and Indiana State researchers are studying the Wabash River and Riverscape efforts.
Brown. Dark as the soil, to be exact.
It wasn’t the crystal clear water three-time Indiana State alumnus Kyle Lanoue had hoped would be flowing after he fixed a water pump during his first mission trip to Kitale, Kenya, last summer.
“If you can find a water pump in the village, they’re often broken. Even when we fix the pumps, the water quality is still poor,” Lanoue said. “I had a crowd of people in a village cheer when water poured out of a pump I’d fixed. They were so excited to see water flowing, but my heart fell. I knew it wasn’t safe to drink.”
Lanoue, a principal at Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in technology education (’99) and master’s (GR ’05) and doctoral (Ph.D. ’08) degrees in educational leadership, isn’t giving up.
This July, Lanoue was set to return to Kenya to continue fixing the water pumps, but he decided to postpone his trip until at least this fall because of violence in Nairobi.
“Our hearts and commitment are there for the people we’re bringing water to, so it made my decision not to go right now hurt deeper,” he said, adding that he received word from a man he worked with last summer that villagers have made necessary repairs when pumps have broken.
“We took equipment, tools and supplies last year in effort to work with villages and fixed the pumps right next to the Kenyans. We had them do the work where possible to show them how everything worked,” Lanoue said. “By the time we left, villagers knew how to fix things if something went wrong.”
Lanoue’s desire to assist Kenyans grew out of a friendship he forged with Wesley Korir, a University of Louisville alumnus and member of Kenya’s parliament for Cherangany Constituency.
Korir has been working to make a better life for his hometown of Kitale with help from volunteers, like Lanoue, who help fix water pumps and through the Kenyan Kids Foundation — an organization Korir founded to provide scholarships so children in Kenya can attend high school.
Korir appointed Lanoue to serve on the foundation’s board of directors and introduced him to Dr. William Smock, a University of Louisville professor of medicine and medical director for Water Step, a Louisville, Ky.-based organization that trains volunteers to find sustainable water solutions in communities worldwide.
“Dr. Smock told me how, year after year, he would return to Kenya and treat people for the same reoccurring water-borne illnesses,” Lanoue said. “What he learned is if we can provide the Kenyans with clean water, we could essentially prevent water-borne diseases that affect 80 percent of the population.”
Smock estimates water-borne illnesses are linked to 20 percent of child deaths in Kenya from birth to age 5, and women, as the primary water collectors, are also plagued by chronic neck, arm and hand pain from hauling five-gallon buckets of water to and from streams several times a day.
“If we can provide safe drinking water, especially to schools, it will be invaluable from a public health perspective,” Smock said. “We went to a school that hadn’t had water for more than two years, so students would bring contaminated water from home to clean and cook with at school. They didn’t have a choice. It’s a ‘drink it or die’ situation. Since we fixed the pump at that one school, though, students have been bringing buckets to school each day to fill with fresh water to take home.”
Water Step estimates up to half of Africa’s hand pumps are nonfunctioning, but repairing the pumps when the seals wear out in 12-24 months could save around $17,000 annually in costs related to drilling a new well.
“The volunteers here are part of the solution, and Kyle was a big part of our work last summer. (Kyle) has one of the biggest hearts and is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and Kenya is a great place for him to use his abilities,” Smock said. “I had a professor in med school who once said that if you really want to help people you should go to Africa because the need is great.”
Volunteers could go almost anywhere, with an estimated 875 million people worldwide lacking daily access to clean water, according to Water Step.
“But I want to wipe out water-borne diseases in this one Kenyan county before we move to the next one,” Smock said. “That’s not going to happen soon, but with volunteers like Kyle, we’ll get there.”
Before his first trip to Kenya last summer with Smock, Lanoue attended a training provided by Water Step to learn how to fix the pumps. The $700 training was held over three days and included an additional two-day class on hygiene and water-borne illnesses, all of which was covered by Lanoue’s current dentist and his childhood dentist.
Lanoue used what he learned to train a “water man” to use a $900 chlorine generator to treat the water in a village where tapeworms and communicable diseases are common.
Water pump repairs can take several hours or days to complete, as it can be challenging to find parts in a developing country like Kenya. In his three weeks of labor last summer, Lanoue estimated he was able to help provide fresh water to 5,000 people.
“We stressed that water should not be used as a weapon, but it could provide opportunities,” he said. “There was a 17-year-old boy in one of the villages who had no formal education but was good with mechanics, so he worked with us as an apprentice repairing pumps. This will have a ripple effect on his village, as he uses the skills to provide for people in the village. What he is paid for his work will help boost the local economy and support his family.”
It’s a matter of necessity that the pumps start working again, Lanoue learned after speaking with a school principal last summer.
“When I told her I was there to hear about the needs at the school, she thought for a moment before saying all she needed was clean water,” he said. “As an elementary principal, I’m accustomed to taking in the needs of my staff and that visit gave me an interesting perspective on needs versus wants. It was a big difference from the request I got from a teacher before I left Indiana, who said she needed more computers for her classroom.”
Hearing about the plight of classroom teachers in Kenya, Lanoue has begun to sponsor a preschool teacher in the country for $570 per month and is trying to make arrangements to sponsor more classrooms and teachers.
“Children are children no matter what country they live in, and it’s important to care for the whole child, from early childhood on,” Lanoue said. “In the U.S., we talk about the value of early childhood education on development, and you can see the need in Kenya to start education earlier and afford them more opportunities.”
In a few short weeks last year, Lanoue helped install a water tower, brokered deals between villagers on how to share the resource and minimize conflict and provided Kenyans with hand washing and sanitation tips to prevent illness.
It was all in a day’s work for the part-time firefighter who wants to return annually to Kenya, who someday hopes to lead his own mission with a team of doctors, dentists, nurses, hygienists and engineers the country desperately needs.
“My first trip to Kenya was moving and humbling as an educator and technology person. I grew up in northern Indiana with blue collar, hardworking parents, but I never experienced real struggles until I went to Kenya,” Lanoue said. “The Kenyans are incredible and it makes you think about where the country could go if they can access clean water and improve infrastructure and educational opportunities. There’s a lot of work to be done to get there, and it’s going to take more people to accomplish it all.”